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Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed: Conversations with Paul Cronin Hardcover – September 2, 2014
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“[A] magnificent volume of interviews. . . This book presents an opportunity to enjoy extended musings from one of the most fascinating minds to which we are fortunate enough to have collective access. . . Reading [Herzog] expounding on his myriad interests and obsessions, in tones that are full and fluent without ever crossing into pretentiousness or obscurity, is a tonic for the brain.” ―Hannah McGill, The Independent
“Extraordinary . . . the book is so full of marvelous passages that one could go on quoting forever . . . What is remarkable about A Guide for the Perplexed . . . is the access it provides to the furious inner excitement of one of the great artists . . . of our time.” ―Francine Prose, Prospect
“A Guide for the Perplexed is a blockbuster performance of telling and hiding: remembering, denying, cursing, reliving traumas and triumphs; picking over all the project, triumphant and forgotten. This much revised and updated version of the one published in 2002 is an invaluable guide to a head-fought life and career. It is a black bible of verbiage, controlled rants and recollections, fit to stand beside any of the wandering director's savage pilgrimages.” ―Iain Sinclair, The Times Literary Supplement
“This month, Faber published A Guide for the Perplexed, a compendium of conversations between Herzog and the writer Paul Cronin . . . I'm putting my neck out and saying it's the best book I've read all year.” ―Nathalie Olah, Vice
“A spectacular read . . . offering a rare glimpse of one of the most ravenously imaginative minds of our time.” ―Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
“The heftiest and most fascinating one-stop guide that the Herzog fan, or even newcomer, could possibly ask for.” ―Seven Magazine
About the Author
Werner Herzog has directed more than sixty films, notably Aguirre, the Wrath of God; The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser; Fitzcarraldo; Little Dieter Needs to Fly; Grizzly Man; and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. He is the author of several books, including Conquest of the Useless, and has staged more than a dozen operas around the world.
Paul Cronin is the editor of the filmmaker trilogy: Lessons withKiarostami, Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed, and AlexanderMackendrick's On Film-Making: An Introduction to the Craft of theDirector. He has made films about Amos Vogel, Peter Whitehead andHaskell Wexler's Medium Cool. His website is filmmakertrilogy.com.
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Werner Herzog is an original. As a youngster, he taught himself how to make films. When no one would fund his movie-making habit, he started his own production company at age 17. When he needed to get through the Peruvian jungle for filming "Fitzcarraldo", he forged official-looking documents for safe passage (they worked). For every film, he did a thousand things to get the shot. He once won a poetry contest four times by entering under five different names, and directed major operas when he couldn't read music.
Reading the book, I came to have deep respect for his unstoppability and uncompromising vision. There is a certain methodical madness that should inspire all of us to roll up our sleeves, listen to that inner voice of creativity, and just do what needs to get done. It also compels the reader to look beyond the strictures of university degrees, schools of thought and ossified convention to forge one's own idiom. It's an incredibly powerful, freeing notion for any artist, exemplified by this passage:
"While at work on this book, Werner explained he wanted something done a particular way. I suggested to him that 'the publisher doesn't usually do that.' He absorbed what I told him, paused, then said softly, 'I'm not interested in how things are usually done. I want it done this way.'"
Any one of Herzog's stories would be enough fodder to establish an average person's badass status for life: the making of "Aguirre" in the implacable jungle; filming a scene for "Fitzcarraldo" of a steamship going up a steep mountain in the Amazon by actually pulling a steamship up a mountainside in the Amazon; having near-death experiences in Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, and Kuwait on a daily basis; filming in Antarctica, Andean peaks, or prehistoric caves sealed for 32,000 years; and craziest of all, working with the madman Klaus Kinski on five different films. But Herzog has made 60+ movies, half of which probably endangered his life, making him a permanent member of the Badass Hall of Fame.
The author Paul Cronin does an excellent job with his unobtrusive, lucidly thorough style. Even though the book weighs in at 500+ pages, the stories are gripping enough to make it a quick read. I particularly appreciated the unforgettable characters in the stories: Fini Straubinger, one of the blind and deaf subjects of "Land of Silence and Darkness"; Philippe Petit the tightrope walker; Dieter Dengler the decorated pilot and POW; cannibal dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic; Bruno S; Gesualdo, the brilliant, eccentric and homicidal composer; Walter Steiner the woodcarver/champion ski jumper.
Whether you've wanted to build a garden shed or write an epic novel, we all have an inner creator that may not have yet expressed itself fully. This book is the key to freeing that creator, filling its belly with gunpowder and setting its butt on fire. If you find me making films some time in the near future, you'll know what got me started. Big thanks to Maria Popova of BrainPickings for turning me on to this book.
-- Ali Binazir, M.D., M.Phil., author of The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman's Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible, the highest-rated dating book on Amazon for 157 weeks
If you want to discover more about Herzog's private life, you should look elsewhere.
If though, like me, you are captivated by the power of Herzog's films, the poetry of his landscapes, the direct and fearless assault he makes on subjects as diverse as the aftermath of the Gulf War, Sky-Fliers, Death Row, the McMurdo research station, and want to know a more about his ideas and his work, then this book is invaluable.
This book is an expanded and revised version of Cronin's earlier "Herzog on Herzog" (Faber & Faber, 2003). It consists of a series of interviews between Cronin and Herzog, edited by them both, that took place over the 10 years to 2012. Cronin prompts; Herzog explains, elucidates, reformulates, expounds, recaps and explains again.
Herzog's philosophy is clearly stated throughout. Simply put, he believes that real life is everything, and it is through intimate and committed contact with real life that we discover true understanding and meaning.
The quote from its pages that brought me to this book was: "The best advice I can offer to those heading into the world of film is not to wait for the system to finance your projects and for others to decide your fate. If you can't afford to make a million-dollar film, raise $10,000 and produce it yourself. That's all you need to make a feature film these days. Beware of useless, bottom-rung secretarial jobs in film-production companies. Instead, so long as you are able-bodied, head out to where the real world is. Roll up your sleeves and work as a bouncer in a sex club or a warden in a lunatic asylum or a machine operator in a slaughterhouse. Drive a taxi for six months and you'll have enough money to make a film. Walk on foot, learn languages and a craft or trade that has nothing to do with cinema."
There is a vast amount of fascinating material in this book about the adventures he endured making his films, but what left the most indelible impression on me was rather the strength of his passion for all the incredible situations and people that he has noticed over the years. Situations and people from the real world that a thousand others could have noticed, but didn't. Situations and people for which he had the vision and perseverance to capture on film and to transform with his unique insight and provide us with understanding and meaning through his films.
An essential book for anyone who lives, or wishes to live, in the real world.
My one reservation is that, as an aspiring filmmaker myself, I felt that looking at Herzog too closely might restrict me from learning my own production process. As much as I admire his process, it is uniquely his and simply staring at it does not transfer any of his abilities or sensibilities to me. In fact it would be hard to imagine Werner himself reading such a book as this. It's a Yoda-like situation, the difference between thinking (reading) and doing. I also find Werner's Rogue film school to be contradictory in that respect -- can one attend this school and still be considered a rogue of any sort?
Finally I will say that after reading this one can wonder if Werner is simply playing a part now, the role of the eccentric filmmaker. I suspect there is a little of that but mostly I think he is genuine. With that in mind I highly recommend this book.