The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner(1974) - Dir: Werner Herzog
With what looks to be a pretty bizarre winter games now upon us, I was reminded of Werner Herzog’s sublime and surreal film, The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner. About part-time champion ski jumper and full-time carpenter/wood-worker Walter Steiner as he competes in the ski-flying championships in Yugoslavia in 1974. It also includes a killer soundtrack by Popol Vuh, who also had songs in Aguirre, Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, and many more Herzog films.
Interestingly, Herzog has been quoted as saying this was “one of my most important works”. Sit back and meditate on Steiner and Herzog’s thoughts on art, sport, passion and fear, and smell the garlic, onions, and cevapcici.
The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner is not a fast-food style documentary about a sporting personality, to be viewed once on television and then discarded, nor is it a cinéma-vérité style observational piece, slowly revealing some profound truth. Herzog is more interested in creating an enduring peon to a unique individual. Like a political filmmaker attempting to advance a contentious hypothesis, Herzog amplifies some aspects and ignores others in an attempt to present his case. Herzog’s most memorable films have a euphoric effect, making the audience aware of the full potential of life. In the worlds his films create and observe anything is possible and even achievable. For example, a simple craftsman can extend the limits of human existence. In Herzog’s oeuvre, this film, like the ski-flying abilities of Walter Steiner, ranks near the very top.