Werner Herzog: Lock picking is Definitely a Good Skill

[Lock picking is] definitely a good skill, requiring sensitivity and patience, as Philippe Petit revealed during his Film Lessons presentation, when he showed how to pick a pin tumbler lock and escape from hand-cuffs.

I recently munched my way through A Guide for the Perplexed by renegade filmmaker Werner Herzog. It’s an offputtingly humongous book, but it’s really a big slice of delicious cake. It’s essentially an autobiography, spoken aloud by Herzog in response to questions put to him by a loyal biographer.

The book is useful for Escapologists in that Herzog shows how you have the chance (even a responsibility) to GET ON WITH IT, whatever IT might be to you. He says we should ignore the nay-sayers, the ditherers, the pen-pushers and those who advise too much caution. You have one life. One life to enjoy the world and to make a contribution. Don’t let the pin-heads and the knuckle-draggers stand in your way!

The title, Guide to the Perplexed, refers to older books by George Perec and the ancient Jewish philosopher Maimonides, both of whom wrote tomes of approximately the same name. The title also offers to shine some light on the divine madness of the man who made Fitzcaraldo (which indeed the book does) and serves as an irregular self-help book. You really do go away from it feeling better, wired and armored and ready to take on the world again.

With regards to the lock picking, Herzog really does practice it. For him, it’s not a metaphor like it is here at New Escapologist. He sees it as a vital skill for creative people and he teaches it in his “Rogue’s Film School.” In the book, Herzog describes how he has lock-picked gates and doors to let him into shooting locations rather than wasting his filming time seeking out some power-tripping facilities manager with a key. He says:

When the system doesn’t respond, when it doesn’t accept what you’re doing–and most of the time it won’t–you have to become self-reliant and create your own system. There will always be periods of solitude and loneliness, but you must have the courage to follow your own path. Cleverness on the terrain is the most important trait as a filmmaker.

At his aforementioned Rogue’s Film School (where he doesn’t teach any actual filmmaking, choosing instead to hone character and fortitude in his students rather than dwell on technicalities) he gets his students to “read, read, read. Those who read own the world; those who immerse themselves in the Internet or watch too much television will lose it.”

If I taught a School for Escapologists, I would say precisely the same thing. And if I offered a reading list to my students, I reckon Herr Herzog’s monster of a tome would be on it. It’s a truly exciting guide to living on your wits. A true hero of creativity and Escapology if ever there was one. He will barely even acknowledge The Trap. He just gets on with what he wants to do.

Tired of the everyday grind? Try my book, The Good Life for Wage Slaves.


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at www.wringham.co.uk/about.

Leave a Reply

Latest issues and offers


Issues One to Seven

A bundle of our first seven issues. Featuring minimalism, Houdini, Leo Babauta, Bohemianism, Alain de Botton, Sartre, and Tom Hodgkinson. 567 pages. £35.


Issues Eight to Thirteen

A bundle of our last six issues. Featuring Luke Rhinehart, Flaubert, Mr Money Mustache, part-time work, Will Self, home life, Richard Herring, and E. F. Schumacher. 593 pages. £30.

Issue Thirteen

Our final issue. Featuring an interview with celebrity mortician Caitlin Doughty; Matt Caulfield on zen fool Ryokan; and Reggie C. King on David Bowie and Sun Ra. 122 pages. £7.

Escape Everything!

A hardback guide to scarpering. Essential reading for wage slaves and slugabeds alike. Published by Unbound and Penguin. 230 pages. £12.