Saturday, June 07, 2008

Little Dieter Needs to Fly


Why was this nearly sixty year old German-born American man living in a mountaintop house perched like an eagle's nest outside of San Francisco? Why did he hoard supplies enough to survive on for months, if not years? Why did he have large model airplanes inside and outside his self-designed hearth and home? And what about that aquarium tank? Why the emphasis on large bay windows and paintings of opened doors? Finally, what made someone like him yearn to fly?

With a little of his own narration added for transition, Werner Herzog's Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) essentially lets Dieter Dengler tells his own story. Of his boyhood in Nazi Germany. Of the moments he witnessed an Anglo-American air attack destroy his village -- the moment he knew he'd become a pilot. Of hunger and deprivation living with his mother (his father killed in the war). Of emigrating to the USA and making his way, eventually, to join the US Navy and fly a carrier-based Douglas Skyraider to attack North Vietnam/Laos from the Tonkin Gulf in 1966. To getting shot down and captured -- a year before John McCain. To surviving a POW camp in Laos and escaping to freedom (subject of another Herzog project, the fictionalized Rescue Dawn, 2007).

We are told that after surviving WWII and the US-Vietnam War, Dengler survived more crashes.

After Vietnam, Dieter served as a test pilot and flew commercial jets for TWA, married three times. And after all of it including the documentary's release on German TV, Dieter Dengler died in 2001 at the age of sixty-two (he was born a year after John McCain).

The final scene is breathtaking -- roving over an air park filled with hundreds of apparently mothballed aircraft, a wide open space like some vast outdoor museum, a graveyard for planes and helicopters. An addendum to the DVD includes footage of Dengler's burial at Arlington with full military honors.



Today's Rune: Wholeness. Good speech by Hillary Clinton today.

6 comments:

Lana Gramlich said...

Sounds sad yet very compelling...

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like he made a life out what the world handed him.

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