West Germany, 1976
Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 14 December 2004
Source bootleg DVD
Features: Directors: Werner Herzog
How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck is subtitled “Observations on a new language.” Werner Herzog’s interest in this topic, in addition to its Amish heritage and tie to German immigration, has not to do with translation, but with the fascination that the practice has emerged with a very precise and limited utility: to announce head of cattle, negotiate prices for them, and sell them with almost inhuman speed.
The film opens remarkably, close up on the face of the future champion of the ensuing contest. His eyes dart to the left and right of the frame without blinking, his finger sometimes invariably follows them below. The practice is odd to most viewers, but the scrutiny is not for the purpose of exploitation. The film is rather observant, and in its 45 minutes highlights without narration over a dozen auctioneers competing for the world title. Each has some three minutes to negotiate the sell of a few cattle, politely thanks his (in one case, her) crowd, and exits.
In each case I anticipated the next contestant, for what Woodchuck highlights is the idiosyncrasies and particularities of each speech. The contestants vary from most of North America; we discern their accents, different gestures, and different clothes. Each’s inimitable manner of auctioneering, intially considered endearingly odd, becomes somewhat transcendent.