Leonard here. My colleague Mark Searby is going to be sharing columns with us highlighting British cinema past and present. Please enjoy A Bit of Crumpet.

“Filmmaking is not a good job” says the enigmatic and eclectic filmmaker Werner Herzog in this documentary about his life. Maybe he’s right. Maybe it is a grind. Yet, Herzog’s work has been part of the fabric of filmmaking since the 1970s, and his films have been boundary-pushing. He doesn’t settle for second-best. Constantly trying to push himself to the edge, and sometimes beyond. Certainly, this documentary shows how in his early years as a filmmaker he was going over that edge in-order to not just get a film made, but also to just get a shot for a film. It was rare that Herzog was defeated in his quest. Look at his relentless pursuit of pulling a steamboat up a vast mountain and then down the other side for Fitzcarraldo. His passion for film-making in the early days really was a guiding light in the appearance of a new wave of German filmmakers who were not playing by the standard laws of cinema. When Herzog captured the soldiers and native slaves walking down the mountain for opening scene in Aguirre, Wrath of God it lit a fire up within cinema. His contemporaries wondered aloud, as some do in this documentary, how he managed to not just get that shot, but make the entire film. It was a revelatory moment in Herzog’s career. But mention of Aguirre brings up discussion of Herzog’s relationship with his leading man Klaus Kinski. Some behind the scenes footage from Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo shows Kinski screaming directly in Herzog’s face, who is calm and untroubled. It is a brief moment that shows the kind of relationship they had. They each tolerated the other because they knew they could produce cinematic magic together. Herzog talks about Kinski with such heart, regardless of the volatile actor. Their friendship a true one-in-a-million relationship.

The documentary is interspersed with talking heads from those who have worked with Herzog including Robert Pattinson, Chloe Zhao, Joshua Oppenheimer, Patti Smith, Wim Wenders, Carl Weathers, Christian Bale, Nicole Kidman amongst others. Also, featured in the doc are interviews with his brothers Lucki and Tilbert alongside his former wife Martje Grohmann and his current wife Lena Herzog. While all of them discuss the intriguing insights into working with/living with Herzog, it is the man himself who offers the most fascinating, and thought-provoking, moments in this documentary as he looks back on his career. Going back to his childhood home and reminiscing about life with his mother & brothers while sat outside on a stripy cushion is pure Herzog – insightful, entertaining and amusing. Riffing on his experiences of film-making and on life including the day he got shot in the Hollywood Hills while filming with the BBC. The documentary starts and ends with Herzog talking lovingly, and spiritually, about a waterfall.

The disappointment of the documentary is that the second half of Herzog’s career is particularly rushed. It flies through work such as Rescue Dawn, Bad Lieutenant, Queen of the Desert and others. Grizzly Man is given a few minutes more than others because of how it opened him up to an entirely new audience in America. His other documentary work barely gets a mention outside of Encounters At The End Of The World. An extra 10-15 minutes on that side of his film-making would have just added a more in-depth look at his whole arsenal as a filmmaker.

For fans of Herzog, you won’t learn too much more or new here (some might say: the more you learn about him, the less you understand him). However, the documentary is, overall, an entertaining piece about someone who will never be pigeon-holed.

Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer is now available on BFI Blu Ray.

Subscribe to our newsletter


Maltin tee on TeePublic


Maltin on Movies podcast


Past podcasts


Maltin On Movies Patreon


Leonard Maltin appearances and booking


April 2024