Walking To Werner

2006, Movie, NR, 92 mins


Aspiring filmmaker Linas Phillips, a huge fan of eccentric German director Werner Herzog, undertakes a variation on the quixotic journey Herzog essayed in 1974: walking 250 miles from Munich to Paris to visit his desperately ill friend and mentor, Lotte Eisner. Of course, Herzog isn't dying. In fact, he's leaving the country to scout locations for RESCUE DAWN (2007), something Phillips fails to learn until he's already three days into his 1,200-mile hike from Seattle to Los Angeles. And therein lies his tale.

Phillips' lifeline to Herzog was Norm Hill of Scarecrow Video; Hill relayed Phillips' messages to Herzog, who, when he finally calls his long-distance admirer, advises: "If you want to walk, do it for some other reason." Much of Phillips' subsequent musing for the camera reflects his efforts to find another reason, or at least an additional one: As soon as he discovers that Herzog will be in Burma, he alternates between plans to simply visit Herzog's empty house and daydreaming that Herzog will issue an invitation to join him on location, even after Herzog has suggested that meeting "would be a cheap end" to Phillips' journey. True to the endeavor's thrown-together origins, Phillips is woefully unprepared for the rigors of 62 days of walking 8 or more hours a day: His early ruminations are heavy on complaints about blistered feet and sore muscles. Phillips later moves on to impromptu chats with fellow travelers, who range from the naively encouraging ("Follow your dream!") to the seriously scary, including a couple of genuinely offbeat characters, such as an older Oregonian who mistakes Phillips for a woman and worries avuncularly about all those dark miles of road filled with sexual predators. But the bottom line is that Phillips isn't very interesting and frequently descends into peevish, shallow sulkiness — it's to his credit that he leaves the footage in, but it doesn't contribute to a particularly appealing portrait of the young filmmaker. Fortunately, Phillips alternates Herzog's voice with his own, cribbing from DVD commentaries and occasionally finding reflections that dovetail astonishingly with his own experiences on the road.

Despite the callow, self-absorbed aspects of Phillips' undertaking, there's something endearing about his determination to recreate — and then some — a 30-year-old gesture that looked nutty then and only looks nuttier now. Perhaps there's hope for him yet. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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