Werner Herzog Lawrence O'Toole - Essay

Lawrence O'Toole

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In visual terms, Herzog's movies define the boundaries of the exquisite; there's an eggshell delicacy to them. He will hold an image long enough for the senses to accommodate it, but not so long that you can indulge yourself with too much free-association. The image is withdrawn at the point where it has made the sufficient impact it has set out to make. It is, as it were, given gallery display; but, as it were, taken away at the critical point. It's not the image that matters so much (though in the conventional sense Herzog's imagery is more often than not stunning) as seeing the image….

Herzog lets you see the thing in its essence, but there is also the dramatic context of the narrative to give it meaning and resonance. Given the not unjust reputation of minimalist and conceptual art, it would probably be wise not to attach the label "minimalist" to Herzog's work. Also, he is as much a miniaturist as he is a minimalist, focusing on the small detail to give it added texture and more bulk. (p. 38)

Life may be pointless, according to Herzog's movies, but it isn't necessarily meaningless. Knowing futility is self-awareness, and there's a tranquility in knowing. There is also a stasis in that state of being. And there are moments that have, or at least suggest, a great ecstasy. (p. 39)

Lawrence O'Toole, "The Great Ecstasy of Filmmaker Herzog" (copyright © 1979 by Lawrence O'Toole; reprinted by permission of the author), in Film Comment, Vol. 15, No. 6, November-December, 1979, pp. 34-9.