STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The acclaimed German filmmaker Werner Herzog holds film seminars from time to time. People who aspire to make movies attend his Rogue Film School. The director of "Grizzly Man" and "Rescue Dawn" puts buckets over his students' heads. He leads them out into the woods and peppers them with deep thoughts.
He also hands out a mandatory reading list.
Mr. WERNER HERZOG (Film Director): Because nobody reads and I keep preaching: read, read, read, read, read. If you don't read, you will never be a filmmaker. Those who watch television or are too much on the Internet, they lose the world. And those who read, they win it.
INSKEEP: His reading list is incredibly varied, from the Roman poet Virgil to the Warren Commission Report.
Werner Herzog also gives his students an incredibly varied list of films to watch. He shared some of that list for the latest of our conversations seeking DVD recommendations from Hollywood insiders.
Well, let's look at this list that youve sent us of films. And one of them is "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," 1948, Humphrey Bogart. Whats this film about?
Mr. HERZOG: It's about gold diggers in Mexico, and one of the real great fantastic adventure stories. In my opinion, one of the two, three, four greatest films Hollywood has ever produced. John Huston directed the film and you can see a great master at work. And of course you should, as a viewer, watch out for getting the full-length version. It has long dialogues about greed and money and power.
And I believe that the shortened version really condenses the film too much. I think on DVD you get the full-length.
(Soundbite of movie, "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre")
Mr. HUMPHREY BOGART (Actor): (as Fred C. Dobbs) Do you believe what that old man who was doing all the talking at the Oso Negro said the other night, about gold changing a man's soul so that he ain't the same kind of a guy as he was before finding it?
Mr. TIM HOLT (Actor): (as Bob Curtin) Guess that all depends on the man.
Mr. BOGART: (as Fred C. Dobbs) That's exactly what I say. Gold don't carry any curse with it. It all depends on whether or not the guy who finds it is the right guy. The way I see it, gold can be as much of a blessing as a curse.
INSKEEP: Do you think that as a director, when you pop in a film by a great director like John Houston, that you watch that film a little differently than the average person would?
Mr. HERZOG: No. I watch films as if I were a very average moviegoer. I actually cannot see the film as a filmmaker. Only real bad films - very, very, very bad films I see as a filmmaker. And I tell myself, oh God, dont ever do it like that one.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HERZOG: Avoid this mistake. Avoid that mistake. I see the mistakes. But when it comes to a great film, I'm never capable of understanding the mystery -how did they do it, how was it done? It's just phenomenal. And I render myself like you would render yourself to music.
INSKEEP: Well, let's go on to another film that you have recommended here. The last film had Humphrey Bogart, great actor. This also a great actor, Marlon Brando, at the heart of the movie "Viva Zapata."
Mr. HERZOG: Yes, his best film.
INSKEEP: And again, we're in Mexico here. Aren't' we?
Mr. HERZOG: Yes, but it's a pure coincidence. Elia Kazan, I think one of - also one of the truly, truly great masters of cinema. I recommended the film to my film students because it has a fantastic opening, how the leading character somehow reveals himself out of a crowd of Mexican peasants, who come as supplicants to the president, and the president dismisses them and one man stands his ground and remains.
Brando's greatest performance.
(Soundbite of move, "Viva Zapata")
Mr. FAY ROPE (Actor): (as President Porfirio Diaz) I'm your father, your protector. I'm of your blood. But believe me, these matters take time. You must be patient.
Mr. MARLON BRANDO (Actor): (as Emiliano Zapata) With your permission, my president, we make our tortillas out of corn, not patience. And patience will not cross an armed and guarded fence.
Mr. HERZOG: Under sleepy eyelids an enormous virile power is lurking, and he talks very, very quietly. And you know this is going to be big.
INSKEEP: What do you mean by big?
Mr. HERZOG: It means something which only occurs in myth, which only occurs in collective dreams, but completely convincingly. That's where cinema is at its best, when it is able to transform history into something mythical.
INSKEEP: Now what put this next film on your list? It's called "Swingtime," from 1936, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Mr. HERZOG: Well, Im a great fan of Fred Astaire. And of course the stories of these films are always very insipid. And Fred Astaire is a man who has a real foolish face, and yet I love him. You just he has this magic that only can be found in cinema. There's something magnificent about him and about these films.
INSKEEP: Is your eye drawn to Ginger Rogers the same way?
Mr. HERZOG: No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HERZOG: It is, in this case, it's just Fred Astaire. You would never speak of a Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire film. It's the Fred Astaire films and I love them very dearly.
INSKEEP: Well, now this is interesting because it's become commonplace to praise Ginger Rogers by saying that she did everything that Fred Astaire did, only backwards, for example. And you're suggesting that actually, no, go back to the guy. He actually earned his fame, is what you're saying.
Mr. HERZOG: Just watch "Swingtime" and you know what I mean. There's a fantastic scene, Fred Astaire dancing with his own shadow.
(Soundbite of movie, "Swingtime")
Mr. HERZOG: He's exposed to a wall and he actually casts three shadows, and he dances in sync. And then he stops and the three shadows stop, of course, in sync. And all of a sudden they become independent and they start moving on and he's still watching. It's just phenomenal.
INSKEEP: Well, Werner Herzog, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Mr. HERZOG: You're very welcome.
INSKEEP: Werner Herzog's most recent film is "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?" You can find a complete list of Herzog's picks and other recommendations from Hollywood insiders at NPR.org.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
And Im Linda Wertheimer.
(Soundbite of movie, "Swingtime")