Documentaries I Like: Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe

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In the late 1970's, director Werner Herzog made a bet with then-unknown director Errol Morris: if Morris ever finished his documentary Gates of Heaven, Herzog would literally eat his shoe. It may have seemed a safe bet for Herzog -- Gates is a very strange film: a slow, almost dreamlike documentary concerning a family's failing pet cemetery, and another man's thoughts on life and death, influenced by his day job running an animal rendering plant.

So, predictably, Morris finished his film, released it, and it's now considered a classic. What was Herzog to do? Well, eat his shoe of course. At this point, director Les Blank got involved to document the outcome of the bet. Blank filmed Herzog discussing the bet, and followed as Herzog prepared his shoe at Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, including five hours in a stock pot. Herzog proceeded to give a public lecture at the premiere of Gates of Heaven, offering advice on filmmaking and life, and eating the shoe (minus the sole). Just before eating the shoe, Herzog said: "I have survived so many Kentucky Fried Chicken [meals], it won't do any harm to me."

The resulting documentary, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe is a good portrait of Herzog himself -- he's such a serious person, his brow constantly furrowed, his pronouncements consistently dark and strange. As luck would have it, the entire film is currently available online -- though this likely won't last for long. Check it out:

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe

The film is also available as a bonus feature on the Criterion edition of Burden of Dreams, another documentary I like.

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January 19, 2009 - 4:51am
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