The Greatest and Craziest Werner Herzog Stories Ever
Today is the 75th birthday of one of the all-time greats: Werner Herzog. The prolific German writer, director, and documentarian was born on this day in 1942. Herzog has given the world many gifts, including great movies like Aguirre, the Wrath of God, his amazing remake of Nosferatu, and documentaries such as Grizzly Man, The White Diamond, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, and My Best Fiend. But the greatest gift he’s given us may be himself: The droll, deadpan, hilarious, terrifying, peculiar seeker of ecstatic truths who delights us in interviews, lectures, and as the star of many of his own documentaries.
In honor of Herzog’s birthday, here are just a few of the greatest (and craziest) moments from his long career. We hope by the time he’s finished, there are many more absolutely bonkers things we can add to this list.
The Time He Was Shot During an Interview... And Continued the Interview
Werner Herzog has a lot of famous quotes, mostly about how nature is full of fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and whatnot, but the all-time greatest Herzog line is the one about the bullet from an air rifle that struck him in the middle of a BBC interview…and he refused medical attention. Why? “It was not a significant bullet.” It sounds like a load of crap, but the whole thing was captured on video.
The Time He Saved Joaquin Phoenix From a Car Crash
I just pray if I am ever in a very serious car accident that Werner Herzog happens to be walking by when it happens so he can rescue me and counsel me in a time of crisis.
The Time He Ate His Shoe to Pay Off a Bet
The backstory: Herzog bet director Errol Morris that he would eat his shoe if Morris ever finished his documentary Gates of Heaven. Morris made the film, and to pay off the bet, Herzog cooked and ate his shoe (supposedly the same shoe he was wearing when he made the bet in the first place) in front of an audience at a screening of Gates of Heaven. Supposedly he didn’t eat the sole. I assume it was not a significant sole.
The Time He Pulled a Giant Boat Over a Mountain For Real
By now, it’s one of the most legendary feats in cinema history. Looking for absolute authenticity in his 1982 drama Fitzcarraldo, about a man who supposedly moved a boat over an enormous hill in the Amazon, Herzog and his production did the same thing, for real. But here’s the thing: The real-life basis for Fitzcarraldo supposedly only moved a 30-ton ship, and carried it over the hill in pieces; Herzog did it with a whole 300-ton ship. His arduous struggle to make the film and hoist the ship became the subject of the documentary Burden of Dreams, which today might be more famous and widely seen than Fitzcarraldo itself.
The (First) Time He Risked Death By Lava to Make a Documentary
When Herzog heard of an impending volcanic eruption, and about the one man who refused to leave the surrounding area, even in the face of imminent death, Herzog decided he had to make a documentary about him. But that meant putting himself in mortal danger too; if the volcano had erupted, he and his small crew would have died as well. (Fortunately, it didn’t.) Decades later, Herzog made another documentary about volcanoes, Into the Inferno. That one’s available on Netflix.
The Time He Said Wrestlemania Was So Important We Must Not ‘Avert Our Eyes’
Herzog’s unconventional fascinations include The Anna Nicole Show and professional wrestling. In this video, you’ll see Herzog praise WWE’s “comic-strip beauty” stocked with “complete deformities.” Elsewhere, he said of WrestleMania, “A very raw, primitive form of new drama is being born.” I would pay $100 to hear Herzog read the words of Hulk Hogan’s entrance music like a poem.
The Time He Hypnotized His Entire Cast
For 1976’s Heart of Glass, a film about a town thrown into chaos after its master glassblower dies and takes the secret of the area’s famed glass recipe with him, Herzog wanted his actors to give strange and surreal performances. So he hypnotized everyone except the lead actor and the professional glassblowers. Oh, and Herzog also likes to hypnotize chickens for kicks.
The Time He Stole a Tom Cruise Movie From Tom Cruise
Herzog mostly focuses on his own movies, but he has made occasional acting appearances. He’s the bad guy in the first Jack Reacher movie, and he’s basically the best part. Watch this incredible monologue about how his character, the Zec, chewed off his own fingers to survive in prison. Hm, a guy who chewed off his fingers to survive in prison. Sounds like a Werner Herzog film!