Having arrived at Berkeley to host the premier of Errol Morris’ Gates of Heaven, Werner Herzog removes his shoes, places them in a pot with garlic and other herbs, and walks barefoot to a shoe store. If this seems bizarre, it is only because you may not be familiar with the legendary exploits of the ridiculously ambitious German director. Herzog’s career includes several uniquely bizarre anecdotes, and has resulted in unexpected fatalities (on the set of Fitzcarraldo), a promissory leap into a cactus patch (after wrapping Even Dwarfs Started Small, and for which he still has spines lodged in his knee), and the mutual death threats exchanged with frequent collaborator Klaus Kinski. Comparatively, eating a shoe is diminutive to these actions, but unlike them – many of which exist only as hearsay – it is captured on film.
Due to a bet (one presumably made with himself) Herzog will eat his shoes as an endorsement of Morris’ debut film. He appends a screening of the film with the dinner, stopping periodically to answer audience questions and to ruminate on his philosophies of filmmaking. Herzog is always an interesting character to listen to (each of his commentary tracks is cohesively engaging), and in this case his words are coupled with a gesture to symbolize the unique profit of ambitious filmmaking.
For those familiar with Gates of Heaven, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe is recommended for an outtake it contains from Morris’ film: Phil Harberts, one of the brothers that manage a pet cemetery in the Napa Valley, sits at his desk in a room laden with trophies. He speaks of his greatest trophy, and admits he uses hubris to impress his clients. During his talk, an award plaque falls off the wall behind him. It is absolutely hilarious.
Les Blank’s essential film on Herzog is Burden of Dreams, which documents the many trials that complicated the making of Fitzcarraldo. In comparison this 20-minute film is a record of a lesser exhibition on the part of Herzog, but it is recommended alone for the perspective it offers on Morris’ champion film.