Paul Franz at Bookforum:
Early in Werner Herzog’s 1974 documentary The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner, we find its subject, a champion “ski-flier,” in the studio where he works as an amateur woodcarver. Brushing his hand over a tree stump, Walter Steiner describes the forms his chisel will release: “I saw this bowl here, the way the shape recedes, it’s as if an explosion had happened, and the force cannot escape properly and is caught up everywhere.” Trapped force is not to be the film’s subject. Rather, its subject is fear—or, as Steiner calls it, “respect for the conditions.” From the ski-jump at Planica, Slovenia, he leaps out of his own imagination and into Herzog’s. Steiner’s coyness serves his strangely sober ecstasy. His afterimage haunts another work of creative documentation, composed at roughly the same time, some five hundred kilometers to the northeast. The Gentle Barbarian, Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal’s memoir of his friendship with the painter and printmaker Vladimír Boudnik, depicts life as a more reckless leap of faith—one that lands not in the hands of God, but in a tightening rope.