Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Werner Herzog Retrospective 2 - EVEN DWARFS STARTED SMALL (1970)

Next on the smorgasbord of crazy in the Herzog back catalogue is his film EVEN DWARFS STARTED SMALL. Filmed in black and white, on location in Lanzarote, this movie presents a world of midgets in which the inmates take over the asylum and the pristine wards descend into barbaric violence. Thematically, the film reminded me a bit of IF... - another film that scratched the surface of an institution (in that case, the British public school) to reveal the savagery beneath.

Just like FATA MORGANA, Herzog is trying to create an environment that looks alien to our eyes but that contains the savagery of human nature. In FATA MORGANA, he used Africa and in this movie he uses midgets to create that distancing effect. If he weren't such an iconoclastic liberal, and if he weren't known for being so playful, you'd have to take issue with this. I guess his excuse would be that he's only using midgets as a shorthand for weirdness because that's what works for his bigoted audiences, rather than because he personally agrees with such a presumption.

Anyways, back to the film itself. I thought it was a lot easier to watch than FATA MORGANA, partly because there are actual characters with actual dialogue, and partly because it's just a lot more fun to watch a bunch of people go crazy (some of whom are wearing those Fata Morgana goggles), as opposed to some random people wandering in front of a moving camera. It's not so much "fun" as just bizarre and compelling. It's like watching a sort of demented nightmare unwind. Admittedly, it's a nightmare in which a monkey gets crucified. Now, the DVD I watched didn't have a director's commentary on it, which is a shame. But I gather from reading about the film, that "demented nightmare" is the look he was going for. The movie has a bizarre power that commands your attention from start to end. Well worth a look.

Additional tags: Klaus Kinski, Thomas Mauch, Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus, Helmut Doering, Paul Glauer, Gisela Hertwig,

EVEN DWARFS STARTED SMALL played Cannes 1970 and is available on DVD.

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