Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)

Werner Herzog has been one of the greatest directors of films in the world for more than 40 years. In that time he has also been one of the best and most interesting documentarians as well. His documentaries share a lot in common with his films, and the crossover is quite big. He’s told the story of Dieter Dengler, the German/US fighter pilot shot down in Laos and held captive, not once but twice, having recently done a feature film with Christian Bale called Rescue Dawn. That is a fantastic film, but the preceding documentary is better.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly consists of letting Dieter Dengler just talk about his experiences in Laos. Dieter returns to his childhood home and the jungle and does some mild reenactments (although you can see this is bringing back some harsh memories for him), but there isn’t much more than Dieter talking to the camera. His English is good and vivid. He paints a picture in our mind that tells us very clearly what happened. Mind you, not all of what he says is true. Werner Herzog inputted some of his own images and ideas to embellish Dieter’s story. This isn’t a bad thing. He doesn’t twist facts, he invents new images that better describe the enormity of Dieter’s ordeal, such as his obsession with opening and closing doors to make sure they’re not locked (this was made up by Herzog). Werner Herzog himself says he does not look for facts, he looks for the ‘ecstatic truth’, that is truth in meaning and ideas, not facts and statistics.

Dieter Dengler himself is a typically Herzogian hero, and it’s no wonder Werner Herzog ended up doing two films on him. He has always been attracted to singular men, men with determination and willpower, ambition and desire. All of his films with Klaus Kinski are about these types of men, and it extends to his documentary on Klaus himself. Werner Herzog himself is one. Little Dieter Needs to Fly is an excellent documentary about a man with a unique story. I suggest you watch it.

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