Werner Herzog: Film Professor. Yes, Please.

Some directors are known not just for their artistic style, but also for their eccentric behavior off set. Alfred Hitchcock wore a suit on set every day and was known for playing elaborate practical jokes. David Lynch has a website where he talks about the weather.

Werner Herzog, is on a whole other level. After losing a bet, he publicly ate a shoe. He saved Joaquin Phoenix from a car crash. He even got shot once, and laughed it off. Oh, and he’s also an extraordinary director: a filmmaker, a visionary, and a poet all wrapped into one. He has directed such films as “Grizzly Man,” “Rescue Dawn,” and “Fitzcarraldo.” It seems fitting now that someone who knows film as well as he would now be taking on the role of professor, at his very own Rogue Film School.
However, this is no ordinary film school where a teacher hands you a camera, tells you what a tracking shot is, and sends you out into the world. No, this one lacks all of that technical stuff. Instead, it promises to teach “the art of lockpicking” and “traveling on foot.” He promotes this program to people who have “worked as bouncers in sex clubs” or “as wardens in a lunatic asylum.” He then goes on to encourage students to follow their visions and “be not afraid of solitude.” From the sound of it, no filmmaking will be done in this program. It seems to be more about teaching the art of being a filmmaker, rather than the art of film.
Even to those who believe that the best way to understand film is to have hands-on experience and learn every technique from top to bottom, Herzog is making a truly interesting point about the art of film through his strange teachings. The best filmmakers are the ones who incorporate their emotions, their lives into their films. Films are a way that one’s voice can be communicated. Perhaps what Herzog is saying is that before one can become a truly great auteur, they must learn the struggles of life and sharpen their perceptions of the world.
It’s not surprising to see that someone like Herzog might carry this belief. The most memorable scene in “Grizzly Man” is the one where he commands Timothy Treadwell’s ex-girlfriend to destroy the video that contains the moment her husband was mauled to death by a bear. In this moment, Herzog was totally putting himself into his film. He was taking control of it and putting his thoughts, his emotions, into a real life event.
Now, I’d like to leave this up to you. What truly makes a good filmmaker? Is it the person who knows everything about the process and has absorbed thousands of movies? Or, is it the one whose seen the world and mastered such obscure skills as the art of lockpicking?
Here’s a clip of David Lynch telling us the weather while wearing a cowboy hat. Why? Because he’s David Lynch, that’s why.