An Evening with Werner Herzog

On Oct. 6, 2017, internationally acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog visited Rhodes College, bringing with him decades of film experience as a director, screenwriter, and producer. Herzog’s films played a crucial role in the establishment of New German Cinema, a postwar movement that used its art-house films to address issues such as the dissension among youth and the ethics of Nazi Germany. This movement declined with the death of prominent filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1982, but Herzog is still creating films and documentaries. He is also known for his acting roles in both film and on popular television programs such as Parks and Recreation.

 Professor Rashna Richards, chair of film and media studies at Rhodes, organized the visit, which included a master class for students and an evening film screening, followed by a Q&A, open to the public. “This was a wonderful opportunity for our students and our program, as well as for strengthening our ties with the Memphis film community,” Richards says. “I was thrilled with all the support from students and colleagues, who were so enthusiastic about Herzog’s visit.”

Herzog praised new technologies, such as digital film, that make the world of filmmaking more accessible by cutting the cost significantly. In his talk, Herzog relayed that he stole his very first camera as a film student, but today most film students are already equipped with a camera in their phones. While admiring these conveniences, he added that he worries that they encourage excessive filming and going over budget. Herzog’s own approach to creating film is minimalistic, each frame and shot placed with intentionality. English major Ellie Richardson ’19 describes his process this way: “Those who have seen many Herzog films can tell you that he does not fill his films with constant actions. His films are, at times, mesmerizingly slow. Every clip taken in a Herzog film drips with methodical intention.”

 At the evening screening, a capacity audience of Rhodes students, professors, and Memphis film buffs filled McNeill Concert Hall to watch Herzog’s The Wild Blue Yonder (2005), one of his lesser-known films. The Wild Blue Yonder tells the story of an alien whose race has failed to create a colony on Earth, and the exploration of the alien’s home planet by U.S. astronauts. Herzog arranged clips from public domain footage to create most of the film, using material from a space mission and parts from an underwater exploration video in Antarctica.

After the screening, Herzog answered questions from the audience, giving both meticulous and hilariously absurd responses. “Having someone like Werner Herzog come to campus is something I won’t forget anytime soon,” says John Mark Stodola ’19. “As a film minor, I have studied a few of his films, but having him here in person allowed me to get an insight to the motivations and experiences that inspire his filmmaking.”

By Swaneet Mand '18