Werner Herzog’s opening voiceover to Little Dieter Needs to Fly could easily be the ramblings of any of his existentialist war heroes, from Klaus Kinski’s Aguirre madman to Kinski’s Cobra Verde colonialist. Little Dieter Dengler grew up in the Black Forest region of Germany, eating wallpaper and excavating the carcasses of shattered buildings when WWII hit. The planes flew so close to his home he could almost touch them—so close he wanted to be inside them. “Men are often haunted by things in war,” says Herzog of an older Dengler, who recalls here his experiences as a Vietnam prisoner of war. Dengler walks into his home just north of San Francisco, casually losing himself to thought and casually observing the privilege of being able to open and close a door at will. Herzog captures these remarkable moments as if by sheer accident. Dengler’s grueling recollection of life inside a Laos POW camp are the essential building blocks for what Herzog reveals as a perilous, existential conflict between Dengler and his past. Dengler freely admits that he can still hear the voices of his dead friends. Walking through the very forest where he was imprisoned, he details his escape. A staunch individualist (not unlike his anti-Hitler grandfather), a rail-thin Dengler ran though the forest and forged a close friendship with fellow escapee Dwayne Martin. His friend is killed just as a black bear makes a surreal appearance near a raging waterfall. Death did not want Dieter Dengler, whose life often sounds like that of a fairy-tale character thrust into an existential wonderland. Herzog’s symphonic use of native chants compliments the evocative use of stock footage from the war.
- 74 min
- Werner Herzog
- Dieter Dengler, Werner Herzog
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: