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Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of Heart of Glass

News flash: Herzog film shoots are unconventional.

Rod Lott May 7th, 2012

By the off chance you read Alan Greenberg’s Every Night the Trees Disappear nearly 40 years ago this new, retooled, hardcover edition from Chicago Review Press is the one to get. It’s unlike any behind-the-scenes film book you’ve ever read.


As the subtitle suggests, Greenberg offers a fly-on-the-wall account of celebrated director Werner Herzog shooting his 1976 feature, Heart of Glass. While hardly among the greatest entries on the German filmmaker’s résumé, it’s notable for being the one where he hypnotized most of the cast before shooting every scene.

For Herzog, it was merely an experiment in maximizing the truth in an actor’s performance. As nutty as that sounds, the hypnosis really isn't the drive of the author’s story; the overall making of the movie is. Plus, as should come to no surprise to Herzog’s fans, there are plenty more crazy events where that came from, such as:
• his reaction to the miracle of a sheep giving birth;
• demanding the crew match his precision snowball throwing before continuing; and
• protecting the sanctity of dead flies in a castle.

But Herzog is hardly the only mad man on the shoot. That award either belongs to the crew member who cusses Greenberg out for no good reason, or the actor who refuses to participate any further and flees into the mountains. (Yes, Herzog sends someone to bring the guy back.)

The author weaves such fantastic, true-life tales with a literate honesty that approaches poetry. It’s elegiac, yet sometimes to a point of frustration. New to this edition are some head-scratching scenarios that intrude between chapters by Herzog himself; I’m sure to him, they make sense, but they result in the reader wishing for Greenberg to wrestle back control of his book. Much better is Herzog's fresh afterword, as fascinating at the man itself. —Rod Lott

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