To propose to his first wife, Herzog traveled on foot about a thousand miles, across the Alps. (Herzog, who had made several other such journeys, is insistent that this not be referred to as walking. “Traveling on foot,” he says. “Walking is something different.”) He went because he had something important to ask. When I press him to explain further, he says: “There are certain things out there that a manly man has to do in his life, at least once.”
Years ago Herzog declared that if he ever opened a film school, people should have to travel by foot from Madrid to Kiev before even being permitted to apply. In the past couple of years, he has finally created such a school—he calls it the Rogue Film School—which exists as occasional weekend seminars popping up around the globe. Though the actual application process is not as strident as he’d once anticipated—not quite—his policy hasn’t wavered in spirit. “Three months traveling on foot, let’s say, which would be something like 3,000 kilometers,” he declares, “would have more value than three years in film school.”
Point four of the school’s online rules forcibly clarifies this: “The Rogue Film School will not teach anything technical related to filmmaking.” Other points illuminate aspects of Herzog’s aesthetic, attitude, and method. There are taboos (one of which will be already familiar): “Censorship will be enforced. There will be no talk of shamans, of yoga classes, nutritional values, herbal teas, discovering your Boundaries, and Inner Growth.” There are compulsory and voluntary reading lists. (On the former, Virgil and Hemingway. On the latter, the Warren Commission Report into the JFK assassination: “A most fantastic crime story—a most conclusive, most intelligent thing that human mind can ever put together,” Herzog tells me. “It’s a fantastic piece of human ingenuity.” He declares that anyone who has actually read it has no doubt that Oswald did it, and did it alone. “Everybody raves and rants against it, and nobody has read it, including those like Oliver Stone who has made a film on the assassination. He has not read it. I know it because I asked him. Oh no, he is not reading this kind of crap. I said, ‘You’re wrong, and shame on you.’ “) There is also a list of applicable skills for would-be filmmakers. As well as traveling on foot, these include the art of lock-picking, the creation of your own shooting permit, and the neutralization of bureaucracy.
Another skill Herzog has advocated for filmmakers (and, I suspect, pretty much anyone else whom he considers truly worthy of respect) is the ability to milk a cow: “If an actor knows how to milk a cow, I always know it will not be difficult to be in business with him.” Herzog has also previously claimed that when he walks into a room, he can tell who in there has previously had hand to udder. Or, at the very least, would.
“I can tell from miles away, yes,” he confirms. “Woody Allen is not ever going to milk a cow.”