Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema)


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But finally, after the telephone conversations, these producers seemed to be willing to accept me as a first-time director. When I finally walked into their office I saw two men sitting behind this huge oak desk. I vividly remember the moment second by second. I stood there, totally humiliated as they looked beyond me, waiting, as if the father had come into town with his child.

The first one shouted something so abusive that I wiped it from my memory while the other slapped his thigh and laughed, shouting, 'Aha! The kindergarten is trying to make films nowadays! The meeting was the culmination of many set- backs and humiliations and proved to be a pivotal point for me. I knew there and then that until the end of my days I would always be confronted by this kind of attitude if I went to others to produce my films. One of my mother's best friends was married to a wealthy industrialist who had a huge mansion, and she took me to see this man so he could explain to me how to set up a production company.

He started with this ridiculous loud voice and just shouted at me for nearly an hour: 'This is completely foolish! You idiot! You have never been in business! You don't know what you are doing! But you're hardly a typical Hollywood mogul, are you? My company was really only an emergency measure simply because no one else would finance my films, and to this day I have only ever produced my own films. Right up to around the 11 time of Nosferatu, I worked out of my small apartment in Munich with a telephone and a tjqDewriter.

There was no clear division between private life and work.

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Instead of a living room we had an editing room, and I would sleep there too. I had no secretary, no one to help me with taxes, book-keeping, contracts, screenplay writing, organization. I did absolutely everything myself; it was an article of faith, a matter of simple human decency to do the dirty work as long as I could.


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Three things - a phone, tjqjewriter and car - are all you need to produce films. Inevitably, as my work reached larger international audiences and there were more and more retrospectives planned and too many people to stay in touch with, it just became too difficult to operate the office on my own. I remember that when Twentieth Century Fox were first inter- ested in co-producing Nosferatu they wanted me to travel to HolljTvood.

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I did not want to go so I invited them to Munich instead. I met them at the airport and squeezed all four executives into my Volkswagen bus with no heater on a freezing winter morn- ing and drove into the Bavarian countryside. Where did you get the money to finance your early films? During my final years at high school I earned my own money by working the night shift as a welder in a steel factory, as a parking- lot attendant, things like that.

Maybe the most important piece of advice I can give to those of you heading into the world of film is that as long as you are able-bodied, as long as you can make money yourself, do not go looking for office jobs to pay the rent. I would also be very wary of excruciatingly useless bottom-rung secretarial jobs in film-production companies. Go out to where the real world is, go work as a bouncer in a sex-club, a warden in a lunatic asylum or in a slaughterhouse.

Walk on foot, learn lan- guages, learn a craft or trade that has nothing to do with cinema. Filmmaking must have experience of life at its foundation.

I know that so much of what is in my films is not just invention, it is very much life itself, my own life. You can tell when you read Conrad or Hemingway how much real life is in those books. Those are the 12 guys who would have made great films, though I thank God they were writers. For my first film Herakles I needed a good amount of cash, rela- tively speaking, because I wanted to start shooting in 35 mm and not 16 mm. For me filmmaking was only 35 mm; ever37thing else seemed amateurish.

There were about eight of us and most of them were slightly older than me. Out of the eight planned films, four never went into production, and another three were shot but never fin- ished because of sound problems. The failure of the others was very significant: it dawned on me that organization and commit- ment were the only things that started and finished films, not money. When it came to Fitzcarraldo, it was not money that pulled that boat over the mountain, it was faith. You've said that Herakles is more an exercise in editing than any- thing eke, that you were experimenting with a medium that you were a complete novice in.

Looking back at Herakles today, I find the film rather stupid and pointless, though at the time it was an important test for me. It taught me about editing together very diverse material that would not normally sit comfortably as a whole.

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For the film I took stock footage of an accident at Le Mans where something like eighty people died after fragments of a car flew into the spectators' stand, and inter-cut it with footage of bodybuilders, including Mr Ger- many For me it was fascinating to edit material together that had such separate and individual lives. The film was some kind of an apprenticeship for me.

I just felt it would be better to make a film than go to film school. What are your views on film schools? I gather you'd prefer people just went out and made films than spending years at school. I personally do not believe in the kind of film schools you find all over the world today. I never worked as another filmmaker's assistant and I never had any formal training.

A Little Mad Sometimes: Film Psychopaths from Jekyll and

My early films 13 come from my very deepest commitment to what I was doing, what I felt I had no choice but to do, and as such they are totally unconnected to what was going on at the film schools - and cin- emas - of the time. It is my strong autodidactic streak and my faith in my own work that have kept me going for more than forty years.

A pianist is made in childhood, a filmmaker at any age. I say this only because physically, in order to play the piano well, the body needs to be conditioned from a very early age. Real musi- cians have an innate feel for all music and all instruments, some- thing that can be instilled only at an early age. Of course, it is possible to learn to play the piano as an adult, but the intuitive qualities needed will not be there. As a young filmmaker I read in an encyclopedia the fifteen or so pages on filmmaking.

It has always seemed to me that almost everything you are forced to learn at school you forget in a couple of years. But the things you set out to learn yourself in order to quench a thirst, these are things you never forget. It was a vital early lesson for me, realizing that the knowledge gleaned from a book would suffice for my first week on the set, which is all the time needed to learn ever37thing you need to know as a filmmaker. To this day the technical knowledge I have is relatively rudimentary. If there are things that seem too complicated, I experiment; if I am still not able to master it, I hire a technician.

You've talked in the past about how collaborative film is, and how many different and varied skills it requires. Filmmaking is a more vulnerable journey than most other creative ventures. When you are a sculptor you have only one obstacle - a lump of rock - on which you chisel away.

But filmmaking involves organization and money and technology, things like that. You might get the best shot of your life but if the lab mixes the devel- oping solution wrongly then your shot is gone for ever. You can build a ship, cast 5, extras and plan a scene with your leading actors, and in the morning one of them has a stomach ache and cannot go on set.

These things happen, everything is interwoven and interlinked , and if one element does not function properly 14 then the whole venture is prone to collapse. Filmmakers should be taught about how things will go wrong, about how to deal with these problems, how to handle a crew that is getting out of hand, how to handle a producing partner who will not pay up or a dis- tributor who won't advertise properly, things like this.

People who keep moaning about these kinds of problems are not really suited to this line of business. And, vitally, aspiring filmmakers have to be taught that some- times the only way of overcoming problems involves real physi- cality. Many great filmmakers have been astonishingly physical, athletic people. A much higher percentage than writers or musi- cians. Actually, for some time now I have given some thought to opening a film school.

But if I did start one up you would only be allowed to fill out an application form after you had travelled alone on foot, let's say from Madrid to BGev, a distance of about 5, kilometres. While walking, write.

Write about your experi- ences and give me your notebooks. I would be able to tell who had really walked the distance and who had not.

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While you are walking you would learn much more about filmmaking than if you were in a classroom. During your voyage you will learn more about what your future holds than in five years at film school. Your experiences would be the very opposite of academic knowl- edge, for academia is the death of cinema. It is the very opposite of passion. Tell me about your ideal film school. This is something we can talk about later when we discuss Film Lesson, the programmes I made for Austrian television, but let me say here that there are some very basic skills that any filmmaker must have. First of all, learn languages.

It is like the knights of old who had to be able to ride, wield a sword and play the lute. At my Utopian film academy I would have students do athletic things with real physical contact, like boxing, something that would teach them to be unafraid. I would have a loft with a lot of space where in one corner there would be a boxing ring. Students would train every evening from 8 to 10 with a boxing instructor: sparring, somer- saults backwards and forwards , juggling, magic card tricks.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God 1973 Full Film by Werner Herzog
Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema) Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema)
Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema) Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema)
Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema) Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema)
Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema) Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema)
Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema) Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema)
Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema) Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge Library Editions: Cinema)

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