Werner Herzog’s new film Lo and Behold is out now in select theaters and on VOD. Herzog is a genius filmmaker and documentarian unparalleled in his field. His legacy as an auteur and visionary is grounded in over 50 years of filmmaking, and along with that he is well versed in theater and classic literature while also being a master raconteur. Madman, genius or fraud; whatever you want to call him Werner Herzog is a notable force in the world of art and cinema and here are just five examples of his best work to date.
One of Herzog’s first breakout films featuring narrative storytelling over breathtaking visuals, Fata Morgana is an interesting experiment chronicling the false history of a fictional culture. The film documents multiple areas of the Sahara desert and features on-camera interactions with crew and locals. German historian Lotte Eisner provides the narration for the fabricated story written by Werner Herzog himself. It’s part sci-fi meets myth and folklore, all the while presenting an incredible view of one of the world’s most extreme environments.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The first and arguably greatest of Herzog’s films featuring Klaus Kinski, Aguirre is a tale of obsession and madness. A band of Spanish conquistadores ventures into the darkest recesses of the Peruvian Amazon to find the lost city of gold El Dorado. When the group commander dies, the power hungry Aguirre takes control of the expedition and quickly becomes paranoid and murderous. Fitzcarraldo is another example of the great work Kinski and Herzog did together and the document of their relationship My Best Fiend is just as fascinating.
The Enigma of Kasper Hauser
The story of Kasper Hauser is fantastic and captivating. Found abandoned in the middle of Nürnberg, Germany in the early 1800s; the young Kasper was adopted and educated before being mysteriously killed by an unknown assailant. The mystery of this story is mind-boggling to comprehend, and Herzog’s movie perfectly illustrates the wonder and tragedy of this young life cut short. Street performer and former mental patient Bruno S. starred in this and the relentlessly somber Stroszek, and both are equally deserving of attention and multiple viewings.
Nosferatu the Vampyre
Nosferatu the Vampyre is so far Werner Herzog’s only foray into conventional horror as a fictional narrative. Taking one of the oldest stories ever adapted on screen, Herzog took influence from multiple versions of Bram Stoker’s Dracula to include the films of F. W. Murnau and Tod Browning and Hamilton Deane’s 1924 stage play. Klaus Kinski is almost completely unrecognizable as the vampire and Isabelle Adjani delivers an unforgettable performance as Lucy that would later mirror her incredible work in Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog has been very prolific over the last decade, but Cave of Forgotten Dreams may stand out as being one of the best documentaries of his career. The film caused controversy due to its fabricated ending featuring albino crocodiles, but the main body of the movie is a beautiful exploration of an ancient protected relic. The music and visuals present this journey through sacred terrain in a way that honors and pays respect to life that existed 30,000 years ago. It’s a great experience worth sharing with anybody interested in his work.