I've only watched The Great Ecstacy of the Sculptor Steiner so far. Took me right back to ABC's Wide World of Sports and Jim McCay's "the agony of defeat," repeated weekly over footage of a ski-jumper crashing off the end of the ramp. Jim McCay lives in Parkton, near where I went to high school. I used to help him load his groceries when I worked at Graul's Superthrift grocery.
But back to Steiner and Herzog. Steiner effortlessly breaks ramp records wherever he jumps, and despite passing the safety limit and regularly falling he keeps doing so. Herzog ties Steiner's urge to fly to his wood carvings and the pent-up energies the sculptor sees stored within uncut chunks of branch and stump. There is a lot of beautiful footage of athletes soaring in slow-mo, and there are several disturbing crashes. Steiner in flight gapes with his mouth wide open in an obvious state of transcendence. What mysterious force drives people to launch themselves more than 150 meters down a hill? Steiner recites a story about a raven he raised as a child which was eventually tormented by other ravens, but I suspect this might be a Herzog script inserted into the documentary--he's been known to do that. Perhaps not. It seemed too 'perfect' somehow, the way it mirrors Steiner's torments as undisputed master of his craft.
I look forward to the short documentary about my home state of Pennsylvania.
Harper's had an interesting article about Herzog a few months back that I forgot to mention here. I like the way it closes:
...I told Herzog how much I admired him, and how thankful I was that he had agreed to see me. Herzog seemed neither surprised nor pleased by my effulgence. Instead he looked at me for a disarmingly long time--so long, in fact, I began to feel like a character in a Werner Herzog film. Finally, he said: "There is a dormant brother inside of you, and I awaken him, I make him speak, and you are not alone anymore." We shook hands and he was gone. I walked outside, through a curtain of Los Angeles sunshine, to the street's edge, where I stood for a long time, ecstatic and not quite alone.
Tom Bissell, December 2006