UW professor dives into the mysterious mind of Werner Herzog

werner herzog, eric ames

The elusive filmmaker Werner Herzog seldom gives a straight answer. His iconic German accent is famous for rambling about far-out philosophy, but these delightful musings offer little clarity about his 70 directing credits (which range from surreal documentaries like “Grizzly Man” to edgy features with Hollywood stars).

Our guide through the mystery of Herzog’s mind is Eric Ames, ’93, a UW cinema professor and author of three books about the director. For his latest act, Ames tackled the 1972 film “Aguirre,” a gritty adventure film shot in the wilderness of South America. The harrowing handheld film, considered Herzog’s magnum opus, forged a template for movies like Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”

Four decades later, Herzog can be seen scaling active volcanoes in “Into the Inferno,” a new documentary out this fall. As for our professor? Ames is burned out from diving into the director’s brain for the past 10 years. “My first book was on zoos, and for about five years people called me the zoo guy,” he says. “I don’t want to be called the Herzog guy.”