CINEMA: Being Werner Twertzog



WIRED: One great irony of the German director’s newfound interest in technology is that, while Herzog may have mixed feelings about the Internet, the Internet has long had a special place in its heart for Herzog. William Pannapacker, an English professor at Hope College in Michigan, once spent a year watching Herzog’s entire oeuvre. “I started, almost beyond my control, doing imitations of things Herzog would say, in my daily life, in the voice, out loud,” he says. “I started thinking in Herzogian ways, and I felt like I needed an outlet for that.” Pannapacker set up a Twitter account, @WernerTwertzog, where he now publishes to his more than 37,000 followers such faux Wernerisms as “Death is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” and “Camping is important for remembering that nature is disgusting and wants to kill us.” On September 5, he will celebrate Herzog’s birthday by hosting the third annual Tweet Like Werner Herzog Day. Last year, hundreds participated, marking their contributions with the hashtag #twertzog. (A representative sample: “I do not plan my tweets. Very often they come at me with a great vehemence. They are remorseless, like beasts of the jungle.”)

Pannapacker is merely the most dedicated online Herzog mimic. The Werner Herzog Valentines website adapts Werner Herzog The Collectionsome of the director’s bleakest musings for romantic purposes. (“The birds do not sing to you, my valentine, they just screech in pain.”) The Werner Herzog Inspirationals Tumblr account places Herzog quotes in ersatz motivational posters. (Example: a photo of a well-appointed living room, with the caption “Outside there is a storm and inside there are mice.”) The comedian Paul F. Tompkins routinely imitates Herzog on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast. “Do you know what I like about high school girls?” he recently asked host Scott Aukerman, in a nod to the classic line from Dazed and Confused. “I keep getting older but they do not realize the futility of existence yet.” Herzog may be an art-house film director, but he is a blockbuster meme.

Despite Herzog’s repeated claims that he lacks a “sensory organ for irony,” he clearly has a sense of humor about himself. In recent years, he has shown up in an unpredictable series of cameos, most of them poking fun at his severe persona. Mike Schur, cocreator of Parks and Recreation, wrote a guest role for Herzog as a madman trying to sell a haunted house to a young couple and was shocked when he agreed to do it. “He’s like a free-floating radical,” Schur says. “He’s in the class of Christopher Walken or Bill Murray, those guys who pop up rarely, and it’s news when they do.”

There’s no great mystery as to why Herzog does these things: He enjoys them. “I was hired for spreading terror among the audience, and I knew I could do it,” he says, smiling, of his Jack Reacher performance. “The main sequence where I’m really threatening, it was castrated twice by the studio because it was so terrifying. They scaled it down twice, and I’m still spreading horror.” MORE