12 Hours of Werner Herzog

Ransom Riggs

Don't touch that dial, folks, because the future of the internet has arrived! Hulu has been streaming full-length movies for years now, and in an effort to compete, YouTube has begun posting full-length movies as well. Among their totally random selection of mostly-moldy-oldies that were available last week on day one? SIX classic Werner Herzog movies. (For those of you who don't know, Herzog is one of the most fascinating and polarizing directors alive, currently best known for the documentaries Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World, which was nominated for (but didn't win) an Oscar this year. He's also famous for taking a bullet during an interview, but refusing to stop the taping.) Back in the 70s, though, Herzog was just about the craziest thing behind a camera, and his enigmatic, powerful films continue to win converts today. So without further ado -- clear your schedules -- here are six full-length Werner Herzog classics.

Even Dwarves Started Small

The inmates have taken over an institution in a bleak and savage world in which everyone's a dwarf. Never one to take the easy path, Werner Herzog followed the success of his first feature with a film that shocked, disturbed and enraged critics and audiences around the world, yet whose influence can still be seen today in the works of filmmakers such as David Lynch and Harmony Korine. Featuring a cast composed entirely of little people, Even Dwarfs Started Small is a brutal, uncompromising allegory about the consequences of imprisonment and rebellion.


Also known as: the movie where Werner Herzog forced his crew to drag a 320-ton steamship over a mountain (without special effects), a feat he was so proud of that he dubbed himself "conquistador of the useless." All in order to dramatize the true story of a rubber baron in jungles of 19th century Peru, whose great dream is to bring together Enrico Caruso and Sarah Bernhardt for one great celebration of Grand Opera. With the aid of a tribe of Indians bewitched by records featuring the voice of the greatest singer of all time, Fitzcarraldo fights fever, mosquitoes and suffocating heat to achieve the impossible.

Aguirre The Wrath Of God

In the mid-16th century, after annihilating the Incan empire Gonzalo Pizarro (Allejandro Repulles) leads his army of conquistadors over the Andes into the heart of the most savage environment on Earth in search of the fabled City of Gold, El Dorado. As the soldiers battle starvation, Indians, the forces of nature , and each other, Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski), The Wrath Of God, is consumed with visions of conquering all of South America and revolts, leading his own army down a treacherous river on a doomed quest into oblivion. Featuring a seething, controlled performance from Kinski, this masterpiece from director Werner Herzog is an unforgettable portrait of madness and power.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly

This original documentary delves into the true story behind the recent theatrical hit Rescue Dawn. As a young boy, Dieter Dengler watched as Allied planes destroyed his village. From that instant, he knew that he wanted to fly. So at 18, he moved to America, enlisted in the Navy, and was promptly shipped off to Vietnam. During one of his first missions, however, Dengler was shot down over Laos and taken prisoner. Despite torture he, escaped, and after a harrowing journey through the jungle on foot, returned home. Today, even comfort and success cannot dispel the demons of his past. In this remarkable, award-winning documentary, director Werner Herzog returns to the jungle with Dengler, to tell an incredible tale of courage and survival against impossible odds.


In Werner Herzog's brilliant adaptation of George Buchner's Woyzeck, Klaus Kinski delivers a wild and stunning performance in a role only he could play. Franz Woyzeck (Kinski) is a hapless, hopeless soldier, alone and powerless in society, assaulted from all sides by forces he cannot control. Abused and tortured, both physically and psychologically by commanding officers, doctors, and his unfaithful wife Marie (Eva Mattes, Best Supporting Actress at Cannes), Woyzeck struggles to hold on to his humanity and his fragile sanity. In the film's shattering climax, he is finally driven over the brink into madness and murder. (Note: Tom Waits and August Wilson also adapted the Woyzeck story, into an opera that you can still occasionally catch touring. Waits' album Blood Money is comprised of the songs he wrote for the opera.)

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser

(Also known as Every Man for Himself and God Against All.) In 1828, as if out of nowhere, a young man appeared in Nuremberg's town square. He had no history, spoke only a few words, and could not stand upright. Having been locked in a basement for 17 years, Kaspar Hauser was more beast than man. Who was he, and where did he come from? Despite attempts by townsfolk to understand and civilize him, Kaspar became little more than a sideshow attraction. And though the mystery of his origins remained unanswered, perhaps the biggest question of all was, why did someone want him dead? Based on a true story, Werner Herzog's poignant, often funny, and unforgettable tale of "the enigma of the century" -- punctuated by a brilliant performance by Bruno S. -- will haunt viewers. (I could write a post all its own about Bruno S., the enigmatic and mentally disabled non-actor who Herzog plucked from the streets of Berlin in in the 1970s to star in two of his greatest masterworks, Kaspar Hauser and Strozcek. He hasn't acted since.)