Werner Herzog bounces back and forth between documentaries and narrative films. With Rescue Dawn, he actually remade his earlier documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. The story of pilot Dengler's time in and escape from a Cambodian POW camp now always felt like a feature film to Herzog.
Werner Herzog's Feature: Rescue Dawn
"Since it took some time to get the money together and organize everything, we decided to do a documentary, but in fact it should have been the other way around," he said. "In my feeling and the way I see it, Rescue Dawn is a big film that always needed to be told on a big screen with a character much larger than life."
That assessment is purely instinctual to Herzog. "When I stumble into a big story or a big story stumbles into me, I can tell right away this is big and I mean really big and the character is so large and that’s something for the big screen. I can make the distinction very clearly. Of course, his story was unique and within the context of the Vietnam War. Actually it’s not a war movie but the test and trial of men. The war doesn’t really affect them, but he was the only American POW in the Vietnam War who managed to escape and that’s a real remarkable feat. What I also find remarkable about him is his loyalty to America which made him able to fulfill his dream to fly. [He] came with a big dream. America gave him the possibility and he stayed loyal."
The film pulls no punches on the conditions of the POW camp, but Herzog did pull back on some of the torture scenes. "In his real story, and it was partially filmed, there was real torture, very nasty torture. I never felt comfortable with, number one filming it, and keeping it in the film because I always when I make a film see it like a spectator. As a spectator, I do not want and do not like to see physical violence against the defenseless. I do not want to see the rape of a woman. I do not want to see torture of a man in handcuffs. A couple of these scenes were filmed because they happened to be in the screenplay. When you read it on paper, it looks different than when you really do it in physical life and you do it for the camera. Most of these scenes are deleted. I always had a feeling they should be deleted and I had a big confrontation with a producer one of these days and I predicted they would be out and they are out now. I’m very confident with the way it is."
When it comes to comparing the documentary to the feature, Herzog could not say which was easier. "You’re asking a very profound question. Probably making the documentary first as it happened to be, but it’s not because of making that film but through the film knowing Dieter Dengler so closely and traveling with him back to the jungle in Southeast Asia, in seeing him and hanging out with him, that made it easier. It didn’t need a documentary to make, but in my opinion, both films were fairly easy to make. I’ve made much more complicated, much more difficult films. From a technical point of view, yes, of course we were shooting for the big screen and we actually shot Super 35mm celluloid, whereas the documentary was shot in Super 16 which does not hint to a very, very big theatrical release."
Rescue Dawn is now playing in select cities.
For review, trailer and more movie info, go to the Rescue Dawn Movie Page.
Stay tuned for updates.