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The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1974)

Die große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner (original title)
A study of the psychology of a champion ski-jumper, whose full-time occupation is carpentry.

Director:

Werner Herzog

Writer:

Werner Herzog
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Cast

Credited cast:
Walter Steiner ... Himself
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Storyline

A study of the psychology of a champion ski-jumper, whose full-time occupation is carpentry.

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Details

Country:

West Germany

Language:

German | English | Slovenian

Release Date:

1 January 1974 (West Germany) See more »

Also Known As:

The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner See more »

Filming Locations:

Oberstdorf, Bavaria, Germany See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

DEM 72,000 (estimated)
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Although no official soundtrack exists for this film (as of 2018), a fan-created soundtrack is available on soundcloud and archive.org See more »

Connections

Featured in I Am My Films - A Portrait of Werner Herzog (1978) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Powerful and quite abstract sports documentary
2 February 2015 | by Red-BarracudaSee all my reviews

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner is a very strange sports documentary. Perhaps this comes as no surprise when you consider its director is Werner Herzog, a man who tends to focus on unpredictable aspects in his films. It's about the champion Swiss ski-jumper Walter Steiner, specifically his appearance at a competition in Yugoslavia in 1974, where he easily breaks the world record. The approach that Herzog takes differs from most sports biographies in that it doesn't really profile Steiner in a traditional sense. Other than the fact that he is a woodcarver by trade, we don't learn anything about his personal life or his ascent in his chosen sport. Instead the film uses him to explore a more abstract set of ideas, specifically the idea that ski jumpers experience an almost bliss-like state as they fly through the air. The very obvious danger the sport presents the athletes every time they descend down the slope makes the competitors unusual in that they effectively confront the possibility of death each time they compete. Anyone who doubts this only has to watch the incredible and disturbing shots of skiers crash landing in a most brutal manner. And it struck me towards the end that these guys are not even wearing helmets! Many times we see heads battering off the slope and it really makes you shudder to think how many must've died as a direct consequence of having no protective headgear; this shows the advances in safety measures over the subsequent years.

The film is probably best remembered for the incredible slow motion footage of the jumpers captured on special high-speed cameras. Herzog quite successfully captures the otherworldly aspect of this activity by this ultra-slowed down imagery accompanied by the extremely evocative music by Popul Vuh; these moments transcend typical sports documentary footage and do tap into something more mysterious. On a more basic level, there are several times when Steiner openly talks about his fears. Specifically the way the organisers callously encourage extremely dangerous acts by raising the ramp to increasingly high levels. This naturally brings large crowds and media attention – both of whom will no doubt have elements of whom will secretly crave seeing terrible accidents. It really looks into the darker side of why people turn up to watch certain dangerous sporting events. Steiner is so much better than the competition that he genuinely fears the possibility of jumping too far and killing himself on the flat at the bottom. He ends up voluntarily starting further down the ramp to shorten his overall distance. Towards the end of the film he tells a story about his childhood when his only friend was a raven he had nursed back to health. They formed an almost embarrassed friendship culminating with him having to kill the bird in order to save it from repeat savage attacks from its fellow ravens which had that turned against it. It's a story that mirrors Steiner the flier's experience and how alone he must have felt as he travelled at speed towards the bloodthirsty crowd of his own kind for the umpteenth time.


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