Not so long ago, a film by some German guy finally found its way into my home. Oh, how terrible it seems now the things I did not know then! What would follow was a honeymoon that has not yet ended. A spell in which the sheer power of film has moved me repeatedly. The filmmakers name has been whispered at Film Buff slumber parties since the dawn of VHS and it's one you can now consider me an avid fan of. Yes, It's Werner Herzog.
During the second world war Dieter Dengler was a young boy living in Germany. He was inspired then to one day fly like the pilots he could see from his bedroom window. As an adult he left home and followed his dream, training in the U.S. air force. Soon after in 1966, Dieter was shot down over Laos flying his first ever mission. He was tortured and starved extensively by his captors as were other U.S. prisoners at the same camp. Miraculously, Dieter not only survived the starvation but he eventually escaped barefoot and was later rescued.
This is Dieters story and Little Dieter needs to fly is the documentary. Here we see Dieter in conversation, in interview, at home and at play, but he is also taken back into the Laotian jungle to relive and reenact his capture. This really helps to illustrate not only his own war stories but also Herzog's own story about Dieter, as Dieter is deeply disturbed by the experience.
These stories are told within the context of Dieters whole life and you really get to know him by the end. I think due to his improvising and adventurous nature each Herzog film is very much unique. The pacing, the edit and his relationship with his subject is always changing. By the films conclusion I must admit I was all choked up, it's an extraordinary story and a really fine film that will be watched for years to come.
Rescue Dawn is the feature film adaptation of Dieters story, written and directed by Herzog and starring Christian Bale as Dieter. Thailand plays as the beautiful Laotian landscape and the many supporting actors really committed to do a good job. Certain chapters are too long and some poignancy is lost in the distracting fracas. Bales performance is what really sells the film. Every scene of torture or discomfort is felt and the atmosphere of dread and desperation is palpable.
Watching Little Dieter needs to fly & Rescue Dawn back-to-back was emotional and highly entertaining but did serve to highlight Werner's occasional ham-fistedness. His gung-ho shooting approach is better suited to the shifting nature of documentaries over the rigid structure of a feature film script. Some scenes in Rescue Dawn felt like rushed and tokenistic retellings of Dieter's amazing stories from the documentary. Sometimes though, when the stars are aligned and things fall into place, Herzog makes magic. I suppose waiting for those moments is just the nature of the beast.
We will have to wait for Bad Lieutenant:Port of call New Orleans to see whether a more patient and precise execution has been adopted.