Five Favorite Films with Werner Herzog

The director of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans talks about his wild career.

Werner Herzog

During his remarkable 40-year career, Werner Herzog has made some of world cinema's boldest films -- including Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Stroszek, Fitzcaraldo, and a remake of Nosferatu. In recent years, he's approached mainstream success in the United States, with the eccentric documentary Grizzly Man and the Vietnam war film Rescue Dawn, which starred Christian Bale. His latest, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, features Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes in the tale of a cop who tries to solve a brutal murder and keep his grip on reality while battling drug addiction, gambling debts, and familial woes.

It's not just the quality of Herzog's films that's made him a favorite of movie buffs; Herzog has become legendary for his exploits both on and off the set. He once promised to eat his shoe if Errol Morris ever finished his documentary Gates of Heaven, and followed up on the bet when filming was completed. He was shot by an air rifle on the grounds of his home while doing an interview with the BBC. During the making of Fitzcarraldo, filming was interrupted by a border dispute between Ecuador and Peru; two members of his crew survived plane crashes; his original leading man, Jason Robards, was hospitalized halfway through shooting, and Robards' replacement, the legendary Klaus Kinski, was so combative on the set that a group of native extras asked Herzog if they could kill him (these and other tales are detailed in Herzog's documentary, My Best Fiend), and engineers told him it was impossible to pull a steamship over the side of a hill with the system of ropes and pulleys he was using -- and Herzog proved them wrong. Even his latest release has generated its share of controversy: Abel Ferrara, the director of the original Bad Lieutenant, said he hoped the makers of Port of Call: New Orleans would die in an explosion -- despite the fact that Herzog says the film is not a remake, since he's never seen Ferrara's movie.

In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, Herzog shared some of his favorite films, and discussed his attraction to film noir, how his films are "secretly mainstream," and the differences between working with Nicolas Cage and Klaus Kinski.


Freaks (1932, 95% Tomatometer)
Freaks One might be Freaks by Tod Browning. Oh, you just have to look at it. It's just formidable, it's phenomenal. You've gotta see it. It would take me an hour to explain.



Intolerance (1916, 95% Tomatometer)
Intolerance Everything that [D.W.] Griffith made: Broken Blossoms, Intolerance, Birth of a Nation, you just name it. Everything. He's the Shakespeare of cinema. Period. Watch his films and you'll know instantly.



Where Is the Friend's Home (1989, 100% Tomatometer)
Where Is the Friend's Home Some Iranian films, like Where Is the Friend's Home by Abbas Kiarostami. There's quite a lot of [great Iranian] films.



Rashomon (1950, 100% Tomatometer)
Rashomon It is probably the only film that I've ever seen which has something like a perfect balance, which does not occur in filmmaking very often. You sense it sometimes in great music, but I haven't experienced it in cinema, and it's mind boggling. I don't know how [Akira] Kurosawa did it. It's still a mystery to me. That's greatness.



Nosferatu (1922, 98% Tomatometer)
Nosferatu RT: I wanted to let you know that Rotten Tomatoes released our list of the best reviewed vampire films of all time, and your version of Nosferatu was number three.

Werner Herzog: Ah, and which is number one and two?

The original Nosferatu...

Oh yeah, that has to be number one, of course.

...and Let the Right One In.

It's okay. I do not need to occupy number two, three, four, and five.

What was the impulse to remake Nosferatu?

Well, I needed to connect to the great films of the grandfather generation, because our parents, our father generation, was a complete disaster and many of them sided with the barbarism of the Nazis. Somehow, you can only really make films embedded in the history of your own culture, and history was disrupted dramatically by the most barbaric regime you can ever find anywhere. So for me it was important to get some solid ground under my feet, connect with the grandfathers, connect with the greatest of them, and in my opinion, the greatest of great films is Nosferatu by [F.W.] Murnau, which I should include in the greatest five films of all time.

Next, Herzog talks about creating working with Nicolas Cage vs. working with Klaus Kinski, and what he thinks of critics.

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