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Look who walked in

Werner Herzog doesn't seek out the eccentric people he spotlights:

February 15, 2009|Susan King

Werner Herzog admits he has never had any grand plan for choosing his projects.

"The films always stumble into me," says the German-born, L.A.-based filmmaker. "I have never planned a career like other filmmakers would do. It's always been like a home invasion -- how do you get the burglars out of your homes in the middle of the night?"

Case in point: His stumbling into "Grizzly Man," his 2005 award-winning documentary that explored the life and death of Timothy Treadwell, who studied grizzly bears before he and his girlfriend were killed by a bear in 2003.

"I was not searching for a story," recalls Herzog, 66. "I was searching for my car keys in the office of a big production company. The producer, who thought I spotted something on the table, shoved an article to me and said we are doing a very interesting project."

Herzog couldn't say no. "It's like uninvited guests," he says. "All of a sudden, you open the door a foot wide and uninvited guests are crowding in your home."

Herzog has never shied from controversy and has a reputation for daring narratives and documentaries that explore larger-than-life characters. They include Treadwell, Klaus Kinski's conquistador in 1972's "Aguirre, Wrath of God" and the offbeat workers and citizens of the Antarctic community of McMurdo Station in his latest film, "Encounters at the End of the World," for which he is nominated for his first Academy Award, for feature documentary.

Friday at UCLA's Royce Hall, Herzog will talk about his films with Paul Holdengraber, director of public programs at the New York Public Library (and former director of LACMA's now-defunct Institute for Art & Cultures). "We had planned on a wild event with musicians from Senegal, Sardinia and Holland, but the problem is apparently they didn't get a work visa," Herzog says. "So it's a complicated situation. . . . I will basically be in discourse with Paul, and we will show excerpts of how I put music particularly in two films -- 'The Wild Blue Yonder' and 'White Diamond.' "

"Yonder" is a 2005 sci-fi drama combined with documentary images about the environment, whereas "The White Diamond" is a 2004 documentary about an airship designer trying to navigate the rain forest in Guyana. Herzog is one of the few directors who moves with ease among genres.

"I am not into this wild business of labeling," he says. "To me, it's all movies. I cross the border lines in a way as I stylize documentaries. Sometimes I script documentaries -- some of them are just feature films in disguise."

Since completing "Encounters," Herzog has directed the feature "Bad Lieutenant" with Nicolas Cage (the cop thriller doesn't have a domestic distributor), staged the opera "Parsifal" in Spain, made a short film in the south of Ethiopia about music and started shooting his latest narrative drama, "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?," in Peru.

"It was just one isolated sequence which I had to do at the height of the rainy season," he says of "My Son," which is loosely based on a real story about a San Diego man who envisions a Sophocles play in his mind. (The principal filming will take place three or four weeks from now, he says.)

Herzog has also written an English translation of a nonfiction book. "It's based on diaries I wrote during 'Fitzcarraldo,' called 'Conquest of the Useless,' " he says.

"It will be out fairly soon, and it will survive all of my films."



Werner Herzog

Where: Royce Hall, UCLA

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Price: $28 to $48; $15, UCLA students

Contact: (310) 825-2101,

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