Jun 19, 2008

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner

Werner Herzog is probably best known for his ability to find unconventional individuals and capture them on film, whether it be a documentary or a work of fiction. Herzog has quite possibly introduced more extraordinary characters for the world to see than anyone else. The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1974) is one of Herzog’s first documentaries and it captures a daring individual that is searching for more in life than the average person. The film follows Swiss ski-jumper Walter Steiner as he attempts to set a world record as a ski-jumper.

First, I would like to state that I get fairly bored watching sports, especially team sports. Football and the NFL are the most mindless forms of entertainment one can watch. Unfortunately, American’s are obsessed with football thus resulting in the “sports mentality” that most Americans have. This sports mentality is probably the main cause for the average American adult having the contemporary political science knowledge of an elementary school student. Most Americans care more about the NFL than they do about the endless war going on in the middle east. I bring all this up because I want to compare it with my respect for individualist sportsman Walter Steiner.

Walter Steiner is an individual that has personal goals. He is a ski-jumper first and foremost for himself. Steiner has an extra ball of energy that forces him to do what he does. As revealed in The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, Steiner has always been a dreamer. As a student Steiner would constantly daydream in class, unaware of what was going on around him. At a young age, it was obvious that Steiner would be destined to do something different with his life. He would become a ski-jumper world record breaker!

A very young Werner Herzog narrates and appears in The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner. Of course, Herzog is completely serious in the insane way that you can expect from the odd Bavarian. Herzog almost seems as concerned with Walter Steiner’s success as Steiner is. One can’t help but be consumed by Herzog’s enthusiasm. Werner Herzog is one of the few documentary filmmakers that makes the documentary more interesting.

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner features atmospheric and highly appropriate music by German kraut rock band Popol Vuh. Werner Herzog has used music from Popol Vuh for a variety of his masterpieces so you know that you can expect a great soundtrack for The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner. Scenes become especially beautiful when slow-motion shots of Walter Steiner during his gigantic ski-jumps are combined with the emotional soundtrack. Werner Herzog knows how to truly construct a film like no other.

Like Werner Herzog, Walter Steiner is a man on a mission. It's not a question of why these men do what they do. These men do what they do because they have to. Both Herzog and Steiner have a drive in them that makes them go the extra distance in life. The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner concludes on an endnote that sums up the entire documentary. Walter Steiner is an influence to all that are looking for something more to life.

-Ty E

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