Director Werner Herzog is a mini-celebrity these days—he’s read his own version of Go the Fuck to Sleep for hipster parents, and he’s even been a villain in a Tom Cruise movie, Jack Reacher. But the German New Wave icon has a brilliant career behind him, first as a maker of manly back-to-nature fiction movies like 1972’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and lately as a lovably curious documentarian. Herzog’s latest film, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, has him poetically exploring the origins and ramifications of the internet. But he’s got decades of work that’s even better. Here are Werner Herzog’s 10 best documentaries to get started with.
Best Werner Herzog documentaries
For 13 summers, Timothy Treadwell videotaped his gushing effusions over bears in the Alaskan wild, until one killed him and his girlfriend in 2003. It really was the stupidest of stupid pet tricks; as related in Herzog’s gripping assembly of Treadwell’s own footage and new postmortem testimony, the story becomes a fascinating, strangely touching cry in the dark.
Horses and lions cavort in the dripping darkness: The Chauvet cave paintings are more than 30,000 years old. Feisty Werner has his own take on things. "Do they have souls?" he asks a somewhat mystified anthropologist about the artists. "Do they cry at night?" It’s a fascinating documentary, shot in 3-D.
A director known for his penchant for embracing extremes, Herzog decided to travel to the farthermost reaches of Antarctica and ruminate on the love-hate relationship between man and nature. Here’s what he found out: It’s very, very cold. And penguins are totally down with threesomes. We love you, Werner.
Herzog’s half-bitter, half-loving ode to his late colleague Klaus Kinski is a portrait in rage, toxicity and unspoken respect. The doc’s most compelling footage comes from Les Blank’s superior Burden of Dreams (about the making of Fitzcarraldo), which you should start with first. But this follow-up is tons of fun.