GFF 2012: Herzog at the Festival

Werner Herzog's films have become a staple of GFF's programme. We examine why the man who once ate his own shoe continues to excite festival-goers everywhere.

Feature by Becky Bartlett | 27 Feb 2012
  • Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)

As GFF returns each year, the inclusion of yet another Werner Herzog film comes as no surprise. The German director, one of the most prolific filmmakers in the business today, has become an unofficial staple of the festival's programme. Last year saw his first – and only, he promises – venture into 3D filmmaking, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The year before that audiences raved about his collaboration with notoriously bonkers actor Nicolas Cage in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. A year earlier, Encounters at the End of the World wowed festival-goers prior to its Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. In 2012 Herzog's inimitable style may be slightly more reserved, though no less enlightening, for his examination of crime and capital punishment, Into the Abyss.

The 69-year-old has directed 63 films in the last 50 years and shows no signs of slowing down. While it would be easy to question the quality of his films given such a busy schedule, or wonder whether any filmmaker can continue producing new, original and interesting works with such frequency, Herzog doesn't disappoint. With each new documentary or feature film, he offers viewers a chance to view the world through his eyes, where hallucinated iguanas join a police stakeout, suicidal penguins walk into the wilderness, radioactive crocodiles relate to ancient cave paintings, and a 340-ton steam ship is hauled over a mountain using cave-man technology.


Herzog has managed a rare feat, combining intellectualism and mainstream appeal, ensuring that his followers remain faithful and the uninitiated feel welcome. His subject matters, in his documentaries in particular, are accessible enough for a wide audience, while his ardent fans relish each strange observation he makes in his non-judgemental, oh-so-soothing voice. The inclusion of one of his films in any festival programme guarantees publicity from critics and punters alike, with everyone wondering just what haunting, bizarre aspect of humanity the director will focus on next.


Having another one of his films showing at the festival is also the perfect excuse to revisit some of the legendary stories of the man himself. Who tires of hearing how he got shot during an interview with Mark Kermode, and responded by stating, “it's not a significant bullet”? Or how, after losing a bet with Errol Morris, he willingly ate his own shoe in front of an audience? Will any one ever really know the truth about his fractious relationship with Klaus Kinski, an actor so cantankerous that a South American tribe offered to assassinate him? This is a man who has stated “film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates,” yet he continues, year after year, to create his own distinctive, thought-provoking, fascinating works. Yes, it simply isn't a festival without Herzog.


Into the Abyss is screening 23 Feb and 24 Feb as part of Glasgow Film Festival 2012.