Dieter Dengler was a German born American pilot who became a POW after being shot out of the sky during his first mission in the Vietnam war. He spent 6 months as a prisoner, brutalised and starved, and then escaped through the jungle and got rescued after almost a month. In a nutshell, the traditional W. Herzog character.
It’s characters like Dengler that allow Herzog to push his own patented style of documentaries to the front, one where improvisation and set-up are mandatory in milking his own special brew, the ecstatic truth.
That’s why, in Little Dieter Needs to Fly you stumble upon clearly constructed moments, of uncertain origin (one always suspects Herzog of foul-play, in the service of truth, of course). Here’s an example: Dieter in front of an aquarium filled with jellyfish talking about how death is like this shapeshifting form to him. And so on.
Apart from the lyrical side of it, you got the usual lot of Herzogian boyscout tales and tutorials, from how to make fire in the jungle to how to open cufflinks with a paper clip. Music choices are at odds with the images, as usual, again, making for a fresh an atypical 1 hour and 13 minutes documentary.
Seeing a Werner Herzog film remains one of cinema’s greatest gifts.