This Spring, I was honored to be able to attend a lecture held by legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog at Boise State University in April. For those unfamiliar with the name, Mr. Herzog is one of the most influential directors of cinema in the 21st century. He has spearheaded such ambitious film projects as “Grizzly Man” in 2005, documenting the life and death of bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell, and 1979’s “Nosferatu The Vampyre,” a remake of the 1922 German horror classic.
Born in 1942, Herzog was an early leader of the German New Wave, the first major evolution in German cinema after the 2nd World War. With over 50 years of experience in the film industry as a director and screenwriter, Herzog has firmly established himself in the world of cinema both at home and abroad, captivating fans all over the world with his distinct expressionist style.
Herzog’s films often explore characters in psychological and physical situations, often in conflict with nature. I would like to reflect on one of Herzog’s most treasured philosophies, that being that filmmakers should strive to create images worth preserving for future generations. Besides the appreciation this philosophy can bring to our viewing experiences, I also believe it is one which is important to consider throughout all aspects of life.
To Werner Herzog, so many images in our daily lives are superficial and utilitarian, meant to serve a purpose rather than exist as a natural part of the world. This vision can easily be seen in films like Herzog’s "Grizzly Man," a personal favorite of mine from the early 2000s. The film pieces together footage captured by Timothy Treadwell, environmental and bear enthusiast, after his tragic death in 2003 caused by the bears he was studying. The documentary focuses heavily on Treadwell and his connection with nature, as well as his reasons for seeking to live among the grizzlies. It’s easy to see why Herzog would be intrigued by the life, work, and death of this enigmatic figure. Treadwell sought to preserve and educate the public about the beauty of the natural world and its connection to humanity.
Not only is the cinematography itself beautiful and worthy of preservation for future generations, but also the millennia-old message of mankind’s kinship and stewardship of nature is also one which will be relevant far into the future and captures a feeling which can be felt by all of humanity.
Another of Herzog’s most famous films (and the most recent one I’ve watched) is “Wrath of God.” The plot follows a 16th Spanish explorer leading a hopeless expedition in search of a city of gold. The story of a man caught in a hopeless struggle had been a significant facet of stories since the beginning of time, but Herzog still manages to inject his philosophy into the archetype.
Such a struggle against nature is a common theme in much of Herzog’s work. It also stands as a reminder of his courage in tackling the harshest and most heartbreaking elements of human nature. To Mr. Herzog, these scenes and stories are worthy of preservation and deserve to be seen by all of humanity as a reminder not only of our often-fragile nature but the similarities which bind each of us together throughout the ages.