Filmmaker Werner Herzog does it all. He is perhaps best known as a director but he is also a writer, a producer, and, from time to time, an actor. Since directing his first short in the early 60s, he helped shape the New German Cinema movement along with the likes of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Margarethe von Trotta, Wim Wenders, and Volker Schlöndorff. Herzog has been incredibly prolific with both feature films and documentaries on his resume.
How is all of that for a sales pitch? If you’re not already familiar with the films of Werner Herzog, now is a great time to get to do so and practice some German along the way!
Get to Know Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog was born Werner Stipetić on September 5, 1942, in Munich, Germany. Only weeks after his birth, his mother fled the city for a small Bavarian town in the Alps. There they lead a difficult life without running water or a flush toilet.
In the mid-1950s, his mother moved them back to the Bavarian capital city. Although he had experienced little of modern amenities, he seemed to learn quickly. Within only a few years, he had made his first film. After beginning his studies in Munich, he then moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to study at Duquesne University.
By the early 1960s, Herzog had founded his own production company. It was definitely a sign of things to come.
Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht
1979’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht), Herzog pays tribute to the 1922 silent film Nosferatu.
In the film, a real estate agent in Wismar, Germany, named Jonathan Harker (portrayed by Bruno Ganz) is working with Count Dracula (portrayed by Klaus Kinski), who has expressed interest in buying a property. However, when Harker travels to Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, locals warn Harker to steer clear of the count, accusing him of being a vampire. During their visit, Dracula becomes enamored with a portrait of Harker’s wife.
Much to his horror, in the middle of the night, Harker discovers Dracula sleeping in his coffin. Harker is then imprisoned in the castle while Count Dracula sets out for Wismar.
It is worth noting that there are two versions of the film: one in English and one in German. Obviously, we German learners will want to watch the German language version.
Herzog and Kinski again teamed up for 1982’s Fitzcarraldo, an adventure film of massive proportions. It is inspired by the real-life story of Carlos Fitzcarrald, a Peruvian rubber baron.
In the film set in the early 1900s, Kinski portrays Fitzcarraldo, a man obsessed with becoming a rubber baron. He targets a specific area of the Amazon Basin for his rubber farm. The only problem is that a large hill stands in his way and Fitzcarraldo insists on moving his steamboat over the hill.
The film Fitzcarraldo and the filming process are both quite dramatic. By this point, Herzog and Kinski’s working relationship was tenuous, to say the least. But that was just the beginning. Herzog insisted on actually recreating the feat of moving the steamboat over the hill. There were a number of injuries.
Cobra Verde is the fifth and final collaboration between Herzog and Kinski.
The film sees Kinski portraying Francisco Manoel da Silva, a Brazilian rancher who becomes a dangerous outlaw known as Cobra Verde. After becoming a slave master, he is accused of taking liberties with the daughters of his boss. As punishment, he is sent to Africa with the task of restarting the slave trade.
Practice practice practice! Discover other great German language actors and actresses previously featured.
Top photo, by Robin Holland, is courtesy of Herzog’s official website. Other photos from Deutsche Kinemathek/Herzog’s official website. This post contains affiliate links.