Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer (2022) – Documentary Review

Werner Herzog Radical Dreamer Documentary Review (1)

By Sarah Morgan

“It’s not significant,” claimed Werner Herzog when he was shot in the abdomen by some loon with an air rifle while being interviewed by critic Mark Kermode for the BBC’s Culture Show in 2006.

It’s an incredible thing to have said about such an incident, which left more of an impression on Kermode than it did Herzog, but it’s certainly not a statement that could ever be used to describe either the German film director or his work.

Werner Herzog Radical Dreamer Documentary Review (2) bfi“Incredible anecdotes”

Born in Munich in 1942, he and his brothers were evacuated to a remote Bavarian village in the Alps during the Second World War, but later returned to the city, where Herzog’s forays into the film world began. As he and his younger half-sibling Lucki Stipetic (who became his producer and now heads Werner’s company) recall, he made his mind up to win a screenplay competition, and shocked everyone by doing so. It helped launch his career, and he quickly became part of a group of directors known as New German Cinema.

This determination seems to be a core part of his personality. Herzog also remembers walking from Munich to Paris to visit his desperately ill mentor, Lotte H Eisner, convinced that if he completed the epic trek, she would survive. Of course, he did it and she did, indeed, live another nine years.

And then there’s the time he decided to make Fitzcarraldo, which necessitated dragging a steamboat over a mountain in South America. Somehow it was done, despite the efforts of Herzog’s oft-collaborator Klaus Kinski to sabotage the entire shoot.

The whole documentary is full of such incredible anecdotes, told either by the man himself or those who know him well, including his third and current wife, Lena Pisetski, who says he lied to her on their first meeting, claiming he was a stuntman.

Werner Herzog Radical Dreamer Documentary Review 3


Others featured include fellow director Wim Wenders, the much-missed Carl Weathers, Christian Bale, Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, Chloe Zhao and many more. Although Wenders is perhaps a little grudging in his admiration, all have positive things to say about their experiences of Herzog – what a shame Kinski isn’t around to offer his views; the pair had a notorious love/hate relationship, as detailed in the director’s documentary, My Best Fiend.

But the best moments come when Herzog himself is interviewed. It’s clear that like Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, he understands how celebrity, or notoriety, can help him get his projects made – whether he would have agreed to feature in The Simpsons, The Mandalorian, Parks and Recreation and other high-profile productions without realising their potential to raise his profile is something of a moot point. But even if, in his interview segments, he’s playing for the camera, who cares when what he says is so entertaining?

I could watch Herzog for hours; my only beef with Radical Dreamer is that at 90 minutes, it seems far too short for to cover the entire life and career of someone who could never be described as insignificant.

Special features:
  • Additional interview footage (2023, 16 mins): a selection of previously unseen material shot for the film
  • The Colonist (2022, 10 mins): Robert A Smith’s short film, made under Herzog’s mentorship as part of the Werner Herzog Film Accelerator programme
  • Poster gallery: images from the Deutsche Kinemathek Werner Herzog Archiv collection
  • Theatrical trailer
  • ***First pressing only - Illustrated booklet with a new essay by Geoff Andrew, The Many Faces of Werner Herzog by Kristina Jaspers, notes on the special features and credits
Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer is released on Blu-ray by the BFI

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