Center: Dieter Dengler | Behind the scenes

Little Dieter Needs to Fly

Thursday, August 18

One screening only!

“Werner Herzog tells a real-life tall tale in LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY, a documentary that describes enough breakneck adventures for any action hero. But the swashbuckler who is the film’s subject, Dieter Dengler, mostly describes his exploits from memory. Now a garrulous extrovert living a comfortable life near San Francisco, he talks of extraordinary early hardship and of the drive that sustained him. With a German childhood seared by images of World War II, and with an American military career that saw him shot down over Laos in 1966, he has many a hair-raising story to tell. But as often happens in Mr. Herzog’s haunting documentaries, the most interesting figure seems to be the one behind the camera. Though Mr. Dengler is a practiced raconteur and has his story amply illustrated here, it is Mr. Herzog’s occasional meditations on his subject that linger.

‘As a child,’ the filmmaker says in voice-over, ‘Dieter saw things that made no earthly sense at all. Germany had been transformed into a dreamscape of the surreal.’ Starkly poetic images of wartime destruction accompany that observation. Aerial shots of voluptuous explosions in the jungle amplify Mr. Herzog’s idea of what it must have been like for Mr. Dengler to be a fighter pilot: ‘It all looked strange, like a barbaric dream.’

…Returning to Southeast Asia with a camera crew (Mr. Herzog enlists villagers and water buffalo to stand impassively before the camera and provide atmosphere), Mr. Dengler describes his harrowing experiences as a prisoner. ‘They were just always thinking of something to do to me,’ he says of his captors, from whom he ultimately made a highly dramatic escape. Mr. Dengler illustrates how to open handcuffs with a piece of wire, tells of biting a snake in two, even shares a black-tie reunion dinner with the helicopter pilot who finally rescued him. And in light of his many ideals, his pleasant chattiness begins to seem the film’s strangest aspect. As Mr. Herzog puts it: ‘He hides behind the casual remark that this was the fun part of his life.'” –New York Times

Image ©Werner Herzog Film

Part of the series Ecstatic Truths: Documentaries by Herzog

  • Country Germany/UK/France
  • Year 1997
  • Running Time 80 minutes
  • Director Werner Herzog