Note: since I first compiled this page in 02003, the Werner Herzog wikiquote page has developed significantly (I hope the editors of that page were able to get some value from this one). It makes sense for that to be the definitive resource, so I'm not maintaining this page any more. Go there instead.

On Film and Film-making

[during the making of Fitzcarraldo] I shouldn't make movies anymore. I should go to a lunatic asylum.

[also on Fitzcarraldo] [The investors] said to me, 'Well how can you continue, can you... do you have the strength, or the will, or the enthusiasm, or so...?' And I said, 'How can you ask me this question... it is... if I abandon this project I would be a man without dreams and I don't want to live like that: I live my life or I end my life with this project.'
(see Herzog deliver this quote at the end of this clip from Burden of Dreams, provided by the University of Berkeley - requires RealPlayer plugin)

It is my duty because this [the films] might be the inner chronicle of what we are, and we have to articulate ourselves. Otherwise we would be cows in the field.

I see planets that don't exist and landscapes that have only been dreamed.

I like to direct landscapes just as I like to direct actors and animals.†

[T]he kinds of landscape I try to find in my films...exist only in our dreams. For me a true landscape is not just a representation of a desert or a forest. It shows an inner state of mind, literally inner landscapes, and it is the human soul that is visible through the landscapes presented in my films.†

Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates.

Everyone who makes films has to be an athlete to a certain degree because cinema does not come from abstract academic thinking; it comes from your knees and thighs.†

Film is not analysis, it is the agitation of mind; cinema comes from the country fair and the circus, not from art and academicism.†

Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film.†

Coincidences always happen if you keep your mind open, while storyboards remain the instruments of cowards who do not trust in their own imagination and who are slaves of a matrix... If you get used to planning your shots based solely on aesthetics, you are never that far from kitsch.†

Your film is like your children. You might want a child with certain qualities, but you are never going to get the exact specification right. The film has a privelege to live its own life and develop its own character. To suppress this is dangerous. It is an approach that works the other way too: sometimes the footage has amazing qualities that you did not expect.†

I make films to rid myself of pain, like ridding yourself of a nightmare.

I would travel down to Hell and wrestle a film away from the devil if it was necessary.

I do not want to go into general rules of what a filmmaker should do and how he should approach his work... I am not Moses on the mountain who proclaims the rules of procedure and what is sin and what is virtue.

[When faced with the jeering and hollering of the 1,500 booing patrons who despised his Lessons of Darkness at the Berlin Film Festival] "You are all wrong."

We are surrounded by worn-out images, and we deserve new ones.

We comprehend... that nuclear power is a real danger for mankind, that over-crowding of the planet is the greatest danger of all. We have understood that the destruction of the environment is another enormous danger. But I truly believe that the lack of adequate imagery is a danger of the same magnitude. It is as serious a defect as being without memory. What have we done to our images? What have we done to our embarrassed landscapes? I have said this before and will repeat it again as long as I am able to talk: if we do not develop adequate images we will die out like dinosaurs.†

On Contemporary Documentaries

Filmmakers of Cinema Verité resemble tourists who take pictures amid ancient ruins of facts.

Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.

You will learn more by walking from Canada to Guatemala than you will ever learn in film school.

We ought to be grateful that the Universe out there knows no smile.

Modern documentaries are as close to the truth as glaciers to farting.

I've always made it very clear that for the sake of a deeper truth, a stratum of very deep truth in movies you have to be inventive, you have to be imaginative.

(Some of these quotes excerpted from Herzog's 'Minnesota Declaration', allegedly written in 15 minutes.)

On Working with Klaus Kinski

[referring to the making of Aguirre, Wrath of God] As usual, [Kinski] didn't know his lines properly and was looking for a victim. He started shouting 'You swine!' at the camera assistant for grinning at him, demanding I fire him on the spot. I said, 'No. I'm not going to fire him — we're 17,000 feet up in the Andes, and the whole crew would quit out of solidarity.'

Kinski walked off, packed all his things and was absolutely serious about quitting and leaving at once — he'd already broken his contract 40 or 50 times. I went up to him and said, 'You can't do this.' I told him I had a rifle and that he'd only make it as far as the first bend before he had eight bullets in his head — the ninth one would be for me.

It was worthwhile for what you see on the screen. Who cares if every grey hair on my head I call 'Kinski'?

[O]ften he was a joy, and you know, he was one of the few people I ever learned anything from.†

[Herzog recalls that during the making of Fitzcarraldo, local Indians came to him with an offer to kill Kinski for him] I needed Kinski for a few more shots, so I turned them down. I have always regretted that I lost that opportunity.

Actually [Kinski's] ideas about nature were rather insipid. Mosquitoes were not allowed in his jungle, nor was rain.†

People think we had a love-hate relationship. Well, I did not love him, nor did I hate him. We had mutual respect for each other, even as we both planned each other's murder.†

He was a pestilence every day... but who cares? I mean, what remains is the film. ... There has never been a man in cinema who had such a presence, such a ferocious intensity on the screen.

Kinski on Herzog

Herzog is a miserable, hateful, malevolent, avaricious, money-hungry, nasty, sadistic, treacherous, cowardly creep...he should be thrown alive to the crocodiles! An anaconda should strangle him slowly! A poisonous spider should sting him and paralyze his lungs! The most venomous serpent should bite him and make his brain explode! No panther claws should rip open his throat--that would be much too good for him! Huge red ants should piss into his lying eyes and gobble up his balls and his guts! He should catch the plague! Syphilis! Yellow fever! Leprosy! It's no use; the more I wish him the most gruesome deaths, the more he haunts me.

Nobody is going to buy the book if I say nice things about you, Werner.

Herzog on Herzog

I invite any sort of myths [about myself] because I like the stooges and doppelgangers and doubles out there. I feel protected behind all these things. Let them blossom! I do not plant them, I do not throw out the seeds. I advise you to read Herzog on Herzog because there you see a few clarifications.

You can fight a rumour only with an even wilder rumour.†

I am not an artist and never have been. Rather I am like a craftsman and feel very close to the mediaeval artisans who produced their work anonymously and who, along with their apprentices, had a true feeling for the physical materials they were working with.†

I have never been one of those who cares about happiness. Happiness is a strange notion. I am just not made for it. It has never been a goal of mine; I do not think in those terms.†

I am someone who takes everything very literally. I simply do not understand irony, a defect I have had ever since I was able to think independently.†


May I propose a Herzog dictum? those who read own the world, and those who watch television lose it.†

It is my firm belief, and I say this as a dictum, that all these tools now at our disposal, these things part of of this explosive evolution of means of communication, mean we are now heading for an era of solitude. Along with this rapid growth of forms of communication at our disposal — be it fax, phone, email, internet or whatever — human solitude will increase in direct proportion.†

To me, adventure is a concept that applies only to those men and women of earlier historical times, like the mediaeval knights who travelled into the unknown. The concept has degenerated constantly since then... I absolutely loathe adventurers, and I particularly hate this old pseudo-adventurism where the mountain climb becomes about confronting the extremes of humanity.†

If you truly love film, I think the healthiest thing to do is not read books on the subject. I prefer the glossy film magazines with their big colour photos and gossip columns, or the National Enquirer. Such vulgarity is healthy and safe.†

† All quotes followed by † are taken from Herzog on Herzog (edited by Paul Cronin) and are copyright © Werner Herzog, 2002.

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