Remixing Werner Herzog: The Auteur in the Digital Age
Werner Herzog’s voiceovers have become some of the most well known of cinema—a feat that is quite remarkable for any director. For a German auteur filmmaker known for his search for ecstatic truths and his portrayals of genius, madness, the far ends of the earth and the inside of 30,000 year old caves, this level of notoriety is puzzling. Certainly Herzog’s voice plays an important role in his own films; his voiceover provides both commentary and is the source of narrative in his documentaries. Yet most documentary filmmakers are not asked to lend their voices to other films or to animated television shows, as Herzog has been, nor have any directors’ voiceovers become Internet phenomena.
In this paper I argue that Herzog’s style of voiceover has become an Internet meme beyond his directorial career and his participation in other films. In addition to parodies of Herzog reading children’s stories, spoofs of the narration style of his voiceovers have emerged in both written and aural form and have been similarly popular on social media sites. The Herzog meme requires a certain degree of familiarity with Herzog’s films as it takes up both his recognizable accent and style of narration. I argue that the Herzog meme transmediates a certain underlying irony present in many of Herzog’s documentary voiceovers. In his films and in his writings, Herzog is known for his Romantic sensibilities, his search for truth, beauty and other universals that transcend human history. As others have argued, Herzog’s inescapable cultural origin is German idealist aesthetics. And yet even as he yearns after the Kantian sublime, Herzog’s documentary voiceovers often refuse or even ironize the anachronistic nature of his own quest. This irony is what is taken up and played with in the Internet meme.
[Abstract updated 12/2/13.]