"Walking to Werner" could use a better sense of direction
Special to The Seattle Times
As "Walking to Werner" begins, Seattle-based filmmaker Linas Phillips readily admits that he can't fully envision the film he's trying to make. With his long blond hair, intense gaze and profanity-laced determination, he's a seeker on a mission, obsessively inspired by the great German director Werner Herzog. Shooting on mostly handheld digital video in the summer of 2005, the neophyte director declares his intention to walk 1,200 miles to meet Herzog at his home in Los Angeles.
When Phillips learns that Herzog is leaving for Thailand (to film "Rescue Dawn," opening here in July) and won't be in L.A. when Phillips arrives, "Walking to Werner" morphs into a more personal, free-roaming spiritual odyssey. Advised by Herzog to closely consider his destiny (a refreshing case of one dreamer counseling another), Phillips forges ahead just as Herzog had in the winter of 1974, when he walked from Munich to Paris to be at the bedside of his dying friend, the great German film historian Lotte Eisner.
And so it is that Phillips' trek trades one raison d'être for another. Endearing one minute and annoying the next, Phillips is self-indulgent as only a young, conflicted wanderer can be, and much of "Walking to Werner" consists of Phillips filming himself in full or partial profile, subjecting us to an unflattering display of his quixotic behavior (like the ill-fated subject of Herzog's "Grizzly Man"). It's a risky endeavor in terms of audience interest, and "Walking to Werner" flirts with becoming an ordeal.
Things improve when Phillips (who used to baby-sit special-needs children) reveals his warm-hearted acceptance of the physically and/or emotionally damaged souls he encounters on his hike. They range from proud to pathetic, and Phillips has an empathic knack for earning their trust.
If Phillips had focused more on these people and less on himself, "Walking to Werner" (which incorporates excerpts from Herzog's DVD commentaries with Seattle film buff Norman Hill) might've redeemed itself with clarity of purpose. Unfortunately, Phillips is nearly as adrift (directorially speaking) as his fellow travelers, but even when his aimlessness loses its appeal, you can't help but applaud his tenacity as he arrives in L.A. after 60 days of walking.
"Walking to Werner" was produced with the assistance of the Northwest Film Forum, which continues to advance the vitality of Seattle's indie-film community. With the knowledge he's gained from this experience, Phillips should continue pursuing his dreams. He's a walking work in progress, and that bodes well for his next adventure, whatever it may be.
Jeff Shannon: firstname.lastname@example.org
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