Just when you thought Werner Herzog’s acclaimed and illustrious career couldn’t get any more brilliant, the German director decides to take a role in Tom Cruise’s forthcoming thriller, Jack Reacher. Yes, the world’s biggest movie star and the man who once ate his own shoe on film (after losing a bet) will appear together on the big screen. To celebrate this latest slice of magnificent bizarreness from Herzog, here are five reasons why we consider the director a living legend.
He was hit by a bullet and brushed it off as no biggie.
Werner was being interviewed by film critic Mark Kermode in the hills above Los Angeles for a BBC interview when all of a sudden a shot rang out and the director was bleeding from his lower torso. Was it an assassination attempt or a stray bullet? The filmmaker proved he’s a double-hard bastard and a real man’s man when he claimed to an astonished Kermode: “It is not a significant bullet. I am not afraid.”
Crazy scale: 4. OK, it was an air rifle pellet but he’s still made of true grit.
He lugged a boat over a mountain.
Fitzcarraldo (1982) originally starred Mick Jagger and Jason Robards (seriously, you can watch the actual footage if you don’t believe us). Robards caught dysentery forcing the production to stop. Jagger quit having tour commitments with The Rolling Stones. Werner decided to change tact and hire Klaus Kinski to play the man with a dream of bringing opera to the Amazon. In the film’s most celebrated act of lunacy, Herzog and his production crew ““ mainly native tribesmen exploited for peanuts ““ pulled a full scale 320-ton steamboat over the side of a mountain. Rumour has it a native Amazonian died during the film but it is pure myth. An extra died of malaria, but that’s not Herzog’s fault.
Crazy scale: 4. Hollywood would have used miniatures back in the day. Today, producers would have rendered the whole thing in CGI. Not Herzog.
He set up a film school that doesn’t teach you about film.
If you enrol at the Rogue Film School don’t expect to learn much about the art of filmmaking. It explicitly states this caveat in Rule Number 4 on the school’s website: “The Rogue Film School will not teach anything technical related to filmmaking. For this purpose, please enroll at your local film school.” Got that?
Crazy scale: 2. Hey, if you can afford it.
He threatened to murder Klaus Kinski ““ and meant it!
Werner once claimed every grey hair on his head was named “˜Klaus Kinski’. Their working relationship was so volatile, the director threatened on more than one occasion to have him murdered. And there was the time he (allegedly) planned to firebomb the Polish actor’s house. Despite such antics, they made several classic pictures together including Aguirre, The Wrath of God and a great version of Nosferatu. In 2003 Herzog made a documentary about their time working together, the perfectly titled, “˜My Best Fiend’.
Crazy scale: 5. Threatening to murder somebody is pretty hardcore.
He threw himself into a bed of cacti as an act of solidarity.
Even Dwarves Started Small was shot on the island of Lanzarote, in 1970, and entered the history books not only for being fucking well weird, but a celebrated incident that occurred at the end of filming. A couple of actors were hurt performing dangerous stunts ““ one poor dwarf was burned ““ and their kindly maestro promised he would, in an act of sheer solidarity, jump into a bed of cacti ““ naked ““ after shooting wrapped. True to his word, Werner stripped off and flung himself into the spiky flower patch. He quipped afterwards ““ with true Herzogian dryness and understatement ““ “Getting out was a lot more difficult than jumping in.”
Crazy scale: 5. It must have hurt a lot.
And honestly, he did eat his own shoe. Here’s the unforgettable clip for those who’ve never seen it…