by Tara Morgan
While many might know the indefatigable Werner Herzog from his 2005 film Grizzly Man, most are probably unaware that the clenched-jaw German director moonlights as a fantastically witty prose writer. After producing more than 50 films that span an almost equal number of years, Herzog has gained a reputation for his exacting, compulsive need capture the perfect image and his ability to maintain a steely composure, even when shot at or challenged to eat his own shoe.
The June issue of Harper’s includes excerpts from Herzog’s collected diaries over the years he spent filming the epic Amazon-based 1982 film Fitzcarraldo. Though it’s hard to tell if you are laughing with Herzog or at him, these excerpts bulge with all the beauty and vulgarity of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. Minus the fiction.
After a few months trading glares with an aggressive albino turkey at their moisture-drenched rain forest camp, Herzog describes the heated man v. poultry showdown in his “June 4” entry:
“The camp is silent with resignation; only the turkey is making a racket. It attacked me, overestimating its own strength and I quickly grabbed its neck, which squirmed and tried to swallow, slapped him left-right with the casual elegance of the arrogant cavaliers I had seen in French Three Musketeers films who go on to prettily cross swords, and then let the vain albino go.”
Herzog’s new book Conquest of the Useless: Reflections From the Making of Fitzcarraldo is available starting June 30. Check out pages 17-20 of this month’s Harper's if you need more convincing.