Saturday, October 13, 2007

Pantheon movie of the month - LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY

LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY is an outstanding documentary by Werner Herzog. It's outstanding primarily because it's about an extraordinary man called Dieter Dengler. Dengler grew up impoverished and fatherless in war-time Germany and escapes a harsh life to fulfil his dream of becoming a pilot. Consigned to the US army carpool he puts himself through college so he can become a navy pilot only to be shot down in Laos. Imprisoned and tortured by the Cong, he stages a brave escape and is eventually miraculously rescued weighing only 85 pounds and without his best friend. What is amazing about Dieter is not simply that he endures and survives trials that would break most men. It is that he does all this without becoming a haunted and embittered man. He seems thankful and happy for all that he has even in the worst of circumstances. His attitude toward life is admirable and nothing short of inspirational.

Werner Herzog brings empathy to this documentary. He knows what it is to see horrific hunger in defeated Germany. He also know what it is to experience near-madness in the jungle. Perhaps most importantly, he has the arrogance to shape the story to enhance and concentrate its message. For instance, while all the substance and insight is true, Herzog unabashedly stages scenes and rehearses apparently impromptu dialogue. Perhaps I phrased that incorrectly. It is precisely BECAUSE Herzog takes these dramatic liberties that the viewer is allowed to perceive the substantive truth. Finally, of course, unlike Michael Moore, Herzog has the audacity to be quite honest about his artistic shaping of the documentary evidence. And that - the honest artistic interplay with the brilliant source material - that makes LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY - a masterpiece.

LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY was originally released in 1997 and is available on DVD.

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