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Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)

Not Rated | | Documentary, Biography, Drama | 2 October 1998 (USA)
German-American Dieter Dengler discusses his service as an American naval pilot in the Vietnam War. Dengler also revisits the sites of his capture and eventual escape from the hands of the Vietcong, recreating many events for the camera.

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Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 5 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Dieter Dengler ...
Himself
...
Himself / Narrator (voice)
Eugene Deatrick ...
Himself
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Storyline

In 1966, Dieter Dengler was shot down over Laos, captured, and, down to 85 pounds, escaped. Barefoot, surviving monsoons, leeches, and machete-wielding villagers, he was rescued. Now, near 60, living on Mt. Tamalpais, Dengler tells his story: a German lad surviving Allied bombings in World War II, postwar poverty, apprenticed to a smith, beaten regularly. At 18, he emigrates and peels potatoes in the U.S. Air Force. He leaves for California and college, then enlistment in the Navy to learn to fly. A quiet man of sorrows tells his story: war, capture, harrowing conditions, escape, and miraculous rescue. Where did he find the strength; how does he now live with his memories? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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Not Rated | See all certifications »
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2 October 1998 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Flucht aus Laos  »

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1.85 : 1
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Trivia

The exotic-sounding music heard during the "native" sequences is Tuvan overtone music, sometimes called "throat music." It enables the singer to sound as if he had two or more voices. See more »

Quotes

Dieter Dengler: Duane, my friend, he was gone, and from then on my motions, my progress, became mechanical. In fact, I couldn't care less if I would live or die. But then later on, there was this bear, this beautiful bear that was following me. It was circling me in fact sometimes. It was gone and I missed it. It was just like a dog, it was just like a pet. Of course I knew this bear was there, he was waiting to eat me. When I think about it, this bear meant death to me. And it is really ironic. That's the ...
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Featured in 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die: Episode 1 (2011) See more »

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User Reviews

An Unforgettable Film
30 September 2002 | by (Vancouver, B.C.) – See all my reviews

"I'm not a hero. Only people who are dead are heroes." - Dieter Dengler

Little Dieter Needs to Fly, a 1997 documentary by Werner Herzog of the life of Vietnam war-hero Dieter Dengler, begins with a quotation from the Book of Revelations: "And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it, and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them." As the film starts, Dieter walks into a tattoo shop in San Francisco and looks at a painting of Death in a fiery, horse-drawn chariot. "Death didn't want me," he says, referring to his survival after six months in a Viet Cong prison camp.

Herzog documents Dengler's life from his childhood in Wildburg in the Black Forest region of Germany to his escape and rescue from Laos. Growing up in Germany during World War II, Dengler listened to the constant sound of Allied planes overhead and dreamed of becoming a pilot. "As a child," Herzog says in voice-over, "Dieter saw things that made no earthly sense at all. Germany had been transformed into a dreamscape of the surreal." Dieter came to the United States when he was only 18, joined the Navy and was trained to become a pilot. He moved to California and was sent to Vietnam in 1966. "It all looked strange", Dieter says, "like a distant barbaric dream". On his first mission as a pilot, Dieter was shot down and captured by the Pathet Lao, then later turned over to the Viet Cong. He remained a prisoner in Laos for six months.

Told through archival footage, dream sequences, recreations in actual jungle locations, exotic music, and surreal imagery, the film is divided into four chapters, each representing a period from Dengler's life. Like a Greek tragedy, Herzog has named the sequences: The Man, His Dream, Punishment, and Redemption. Little Dieter Needs to Fly is not a linear documentary, but a very personal and poetic film, similar in a way to Agnes Varda's documentary essay, "The Gleaners and I". Having long been fascinated with the experience of men in jungles (Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo) and having himself grown up in Germany during the war, Herzog provides a voice-over commentary that is as much about himself as it is about Dieter Dengler.

Dieter tells his gruesome tale in a strangely chatty, matter-of-fact manner without anger or bitterness, almost nonchalantly recounting mind-numbing details of his captivity and torture. He does not try to place the events in a historical or political context or to comment on the rights and wrongs of the war, but provides a strictly personal account of his survival against overwhelming odds.

Footage of both bombed out German cities in World War II and bombs lighting up the dense foliage over the Vietnam jungle make the experience very vivid. Dvorak and Bach, Tibetan throat singing, and native African chants are brilliantly interspersed to add depth and beauty to the experience. A chant from Madagascar, "Oay Lahy E", sung while Dieter walks through a sea of fighter planes, adds a final transcendent touch. Little Dieter Needs to Fly is an unforgettable film that moves beyond the limitations of the genre to become a moving testament to both the absurdity of war and the resilience of the human spirit.

NOTE: Be sure to watch past the end credits. There is a postscript on the DVD that truly completes the experience.


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