For many reasons, Werner Herzog’s 1979 vampire tale “Nosferatu the Vampyre” is a classic effort in the prolific filmmaker’s body of work, not least of which because it features Klaus Kinski, Herzog’s legendary muse and tempestuous collaborator, at his most tranquil and genuinely creepy. “It was clear there would never be a vampire of his caliber ever again,” Herzog said of Kinski at L.A.’s Cinefamily last night, where the little-seen German language version of the film begins a weeklong 35mm run today. “I do not need to see the vampire films of the future. I still know Kinski will be the best, at least for four or five centuries.”
Co-starring Bruno Ganz, Isabelle Adjani, and Roland Topor, Herzog’s re-interpretation of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent classic is rife with the director’s trademarks: surreal landscapes and environments scored to Popol Vuh, an uneasy relationship with nature, a deft handle on humor and horror throughout. But it is also a rare, direct tribute to Herzog’s home country, as influences from German Romanticism and the expressionistic 1920s works of Murnau and Fritz Lang shine through.
It’s easy to then see why Herzog considers the German-language version the most “culturally authentic,” as opposed to the English version more widely seen by audiences. Contrary to popular belief, Herzog denies shooting both languages simultaneously; instead, they shot some scenes in English and others in German, and then dubbed the necessary parts.
Herzog claims that cinema has “a very unique way” of dealing with the vampire myth, and while his high esteem for Kinski’s legacy has barred him from considering most future iterations, a surprising exception is the “Twilight” series of films. His reaction? “Not that bad, I was surprised to find.”
“We have to take it seriously that there are films out there that know how to address a 14 or 15-year-old,” he added. “This is a very special sort of approach and I couldn’t do it, yet these films could. I see that much of it is silly but at the same time I respect these films. And I just worked with one of the actors, Robert Pattinson [in Herzog’s upcoming ‘Queen of the Desert’], and he’s a wonderful, fine actor. He’s clearly stepping out of these roles that make the teenies screech.”
The question of making a film for younger audiences led Herzog to acknowledge that he’d love to tackle one. However, he claims that only an idea for a children’s book, “Sweeney Among The Nightingales,” has materialized, about the story of “King Sweeney The Mad” (and seemingly no relation to T.S. Eliot’s poem).
“He and his army goes into battle,” Herzog described, “And when the battle rages at its most furious he loses his mind, and he flies away into a tree and sings songs like a nightingale. For years they try to lure him out of the tree but he keeps singing songs and – it’s just a very beautiful story. I’ve carried it so long in me I should just do it.” Anyone who’s heard his rendition of the children’s book parody “Go The F*ck To Sleep” would be eager to agree. Until that point, the only other book Herzog is currently preparing is “Guidance For The Perplexed” (out in August), a new set of interviews similar to “Herzog on Herzog” covering the director’s life and career.