Werner Herzog and the Pyramid of Life
“Yes, the pyramids have been built, but if you give me 300,000 disciplined men and give me 30 years, I could build a bigger one.”
We are a race of dreamers. Fantasies, nightmares, visions, and ambitions. Noble goals of dissimilar fashions developed within our hearts in which we strive to accomplish or escape from. Often we tell ourselves, “Such as these are just dreams. It was just a nightmare. It was just a fantasy. Yes, it was just an idea. It is not reality.” Yet, I say they are reality. That the very essence of dreams are a reality conjured within our minds, like different roads for us to gaze upon and tell ourselves “I should take this path, and avoid this one. Are the obstacles on this path worthwhile, as opposed to the straight and broad path?” Mankind is not made to just build a kingdom of materialistic goals, nor to make high walls for our spiritual desires among this earthly realm. Fundamentally, it is to build a bridge between body and soul. Dwelling among the dreams and nightmares that cannot be ignored. It must not be done by simply studying one and neglecting the other. To bridge our dreams into reality is what may give our earthly vessels, our physical bodies, the resources to create our Pyramid of Life; our own works, happiness, love, and a model of inspiration for the generations to follow.
The notorious German director, Werner Herzog, along with the Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, are the two who enlarged my understanding of dreams. More so with Herzog, revealing ideas on how visions should be comprehended, how to tame, and piece together like a puzzle. The first Herzog film I watched, though I did not realize it until quite recently, was Rescue Dawn (2006) back in sophomore year of High School. Though I have not viewed the film again since, I do remember the impact it had on me in regards to how POW’s can be treated during times of war, and of course, there are various cruel methods. Three years ago in 2018, a dear friend of mine recommended a Herzog film, Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972). Being the first time I heard the director’s name, and learning that the story’s setting was about the Conquistador, Aguirre, nearly 30 years after Francisco Pizarro’s conquest of the Inca Empire.
The film was done in the rain-forests of Peru and the Amazon river. The whole production of the film was it’s own adventure. Herzog and his crew filmed it all in chronological order, as he believed it should reflect how people have done it for thousands of years, especially from the perspective of the Conquistadors. The whole task took 5 weeks, which meant the whole crew spent 5 weeks on rafts going down the river. No helicopters, no easy chair for Herzog, just people going down a river. After watching the film, I felt as if I was almost driven to the state of insanity, because it was a tough film to keep up with. However, after my second viewing and learning about what Herzog and his crew went through to complete it, it truly stood out as a masterpiece; a grand adventure, a work of art, a dream and a nightmare woven into a beautiful, awe inspiring film. All-in-all, Werner Herzog left a frightening and fascinating impact in my life, and continued to do so with his following movies and documentaries.
“It’s not only my dreams, my belief is that all these dreams are… are yours as well… and the only distinction between me and you is that I can articulate them… and that is what poetry or painting or literature or film-making is all about, it’s as simple as that… and I, I make films because I have not learned anything else and I know I can do it to a certain degree… and it is my duty because this might be the inner chronicle of what we are… and we have to articulate ourselves otherwise we would be cows in the field.” -Werner Herzog
Dreams are truly fascinating. There must be some sort of rationality (which humanity has never mastered), a balance when it comes to translating them from our conscious into physical reality. Music for example, can nourish the soul in essence of speaking remarkable languages into our conscious; the expressions of melody and rhythm that forms a bridge for the soul to feel harmony, a multitude of emotions. With Herzog, he understood that he must initiate action with his dreams. That he would need to build his own pyramid by working for his way of life like everyone else. Except not everyone knows how to articulate their own dreams, let alone learning to strategies with the nightmares that may come and possibly distort it. Even then, dreams are not built in a day, months, nor years. It is a lifelong struggle. Much like the ancient Greek tale of Sisyphus, a Greek king who was punished by Zeus, and his punishment was to push a boulder up a hill in the realm of Hades for eternity. Herzog was his own Sisyphus with his production on Fitzcarraldo (1982). A brutal project that took place back again in the Amazon’s on the Ucayali River, where he and his crew managed to pull a 320 ton steamship over a hill of a 40 degree angle, and managing to drag it across a mountain into another river. This did not come without a price though, as there where multiple incidents of deaths and injuries during the whole production the film, which lasted a total of 5 years. Werner Herzog received quite the amount of backlash, and many considered him a lunatic. Even the man himself admitted this, in a serious yet sarcastic fashion in a documentary, Burden of Dreams (1982), which was shot during his production of Fitzcarraldo. He was asked what he would do after the film was done, to which Herzog replied, “I shouldn’t make movies anymore. *slight chuckle* I should go to a lunatic asylum right away.”
Caution is required when pursuing dreams; constructing our pyramids with discipline, patience, will power, and the support of friends and family, in order that we may reach our goals. It is not simple, as we can see from Herzog’s accomplishments, which are questionable to many- in fact his methods are clearly unorthodox. Thus, it is easy to look at his faults, while neglecting to look at his accomplishments, and acknowledging the willpower he had to build his dreams. I will admit, there are some methods of his that I do not agree with, yet that does not diminish the fascination and respect I have for him. Even then, the man does not pretend nor claim to have reached the mountain peak; that he’s the master of film arts, or anything. Quite the opposite, as he believes it is a lifelong burden. “… There will never be a perfect film, it is a quest…” Regardless, he knew that what has done with his life was necessary for him, whether stupid or brilliant, it’s all the same within the boundaries of living life. Building the bridge between dreams and reality. Going back to moving the steamship over a mountain; numerous people did not believe in Herzog’s plans as the film production went on, in fact, many supporters abandoned his project. Yet despite the odds, he did not allow the weight of others disbelief to drown him, for he had no desire to abandon his vision. In the end, he still accomplished it, whether in an orthodox or unorthodox fashion, he still managed to complete that bridge, which will lead to the further development of his own pyramid.
Dreams are important to look at, yet should be taken with a pinch of salt like everything else in life. Regardless, before we can start building our own pyramids, we must know our dreams first. To set a goal for ourselves by building the bridge first, before we can set the fist stones.
If I abandon this project, I would be a man without dreams and I don’t want to live like that. I live my life or I end my life, with this project.” -Werner Herzog (While filming Fitzcarraldo)