Filmmaker Les Blank died today at age 77 from bladder cancer. He is best known for directing Burden of Dreams, a feature film on the making of Werner Herzog‘s Fitzcarraldo. Roger Ebert, who we lost to cancer just days ago, called it “one of the most remarkable documentaries ever made about the making of a movie.” Two years earlier, Blank made another film with Herzog as the subject. It’s wonderful title is Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Probably not coincidentally, it also involved one of Ebert’s favorite films of all time, Errol Morris‘s directorial debut, Gates of Heaven.
The 20-minute short film is, of course, literally named. Blank shows us Herzog cooking up his shoe and then eating it during a public event, part on stage at the UC Theater in Berkeley in front of a large crowd and part at a famous Berkeley restaurant called Chez Panisse. Why did Herzog eat his shoe? Because he told his friend Errol that if he ever manages to finish that first documentary of his that he’d eat his shoe. Plain and simple. In the short, Herzog offers that he’ll eat the other shoe he’d worn that day if a major studio picks up Gates of Heaven for distribution. New Yorker Films, which ended up finally releasing Gates in 1980, didn’t count.
I’ve always thought it odd that Morris isn’t in Blank’s film. I also wonder if the garlicky shoe’s aroma had any influence on Blank’s next documentary, Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers, which he urged should be screened with the accompaniment of garlic being cooked in the back of the auditorium. Herzog and Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters are in that one too. Garlic is one of two Blank films on the National Film Registry, the other being the Mexican music doc Chulas Fronteras. Anyway, we’re getting away from the main event. After which you’re welcome and encouraged to learn more about Blank and watch whatever films of his you can find.
Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe can be found on the Criterion Collection release of Burden of Dreams. But if you’ve only seen that documentary on Hulu Plus or didn’t check out the extras, here’s a copy via YouTube. Enjoy, readers. Rest in peace, Les.