SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Thomas von Steinaecker’s documentary Werner Herzog – Radical Dreamer is an examination of the incredible life and filmmaking career of the German auteur. Herzog interestingly says that he only dreams when he’s been driving for hours at a time, causing him to hallucinate butterflies and other things around him. Radical dreamer is an apt description for the man, the myth, the Simpsons character known as Werner Herzog.
I was first exposed to Aguirre, the Wrath of God in film school. It was something different than I had ever seen before, exceptional, bizarre, and captivating. So you can say I’m a fan of Herzog. His distinctive voice and dream-like films have made him a pop culture icon, so I was interested to see what I could learn from this movie. And while I felt like I already knew a lot about Herzog, there are still some fascinating facts here to glean.
Herzog endured a difficult childhood with no father around. However, he says he enjoyed the kind of anarchy which that freedom afforded. His family also dealt with food instability. He is more upset about his mother’s pain over having hungry children than his suffering. And that tells you a lot about the subject’s character.
“…an examination of the incredible life and filmmaking career of the German auteur.”
Another interesting tidbit I learned from Werner Herzog – Radical Dreamer is that Mick Jagger originally appeared in Fitzcarraldo before it had to be reshot. The documentary also posits that Grizzly Man caused Herzog’s popularity to explode. The sensational, can’t take your eyes off of it train wreck of a true story about Timothy Treadwell trying to live amongst and befriend grizzly bears culminates in a scene examined in this film of Herzog listening to terrifying audio. Herzog was the perfect person to capture the story of a man obsessed with an unusual mission.
More recently, fans know the man as an actor in The Mandalorian. Not many directors can portray that type of range as an actor. Werner Herzog – Radical Dreamer shows clips from the show and The Simpsons to display the kind of pop culture impact that he’s had. We get to hear from notable actors such as Christian Bale, Robert Pattinson, Carl Weathers, and Nicole Kidman, as well as singer Patti Smith and filmmaker Chloé Zhao, on the impact that Herzog has had on them.
However, the chaos and drama surrounding regular Herzog star Klaus Kinski is not examined in much detail here. Granted, it has already been done, by Herzog himself, in the fascinating documentary My Best Friend. But its absence is noticeable.
Werner Herzog – Radical Dreamer is slow-paced, though that only adds to the dream quality of the filmmaker’s surreal imagery and statements. It’s nice hearing from his perspective because his words are often poetic and deep. I wish the film were more in-depth, but it’s nearly impossible to cover such a long and storied career at an hour and forty-two minutes runtime. So you just have to sit back and enjoy the dream and the dreamer for the wild ride they bring you on. Fans will appreciate the retrospective, while the uninitiated will be taken by the subject’s eccentricity.
Werner Herzog – Radical Dreamer screened at the 2023 Santa Barbara International Film Festival presented by Wavelength.
"…fans will appreciate the retrospective, while the uninitiated will be taken by the subject's eccentricity."