Brow Beat

Great Moments in Werner Herzog Voiceovers

This Friday is the premiere of Werner Herzog’s new documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the 30,000-year-old Chauvet cave paintings of southern France.

Roger Ebert once said in an open letter to Herzog, “It is safe to say you are as admired and venerated as any filmmaker aliveamong those who have heard of you, of course.”

Among those who have heard him, he is also one of the most caricatured and imitated. Herzog’s distinctive cadences are instantly recognizable: It’s “that authoritative, avuncular Bavarian sound,” says Ryan Iverson, creator of “Werner Herzog Reads Curious George” (and, full disclosure, a friend). And then there are the filmmaker’s eccentric, deadpan digressions on his various obsessionsincluding death, absurdity, thecruelty of the natural worldwhich are as quotable as any line from the Simpsons (which, incidentally, Herzog made a guest appearance on last month).  


To whet your appetite for Cavewhich Slate’s Daniel Engber called “one of the best 3-D movies ever madehere are some of our favorite moments in Herzog’s weirdly wonderful voiceover history. with Forrest Wickman

Burden of Dreams, 1982: Les Blank’s documentary about the tumultuous making of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo.

“The trees here are in misery, the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing, they just screech in pain.”

Encounters at the End of the World, 2007: Herzog’s documentary about Antarctica.

“Is there such thing as insanity among penguins?”

Grizzly Man, 2005: Herzog’s documentary about amateur grizzly bear expert Timothy Treadwell.

“And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.”


Plastic Bag,” 2010: Ramin Bahrani’s short film in which Herzog voices a discarded plastic bag.

“And the darkness began. I don’t know for how long, and what did it really matter? That world’s decomposed. It was eaten by monsters, some too small for me to even see. Not me. I remained. I was strong and smart and I would find my maker. Ha!”


La Soufrière,” 1977: Herzog’s short doc about a volcano on the verge of eruption and the lone peasant who refused to evacuate, choosing instead to await his own death.

“But as we turned back, our cameraman, Ed Lachman, discovered he had left his spectacles behind. We decided to pick them up the next day, if the mountain still existed by then.” *


Mein Liebster Fiend: Klaus Kinski (My Best Fiend), 1999: Herzog’s meditation on his volatile partnership with the actor Klaus Kinski.

In German, for bonus points. The subtitles read:

“I see us back in the jungle, together in a boat. The whole world belongs to us. But Klaus seems to want to fly way. Shouldn’t I have noticed, that it was his soul that wanted to flutter away?”

* Correction, April 29 : This post originally mis-transcribed the name of Herzog’s cameraman on the short film “La Soufrière.”

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