Monday, May 2, 2016
BIG DOORS IN THE SKY
LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY
Starring Dieter Dengler
Directed by Werner Herzog
Runtime 80 minutes
The true story of US Navy pilot Dieter Dengler, shot down over Laos in 1966. A tale of survival unlike any other, Little Dieter Needs to Fly is unique in film also because the acclaimed director of the 1997 documentary, Werner Herzog, directed the major motion picture of the same story, Rescue Dawn (2006), starring Christian Bale as Dengler.
Little Dieter is the kind of movie that could change your life. Early on, as we are introduced to Dieter, we see that the filmmakers are playing for keeps when Dieter explains his peculiar need to open and close doors as a result of his captivity in the hands of the Viet Cong. They starved him down to a skeleton. Even thirty years later, he needed a thousand pounds of flour, wheat, and rice stored under the floorboards, just in case. “I’ll probably never need it,” he says, “but I can sleep so much better knowing it’s down there.”
When he was a little boy living in the Black Forest of Germany, one day during WWII he saw an American pilot fly within a few feet of the balcony where he stood, so close he could see the pilot’s black goggles pushed back on his forehead. It was a moment with the power of a religious vision for him. “I knew from that moment on that I needed to be a flier. Little Dieter needed to fly!”
He had known such poverty as a child, and had such difficulty as an apprentice to an abusive blacksmith, he credits those experiences with saving his life. He recalls his mother cooking wallpaper soup “just for the nutrients of the glue.”
The film presents powerful aerial footage of bombs being dropped on jungle villages, and the juxtaposition of classical music with tribal chanting is one of innumerable filmmaking aspects that provide a sense of fullness. But what powers the film is Dengler himself, in the same jungle, with villagers, recounting his experiences.
Sometimes they hung him upside-down with an ant’s nest over his face. Taken to the edge of death so many times, he saw visions. Big doors in the sky opened for him. Addressing the camera at an aquarium next to slowly undulating jellyfish, he affirms, based on experience, “This is basically what death looks like.”
At one point, early on, in a village the Viet Cong were passing through, a man saw Dengler’s wedding ring and managed to get it from him by threatening him with a machete. Marching on the trail later, Dengler complained to his captors about the theft. So they marched back, found the villager, beat the crud out of him, cut off his finger with the stolen ring, and gave it back to Dengler.
“I realized then and there,” Dengler says, “you just don’t fool around with the Viet Congs.”
Freely available on YouTube, and without any ads. Do yourself a favor and check out a story that will stop you in your tracks.
Stewart Kirby writes for