Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer
Directed by Thomas von Steinaecker
Written by Documentary
Starring Werner Herzog
Release Date December 5th, 2023
Published November 9th, 2023
Like many cinephiles, I have a particular fascination with the legendary director Werner Herzog. I find Herzog's work to be incredible, dangerous, unique, and often quite alien when compared to the kinds of movies I spend most of my life writing about. Herzog's work has a hypnotic quality to it, especially his documentary work where he lingers on beautiful images and in that mellifluous, German accented voiceover he explains the beauty or the horror, or the fascinating sight before us and draws us in with his philosophical and unique observations.
The new documentary, Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer, aims to do for Herzog what he has done for his own subjects, reveal their fascinating qualities and revel in the beauty of such observation. Radical Dreamer opens on Herzog driving the streets of Los Angeles. He's taking director Thomas Von Steinaeker, and by extension, us, to one of his favorite places in Los Angeles. But first, Herzog muses about how doesn't actually dream. He hasn't had an actual dream in years. Rather, he has waking dreams while driving for 20 hours or so on a random road trip. In these dreams he has various visions that appear like dreams.
Only Werner Herzog could make falling asleep behind the wheel of a moving car sound like a lovely and poetic experience. Of course, having spent a portion of his career working with Klaus Kinski, a vehicle crash is probably not something that would phase you. Radical Dreamer will take us through Herzog's legendary career, stopping on several of his most famous productions, with Kinski showing up to be Kinski, unhinged, bugged eyes, screaming and threatening Herzog and his crew with various forms of physical threats.
Herzog takes it all in stride and still appears wistful about his times working with Kinski in the 70s and 80s. That said, Steinaecker appears to hint that working with Kinski, and the physical and emotional demands of the movies they made together, may be responsible for Herzog moving into documentaries. It makes sense. If you've heard the stories about the making of Aguirre: Wrath of God or Fitzcarraldo, then you can understand why Herzog abandoned the world of narrative fiction for a while. We get to see just a glimpse of the behind the scenes insanity with Kinski in Radical Dreamer and it's enough to make anyone want to run off to the South Pole and film penguins for a while.
The archival footage in Radical Dreamer is brilliant and insightful but it's the modern moments, in the company of Herzog himself as he reflects on his career in a wistful, melancholic, but wildly alive, Werner Herzog way, where the documentary thrives. As someone continually enraptured by the public conception of Werner Herzog, Radical Dreamer is right up my alley. Getting to see Herzog travel back to his childhood home in Germany and then travel to locations from his earliest work in film is lovely. Herzog isn't so much sentimental, and there is definitely nothing mawkish at play, rather the film captures the filmmaker at his most reflective and philosophical and it's just lovely.
Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer debuts on streaming rental services on December 5th, 2023. If you have loved Herzog's work or are just fascinated by his public persona, this documentary is for you. You get a great sense of who Herzog is and the work that has shaped him. You get incredible insight into his work via archive footage and you get to hear Herzog himself reflect and share some anecdotes about his process and his approach to creating art. It's a treat for film fans and, of course, for those who've become fascinated by Werner Herzog for various reasons.
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