One of the greatest living filmmakers, Werner Herzog makes movies with an unquenchable curiosity combined with an intrepid fearlessness. His films brim with a kind of madness in an era when Hollywood wishes to control everything and leech out any unexpected qualities. Herzog's newest film Rescue Dawn (57 screens), starring Christian Bale and Steve Zahn, has opened to strong reviews and has pulled in over $1 million in U.S. box office. After a career stretching back five decades, it's his first film produced by a Hollywood studio. Though far from selling out, Herzog has brought his unique vision to the otherwise timid and brain-dead mainstream. This is good news for everyone; many Americans will see their very first Herzog film (though his 2005 documentary Grizzly Man didn't do half bad), Herzog himself may qualify for prizes usually reserved for those with half his talent, and his example may reverse an irritating trend that has prevailed for almost a century.
The 64-year-old filmmaker began in the 1960s as part of what would come to be known as the German New Wave, sharing the spotlight with, among others, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders. Herzog made a small splash with his amazing early feature Signs of Life (1968), and followed it up with the peculiar Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) and Land of Silence and Darkness (1971), which delved into the lives of little people and blind-and-deaf people with no hesitation or repulsion. His masterpiece Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) made him an art-house sensation, with its use of the physical, jungle landscape intertwining with man's obsession and insanity. While Herzog continued this exploration of untamed nature and human foibles, Wenders heeded the siren song of Hollywood, while Fassbinder burned out and left a good-looking corpse, well before Hollywood even noticed him.