"Chickens in some forms—roasted, for example—are perfectly acceptable to me, but look into their eyes while they are alive and bear witness to genuine, bottomless stupidity. They are the most horrifying and nightmarish creatures in this world." So speaketh the world's best filmmaker, Werner Herzog, in Werner Herzog—A Guide for the Perplexed: Conversations with Paul Cronin, an expansion of Cronin's 2002 book Herzog on Herzog. This $40 hardcover rerelease isn't minor: Besides new pieces—a foreword by Harmony Korine, a section on Herzog's Rogue Film School, 10 of Herzog's poems—Perplexed boasts extensively reworked and expanded interviews. That's possible because Perplexed is "just" interviews the same way Herzog's documentaries are "just" documentaries: What's here has been edited, rewritten, and reimagined by Herzog in an effort to find the purest truth. It works. Perplexed's 500 pages blur by. Even as Herzog tells Cronin, "I have never particularly liked talking about myself, to you or anyone else," he admits he's got stuff to share. "There is clearly a hunger for an alternative way of doing things," he says, "of exploring avenues different from the brainless three-act structures of Hollywood storytelling."
Like another extraordinary book by Herzog—2009's Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo, which collected the filmmaker's hallucinogenic diaries—Perplexed works best when Herzog casually tells stories that would drive someone else mad. To a question as benign as "What were you like as a child?" he replies, "I was a taciturn and hot-tempered loner, usually withdrawn and known to brood for days on end, after which I would erupt in violent fits of rage." But lines like that are topped by sentences like these, tossed off with delightful frequency: "For a time I slept in a nearby hut owned by a hunchback dwarf, her nine children and more than 100 guinea pigs, which crawled all over me," or, "When it actually came to shooting the sequence, the monkeys had some kind of panic attack and bit me all over." More applicable, perhaps, are the things Herzog knows that everyone should: "The worst sin a filmmaker can commit," he notes, "is to bore his audience, and fail to captivate them from the very first moment."
For all this weirdness and knowledge, one's first and final instinct while reading Perplexed is to watch Herzog's movies. That's probably the point. "Who cares about me?" Herzog asks. "The only thing that counts is the work and what audiences see on the screen. At the end of the day the films remain. They are the tracks in the sand as I move through life. Everything else dissipates."