Die Große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner
West Germany, 1974
Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 14 December 2004
Source bootleg DVD
Features: Directors: Werner Herzog
The “Woodcarver” of the title refers to the hobby of famed Swiss “ski-flyer” Walter Steiner. We find him, in a brief excerpt at the beginning of the film, at home in his studio of wooden sculptures, all of them a miniature, asymmetrical human form. He says he sculpts without predetermination; his products result from the interior shapes and stresses of the medium.
The remainder of this poetic, lyrical film concerns Steiner’s primary calling: he’s the most capable ski-flyer in the world. Much of the film consists of extreme slow-motion footage of him coasting in the air from left-to-right. Sometimes, he falls, and we see with graphic clarity the result of the altitude of 150 meters and the 110 kph that conspire to wreck and flail his body across a landing slope. Absent the film’s context, which is loosely rooted in a world championship Steiner easily dominates, this footage is sufficiently evocative of what is apparently the film’s central conflict: man is not designed to fly, yet this is an example of one who apparently does, and does well.
As with his woodcarving, Steiner’s flights are an example of man’s appropriation of nature. Steiner also, apparently, carves his own skis, and his disparate interests combine in the epiphanic image of him gliding in the air.