With over 50 years of features and documentaries to his name, no filmmaker has a more fascinating body of work than Werner Herzog. His filmography is fueled by an insatiable curiosity about different times and cultures but also by the obsessions that drive men to embark upon often impossible quests.
Herzog spotted that same curiosity in novelist and travel writer Bruce Chatwin, in whose works he found a creative brother. Likewise, the writer felt a shared interest with Herzog through such films as Signs of Life and Fitzcarraldo.
“Chatwin was a writer like no other,” Herzog says. “He would craft mythical tales into voyages of the mind. In this respect, we found out we were kindred spirits. He as a writer, I as a filmmaker.”
With his latest documentary, Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin, Herzog pays tribute to his fellow wandering soul. Rather than craft a biography of Chatwin, who died in 1989, at age 49, from complications related to AIDS, Herzog opts to show his deep admiration by going to the places that inspired the writer.
Chatwin was enthralled with foreign lands and cultures since childhood, beginning with a piece of animal skin that his grandmother claimed belonged to a brontosaurus. Finding where that artifact came from compelled Chatwin to write his first book, In Patagonia.
The writer continued that quest for knowledge, traveling to East and West Africa, Australia and southern England to learn about the people of those regions and the natural phenomena that surrounded them.
Filming those places from high above with drones gives the audience a view that Chatwin couldn’t have had physically. But the soaring perspectives provide an idea of what Chatwin saw in his mind and how he connected with the terrain on foot.
The gorgeous scenery and lingering views (which include the Welsh countryside that Chatwin so loved), accompanied by a hypnotic score, create a near-spiritual experience for the viewer, something Herzog surely intended. The film would no doubt look great on a theatrical screen.
Nomad may not be a comprehensive biography of Chatwin, but he comes alive through this personal, heartfelt portrait of a creative life.
Available to rent starting Sept.4 via grailmoviehouse.com