Werner Herzog’s best documentaries, ranked
Werner Herzog is a German filmmaker with a lot of skills under his belt. Not only does he have an impressive directorial portfolio, but over time he has also acted, he is a published author and he has even staged a few operas. He has often been called a pioneer of new German cinema. He even appeared on Time Magazine’s 2009 list of the 100 most influential people.
Herzog has a unique film style with both his directing and his writing. Often, his films feature impossible ambitions, unique talents, or general conflicts of “unnatural character.” Its directing process is also steeped in improvisation, a disregard for storyboards, and forces the cast and crew to really immerse themselves in certain aspects of the films. He’s developed and directed 51 full-length feature films and documentaries, so there’s plenty to do. If you need a starting point, consider watching one of his best documentaries.
Morgana is a documentary set in the deserts of Africa and inspired by the Mayan theory of creation. It even includes a voiceover of a version of the People Vuh, an ancient Maya text that, among other things, includes their creation myth and how they believed the world and people came into being. The film is divided into three parts: creation, paradise and the golden age. Throughout all three, various shots were filmed in the deserts, some with people and some without. All three bring with them what seems like the impossible as they contemplate reality – each game ends in a mirage, hallucination, or optical illusion that seems impossible to film. It’s a truly hypnotic film.
8 The transformation of the world into music
A documentary about music and operas may seem strange at first, but that’s exactly what The transformation of the world into music is. The film focuses on two things: the Bayreuth Festival and composer Richard Wagner. The Bayreuth Festival is a music festival in Germany that Wagner founded and built, and which continues to this day. He helped build the ground on which the festival takes place and ensured that his operas and music could continue to be presented in a special theater large enough to accommodate the necessary orchestra. It’s a fascinating look at the history of this music festival as its legacy has continued to endure, even after many hardships.
seven In hell
If you’ve always wanted to see volcanoes up close, In hell has what you need. Explore active volcanoes in Indonesia, Iceland, North Korea and Ethiopia with Herzog and his crew. Co-Director Clive Oppenheimer is a volcanologist leading the way, keeping the team safe amid the chaos.
Looking at volcanoes and the destruction they can or have caused, they also take a look at the lives of those who live around volcanoes, because living next to something that could destroy your entire livelihood in a day is not something for everyone. deals with on a daily basis. It provides insight into those topics that would otherwise be difficult and dangerous to obtain.
6 wheel of time
Tibetan Buddhism is the favorite subject in wheel of time. Herzog was present and documented two initiations in 2002 for the Kalachakra, a Buddhist religious group. Both were overseen by the 14th Dalai Lama, although the former was discontinued due to an illness the Dalai Lama suffered from. Between the two ceremonies, which begin and end the documentary, Herzog shows the pilgrimage to Mount Kailash, a sacred mountain that thousands of people visit every year according to tradition. Each pilgrim circumnavigates the mountain, preferably in one day, and also performs several religious diets along the way. Herzog captures all of this in order to show those who may never see it for themselves.
5 Fireball: Visitors to Darker Worlds
A recent great original film from Apple TV+, the documentary Fireball: Visitors to Darker Worlds is all about meteors. When co-director Clive Oppenheimer visited a lab that specifically studied and exhibited meteorites, he had the idea to create this documentary and contacted Herzog to see if he would be interested. Together, the pair explore many aspects of meteorites, such as the scientific side that would have been seen in this laboratory, but also the cultural and spiritual side, especially of the ancient tribes who may not have known what it really was. They also look at craters left by meteorites in the same way, providing a deeper look into this natural phenomenon and how people have perceived them over the centuries.
4 Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Cave of Forgotten Dreams concerns the Chauvet cave in the south of France. There, some of the oldest man-made images that have been discovered exist, and as such there are many restrictions for the cave itself. Not only did Herzog need to get special permission to film in the cave, but there were also several requirements they had to meet. The general public is not allowed in the cave, and it is well preserved, so Herzog was only allowed three other people with him, and they only had a two-foot-wide walkway to work from.
Despite the difficulties of specialized equipment and limited space and crew, they were still able to capture the footage they needed and included interviews with scientists and historians throughout the film. They even did it with 3D photography in one of the most innovative and successful uses of technology. It was a hit upon its release, winning numerous Best Documentary awards from places like the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
3 graying man
Bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell is at the center of graying man. It chronicles the life and death of Treadwell, a man who thought he was defending bears from poaching and essentially living among them until he and his girlfriend were killed by them. Over 100 hours of footage was salvaged from the last five years of Treadwell’s life, and Herzog sifted through it to incorporate actual footage of the bear’s interactions throughout his film, as well as interviews with people who knew Treadwell, or scientists and park rangers who were bears. experts.
Herzog also includes some of his own musings, thinking Treadwell was sentimental, but ultimately didn’t understand the harsh reality of nature until it was too late. The film won several awards, including best documentary from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. It remains one of the best animal documentaries – not just bears, but humans.
2 Meetings around the world
Meetings around the world is not your average Antarctic documentary. Instead of focusing on wildlife like penguins and polar bears, or even the ice itself as some documentaries do, Herzog traveled to Antarctica to document the scientists there. Although there are nature images of Antarctica, such as ice tunnels and scuba diving footage, most of the documentary consists of various interviews with different scientists who live there, interviewing them to know more about them and what they do.
They travel to several science camps in Antarctica and even visit the well-preserved cabin of Ernest Shackleton, a scientist from the early 1900s who made several expeditions to Antarctica, trying to get as far south as he could safely. security. It was nominated for the Oscar for best documentary, but unfortunately did not win it. The images of Antarctica are stunning and the almost philosophical conversations throughout are a perfect accompaniment.
1 lessons of darkness
In lessons of darkness, there are very few comments to accompany the shots taken by Herzog. It was to emphasize and focus on what he had filmed instead, trying to take a closer look at what disaster is and how it is seen. The disaster in this case is the aftermath of the first Gulf War, which focused primarily on the Kuwaiti oil fires. However, no actual information about either moment is mentioned, instead focusing on the footage from the various camera angles they had gathered. It feels almost apocalyptic and definitely achieves its goal of making the audience really think about what’s going on.