Film Director As A Military Commander: The Case of Lieutenant Herzog

A film director has to convince a great number of people to follow him and work with him. I often say, although I am certainly not a militarist, that if you compare the production unit to an army, the script is the battle flag and the director is the commander in the front line. From the moment production begins to the moment it ends, there is no telling what will happen. The director must be able to respond to any situation, and he must have the leadership ability to make the whole unit go along with his responses.  

Akira Kurosawa

 

Werner Herzog hypnotized the whole cast of the film Heart of Glass to make it. He certainly had the leadership abilities Kurosawa describes, since the actors had to have immense trust in the director to let themselves be hypnotized for the sake of making a movie. According to the Filmmaker Magazine, Regina Krejci, who was listed as a scriptwriter for the movie, “had met Herzog in Vienna just two months earlier. After a retrospective screening of his films there, Regina knew for sure what she had to devote her life to. She begged Herzog for a position on his production team. He was taken by the intensity of her plea. ‘Walk from Vienna to Munich,’ he said, somewhat seriously. ‘That will tell me how much you want the job.’“ She did it.

Herzog surrounded himself with people who were willing to go with him at any lenghts and Klaus Kinski was not the only one who promoted chaos (and on top of that, he was mad) chaos which Herzog embraced. Imagine a military commander who stands in the middle of a First World War battle and commands his army, while cannons are roaring, grenades are falling everywhere, and the machine guns do not stop firing. That is Werner Herzog. His endeavour to move the ship over the mountains to film Fitzcarraldo is akin to Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps to attack Rome. The only „officer“ Herzog was barely able to control was Klaus Kinski, an imemmensely talented and truly mad actor, who threatened to leave the making of Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Herzog answered with a threat that he would shoot him if he left. Kinski stayed. If one director can be compared to a military commander, it is Werner Herzog.

He risked his life to make his movies, and the crew did the same together with him. A lot of people say that it is a miracle that he is still alive; he envisioned filmmaking in a similar way war is imagined. It is completely chaotic – chance is the queen mother of filmmaking, yet there are rules which must be obeyed. Herzog is a commander who inspires trust in his soldiers (actors, production unit in general) and they are willing to follow him in his endeavour to create art. The beauty and the grandeur of his films are the result of chaos. Solely due this fact, Herzog should be admired as the finest commander of all in cinema, the one who gives it  beauty which transcends chaos.

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