Werner Herzog, Anarchist Saint

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By Michael Atkinson







"He is the most vital, mysterious and righteous moviemaking voice on the globe."

It seems that now, finally, recognition has arrived at Werner Herzog's feet, and for an inveterate, lifelong Herzogian (alright, since adolescence), his current presence in the cultural forebrain is something of a vindication. The crazed German, aging but tireless in his pursuit of earthly-cosmic poetic disjunctures, seems to be everywhere - 2006 sees two new films (Rescue Dawn and The Wild Blue Yonder), following last year's triumphant quasi-documentary hat trick (Grizzly Man, Wheel of Time and The White Diamond). Two Herzog world-beaters have seen theatrical rerelease this year (Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Kasper Hauser), he's been the subject of several major retrospectives, and the totemic guru-artiste figure for several films by others, including Linas Phillips's Walking to Werner. He's even been profiled in both Harper's and the New Yorker in the last eight months.

He's also had more films made about him than any other filmmaker, period. Once with Fassbinder and Wenders one of the triplet godheads of the German New Wave (or New German Cinema), Herzog remains the world's most notorious filmmaking Odysseus/Faust, for whom no landscape has been too daunting and no price too formidable, an impulsive cultural outlaw besieged by wanderlust and symbolic extremism, a reckless, Romantic psycho making dangerous movies, in which he might happily fit as the hero, without regards for life, limb and profit. All told, his oeuvre constitutes a four-dimensional fresco of the planet, its most human-resistant landscapes and our dubious dramas in confronting the chaos. What's not to love?

New Waves have had a way of getting coopted and commercialized, but the GNW turned out a little differently: of Herzog's contemporaries, only Wenders and Volker Schlöndorff have gone to Hollywood, with often woeful results. Fassbinder, of course, clogged his arteries on melodramatic pork, while Werner Schroeter has become a festival laughingstock (see Deux, Isabelle Huppert's most ignominious moment). The most bizarre of them all, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, has piddled away his gifts on German culture TV, and hasn't made a film in almost a decade.

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