Werner Herzog on Into the Inferno and the Power of Volcanoes

I like to go wild, and take the audience with me.

By Julia Felsenthal

“I like to go wild, and take the audience with me,” the filmmaker Werner Herzog explains in his famous dry, flat, Bavarian drawl. “I put my arms around you and take you straight into the land of imagination and beauty and poetry. That’s what filmmaking is all about.”

We’re on the phone to discuss Into the Inferno, Herzog’s latest documentary, hitting Netflix on Friday. It’s a charmingly bromantic collaboration with a volcanologist named Clive Oppenheimer, whom the filmmaker met a decade ago while shooting Encounters at the Edge of the World in Antarctica. Together, Oppenheimer and Herzog usher viewers around the globe to volcanic sites of particular geologic and cultural import. There’s the Vanuatu archipelago, a cluster of islands a thousand miles east of Australia, where residents have embraced wildly diverse mythologies to explain their seismically unstable environment; Indonesia, where the film crew came terrifyingly close to being caught in the lava flow of an erupting Mount Sinabung; Iceland, where the Codex, the most important national text, describes a historical volcanic event;  Ethiopia, where scientists are working to uncover the skeletal remains of earliest homo sapiens in an area where they collected obsidian, a volcanic glass; and North Korea, where Kim Il-sung tethered his revolution to the symbolic power of a sacred volcano.

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