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Every Night the Trees Disappear

Alan Greenberg's new book about Werner Herzog only deepens the legendary director's mystery

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It is the glimpse into this Herzog – the methodical madman with the camera – that makes Greenberg's book so compelling. Greenberg, now a filmmaker in his own right, met Herzog when he was a very young man. When Greenberg was sent to interview Herzog for a film journal in late 1975, the director immediately suggested that they “forget this interview; it's a waste of time. Make it up – say what you want.” Instead, they talked poetry, music and sports. At the end of the day, Herzog mentioned that his new film would involve hypnosis, and he asked Greenberg to join him.

As the book progresses, the hypnotism begins to play an increasingly minor role and we see deeper into Herzog's working methods. He filmed much of the movie near his childhood home, giving Greenberg the chance to engage both the director and the director's mother with reflections on Herzog's childhood. “As a boy he had some strange habits,” Mrs. Herzog says in the book. “At times I would look in and find him staring at a single object, the same object all day long.” Herzog adds, “I was very dangerous, and my character was peculiar. It was almost as if I had rabies.”

When Greenberg asks Herzog what he meant by “heart of glass,” the director tells him that it is a fragile inner state. “It also means transparency,” Herzog says. “And it means a glacial quality, as if some people have feelings from the freezer.”

Though Every Night the Trees Disappear is a candid picture of the great director, it is more glacial than transparent. We learn a lot about Herzog, but he remains a mystery, like the ruby glass that eludes the factory owner. In the end, the best way to understand Herzog's Heart of Glass is to watch it.

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