Into the Inferno: A Masterclass with Werner Herzog
The 2016 Virginia Film Festival was heavy on star power, with special guests Shirley MacLaine, Liv Ullmann, and Danny McBride coming to Charlottesville and treating audiences and students alike to unique insights into their storied careers. But it was yet another legend who logged the most time with students that weekend. In addition to presenting a pair of high profile public screenings, iconic filmmaker and author Werner Herzog filled much of his weekend in Charlottesville engaging with students.
Herzog, who has more than 60 feature films and more than 50 international awards to his credit, in addition to more than a dozen books and stage and opera directing credits, joined Studio Art Professor, William Wylie, for a fascinating and intimate master class discussion. The class included more than 40 students plus faculty and staff members, and covered topics ranging from his German upbringing, his mentors and inspirations, and the inside stories behind some of this most acclaimed films. Known for asserting what he believes, Herzog shared that his disdain for self-editing extends to his writing process as well. Touting the durability of the written word over film, he said, “With film, you do not get a direct, intense, immediate approach like when you write in a diary. I have never changed or crossed out a single word in thousands of pages of writing, and do the same thing in screenplays. I do not correct.”
VFF audiences had multiple chances to experience the strong-willed and often unpredictable Herzog through screenings of his new film Into the Inferno, which covers his travels to many of the world’s most dangerous active volcanoes, and his lesser-known, 1974 narrative film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. In what was perhaps the culminating highlight of his busy weekend, Herzog held court before a sold-out Paramount Theater crowd in a fascinating and freewheeling conversation with VFF Programmer, Wesley Harris (College ‘08) that included clips from throughout his decades-long film career. The rapt audience also heard Herzog lend his unforgettable voice to a performance of oratorical readings ranging from classics like the Poetic Edda and Virgil’s Georgics, to Herzog’s own memoirs.
The legendary creative force was generous with advice for the many in the crowd who had their own artistic dreams. Asked about what young filmmakers can do to hone their craft, the legendary icon paused only slightly before suggesting that the two best paths toward improving one’s self are reading and traveling – preferably by foot. He should know: Herzog told students he once walked 500 miles from Munich to Paris to visit his cherished mentor, the critic, historian, writer, and poet, Lotte Eisner, in the hospital. That hardly comes as a surprise from a man who has blazed his own trails throughout the course of one of the art world’s most remarkable careers. While he may not have literally walked it, Herzog’s journey to Charlottesville will be an indelible memory for all who were lucky enough to be part of it, and for the man himself, who thanked Harris in an email by saying that their conversation event was “one of the best public events I’ve ever had. It was just all joy.”