On The Ecstasy Of Ski-Flying: Werner Herzog In Conversation With Karen Beckman is, quite simply, a recording of a chat between the two participants that was held at the University of Pennsylvania in 2007. Beckman, a Jaffe Associate Professor of the History of Art and the Director of the Cinema Studies Program at the school, wisely lets Herzog do most of the talking, asking pertinent questions as the need arises but serving more as a moderator than anything else.
Anyone familiar with Herzog's films or personality knows that he's as interesting a character as any of the fictional people that populate some of his films. This intimate talk allows the man to discuss his feelings on art and cinema and to express what it all means to him and what drives him as a filmmaker. Herzog discusses some of his influences, which surprisingly enough, show a love of early slapstick comedy films, and the 'all singing - all dancing' films of Fred Astaire. He also discusses the mysticism and spirituality of his more transcendental pictures, and how modern technology can and often does co-exist in his films. In terms of the spirituality, he essentially says that he can 'only touch that with a pair of pliers' inferring that there's much more out there than he's able to touch on in his films which leads into his thoughts on Burden Of Dreams, the amazing documentary that showed his struggles to finish Fitzcarraldo and portrayed an incredibly difficult struggle against nature (which is, interestingly enough, a recurring theme in his films). On a more technical level, he covers the use of music in his movies and his thoughts on romanticism in cinema, and how a lot of times he considers cinema to be a lot like painting a landscape.
From there, they open up the discussion to allow the students in attendance to ask Herzog some questions. Here he talks about certain cinematic influences, the importance and difficulty of articulating the images he wants to portray in his films, and how he has a tendency to really jump into his films rather than let others do the work for him.
The conversation and Q&A session is very definitely highbrow and if you're not a Herzog fan, it'll probably come across as pretentious but you could levy the same complaint about pretty much any picture in the director's filmography. Here he's discussing film with students of the craft and they're obviously interested in trying to get inside his head, and to a lesser degree, Herzog seems to want to let them. This is quite an intellectual examination of his work that really serves to demonstrate not only how important his films are to a certain segment of cinema enthusiasts, but also how many different levels many of his pictures can be appreciated on.
On The Ecstasy Of Ski-Flying: Werner Herzog In Conversation With Karen Beckman arrives on DVD in a 1.85.1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer. Shot on digital video, the image is a little noisy thanks to some quirky lighting but in spite of that the picture quality is acceptable considering that this is really just a document of an interesting conversation. There are some mild compression artifacts in a couple of spots and detail can be on the soft side at times but everything is watchable, if unremarkable.
The only audio option on this release is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. Herzog and Beckman are recorded through two lavaliere microphones and their discussion comes through clearly enough. There isn't much in the way of channel separation but there doesn't need to be. You can hear the two talk easily enough and this no frills mix gets the job done. No subtitles or alternate language options are included but Herzog is fluent in English and it's never difficult to understand him despite his thick accent.
This DVD is completely barebones, it doesn't even have a menu or chapter selection option. Inside the attractive cardboard slipcase that holds the DVD, however, is a booklet containing a couple of brief essays explaining how and why Herzog wound up speaking at the University of Pennsylvania and including selected excerpts from Herzog's own writing.
This no frills release is really only going to appeal to the Herzog devotees rather than casual fans of the enigmatic director's work. If you fall into the first category, however, this proves to be an interesting and fairly intimate look into his fascinating body or work and his creative process. The presentation won't blow you away but the content is strong and On The Ecstasy Of Ski-Flying: Werner Herzog In Conversation With Karen Beckman comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.