Werner Herzog directed his first short film, Herakles, using a stolen camera in 1962, when he was a freshman at the University of Munich. His first feature film, Lebenszeichen (Signs of Life, 1968), deals with the loneliness and isolation of three German soldiers who must guard an old bunker on a remote Greek island, while his second full-length film, Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen (Even Dwarfs Started Small, 1970), uses a riot by a group of dwarfs locked in an institution to draw attention to the materialism of daily life. But Herzog’s Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (Aguirre: The Wrath of God, 1972), Gottes (Aguirre: The Wrath of God, 1972).tador who searches for a treasure trove of gold in six-tenth-century South America, was the film that put Herzog on the map.
Shot in both English and German versions, the manic Kinski is superb as the crazed visionary who will let nothing stand in the way of his insane quest, no matter what the cost. Subsequent films consolidated Herzog’s reputation as an uncompromising and individualistic artist, such as Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (Nosferatu the Vampyre, 1979), with Kinski in the title role, in a remake of F. W. Murnau’s classic Nosferatu of 1922, and Fitzcarraldo (1982), in which an obsessed colonialist (Kinski again) determines to develop a trade route for ships in the Amazon jungle as well as to establish a grand opera company there.
For Fitzcarraldo, Herzog took his crew on location for the shoot, which was insanely difficult; at one point in the film, Kinski’s character hauls a ship over the Andes Mountains, and to film it Herzog did just that. The film’s troubled production was documented in Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (1982), which is almost as hypnotic as Herzog’s own film. Since then, his work has been more sporadic, but he scored a commercial and critical hit with the bizarre documentary Grizzly Man (2005), which he created from existing archival footage, documenting the life of a young man obsessed with wild bears and their habitat.