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Feature Friday: “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” (1998)

Time has revealed Werner Herzog’s greatest artwork to be himself; his movies are always about himself more than anything else. So what makes Little Dieter stand out is that its subject, Dieter Dengler, for once trumps Herzog at his own game, making the director take backseat. (You might argue that Klaus Kinski did the same thing, but Kinski always looks to me trapped in Herzog’s films, even the really great ones. Plus, as great as Kinski was, you can always see that he’s acting. That’s not a problem per se—Kinski was a great actor—but Dengler is less acting than simply being, and it’s beautiful to see.)

Herzog later remade this as Rescue Dawn (2006), starring Batman. I haven’t seen it and I always confuse its title with Saving Grace (2007), which I always confuse with Grace Is Gone (2007). Confusion is sex.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1998)

Written and directed and narrated by Werner Herzog

Featuring Dieter Dengler as himself

This one’s in pieces, sadly, but it’s all there. Here’s the rest: Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

(OK, OK, the audio in Part 6 is fucked up, but it’s only the last three minutes of the film. A drag, I know, because the ending is totally awesome. But check out the first 75 minutes, then rent or buy an actual copy!)

Bonus: “Werner Herzog Reads Where’s Waldo?“:


  • A. D. Jameson is the author of five books, most recently I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE and CINEMAPS: AN ATLAS OF 35 GREAT MOVIES (with artist Andrew DeGraff). Last May, he received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the Program for Writers at UIC.

4 thoughts on “Feature Friday: “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” (1998)

  1. This is one of my favorite documentaries–unbelievably compelling. I think you’re right, Adam, that Herzog takes a back seat to Dengler. Dengler has an amazing charisma of being. Unfortunately I cannot recommend Rescue Dawn–especially if you’ve seen Little Dieter Needs to Fly. It’s just impossible to find an actor that can do Dengler justice.

    And I think you’re right about Kinski. I think that the best Herzog-Kinski films are the ones in which Herzog traps the seething and brooding energy of Kinski without Kinski exploding. I, myself, prefer Bruno S. as an actor. He has such an amazing opacity.

    1. I glad to see I’m not alone!

      I didn’t see Little Dieter until 2008. It greatly impressed me, though. I think it’s one of Herzog’s finer films.

      It’s always good to meet you here, Michael—

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