Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe
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It all began with a challenge in the late 1970s from the great eccentric German film director Werner Herzog to aspiring documentarian Errol Morris. As a young graduate student Morris had approached Herzog as a fan of his work, and the two became friends. Herzog could see that the intelligent and talented Morris had a great deal of potential, but he was clearly stuck in a pattern of not following through with many of his creative ideas. Therefore, when Morris began working on an offbeat documentary about the pet cemetery business in California - the film that would become the critical darling Gates of Heaven (1978) - Herzog was dubious that he would actually finish it. As a challenge to motivate him, Herzog told Morris that if he actually completed Gates of Heaven and screened it publicly, he would eat his own shoe.
When Morris ultimately finished the film and premiered it before an audience at UC Berkeley a short time later, Herzog proved that he was a man of his word. Fortunately, legendary documentary filmmaker Les Blank was there to capture this unique dining experience on film. This highly entertaining short depicts Herzog preparing his leather shoe for consumption with the help of famed Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters. As the shoe cooks for five hours in a mixture of garlic, onion, duck fat, rosemary, salt and Tabasco sauce, Herzog shares his fascinating thoughts on a variety of topics including television, commercials, talk shows and the future of film.
Herzog's challenge may have been just the nudge that Errol Morris needed, as Gates of Heaven became his first documentary feature and kick-started a long and illustrious career. The film, which Herzog called "pure, mature and authentic," was subsequently championed by film critic Roger Ebert who long heralded it as one of the best films of all time.
By Andrea Passafiume