Errol Morris was always talking about making a film, but never did much about it, his excuse being that he did not have the money. Werner Herzog, who knew him and was now an established director, made a bet with the soon-to-be respected documentarian: if he actually ever got around to completing his film, then Herzog would eat his shoes. Well, Morris finally shot Gates of Heaven, and Herzog found himself having to make good on his promise. And so he ate one of his shoes.
Blessed with one of the most straightforward titles in film history, this short, twenty minute long documentary details precisely what you would expect from that name: Herzog consuming his footwear. If you have seen director Les Blank's other film on the idiosyncratic artist, Burden of Dreams, then you will know he likes his closeups of feet, so the chance to record someone eating a shoe would have been a dream come true for him. The shoe is cooked first - of course, you couldn't expect him to eat it raw, could you? - and Herzog provides his own commentary on the state of culture as he sees it.
Indeed, the film begins with the subject holding forth on the artistic and moral bankruptcy of Western popular media, demanding that the commercials and talk shows (and, er, Bonanza and Rawhide) be taken down by force if necessary. We can see he is man of forthright views, but after a while he becomes a curiously benevolent presence, proving himself willing to go that extra mile if it makes for stumulating entertainment for the mind. He tells of how, for the little people cast of his film Even Dwarves Started Small, he promised to throw himself into a cactus in return for the hardship they suffered because of his demands, and the shoe-munching is seen as the next chapter in that behaviour.
The actual eating is held at a screening of Gates of Heaven, as much to promote the film as it is to fulfil the promise Herzog made. He is ready and willing to go to extremes for what he sees as worthwhile art, and as he explains to the audience that of hopes that Morris' work will be picked up by a major distributor what you really want to see is him start chomping on leather, which presently he does. It's absolutely bizarre, but undeniably brave and frankly funny to witness Herzog prove that he is not all talk, and even if the shoe had been prepared with seasoning it doesn't look the most appetising meal in the world. What makes it funnier is the stoic Herzog countenance as he presents his views on culture needing fresh and far improved imagery, while contrasted with the ridiculousness of the images that this film depicts. After this, surely nobody could accuse Herzog of not meaning what he said.