5 ½ Werner Herzog Gems
Monkey philosophy, literary incongruity, and what eating a shoe reveals about the state of contemporary culture.
By Maria Popova
We’re a little obsessed with the endlessly eccentric, delightfully dark German director Werner Herzog. So we’ve curated five — and a half — of our favorite Werner Herzog nuggets to get existential with or simply have a good intellectual chuckle over.
Directed by Ramin Bahrani of Goodbye Solo fame, Plastic Bag follows the existential journey of a plastic bag, narrated by Herzog, searching for its maker.
The film is part of FutureStates, a series of 11 fictional mini-features exploring hypothetical scenarios for our future through the lens of the world’s current realities.
WERNER HERZOG READS CURIOUS GEORGE
Okay, so it isn’t really Herzog. It’s an impersonator, filmmaker Ryan Iverson. But the prospect of the dry, uncompromising, deeply existentialist German interpreting children’s classics is oddly alluring, both humorous and awkwardly disturbing. Either way, you can’t stop listening.
WERNER HERZOG READS MADELINE
Yep, it’s another impersonation. But we just can’t get enough of them. The urgency with which “Herzog” recites the playful rhymes of the book is so comically incongruous that you — or at least we — can’t help chuckling.
WERNER HERZOG READS WHERE’S WALDO
No children’s books parody is complete without a stab at Where’s Waldo. Here, “Herzog” takes a tone that’s somewhere between Freud and The X Files, taking the absurdity of the whole concept to a whole new level.
WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE
Returning to the authentic Herzog, these excerpts from Les Blank’s classic 1980 short film, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, are part serious cultural commentary, part humorous encounter with Herzog’s public persona, part rare glimpse of his private creative process as a deeply thoughtful filmmaker.
The film documents Herzog delivering on a bet he made with Errol Morris, which held that if Morris finished his acclaimed first feature, Gates of Heaven, Herzog would eat his shoe.
You may recall an old Brain Pickings favorite from a couple of years ago, Clemens Kogler’s Le Grand Content — a brilliant blend of humor and philosophy reflecting on today’s infographic culture. Inspired by Jessica Hagy’s equally brilliant indexed blog, another Brain Pickings favorite, it’s narrated by a (rather excellent) Werner Herzog impersonator who nails Herzog’s characteristic monotonous snark with a degree of precision and an ounce of caricature that only adds to the dark charm of the piece.
This instant classic is without question in our top five animations of all time.
For a deeper dive into the magic of Herzog, we highly recommend Werner Herzog Collection, a fantastic 1977 film anthology featuring eight of his excellent films, along with commentary, as well as Herzog on Herzog, a priceless collection of interviews Herzog has given throughout his prolific career in both fiction and documentary.
Published August 9, 2010