Aug 27, 2013

Even Dwarfs Started Small




While my appreciation for Bavarian auteur Werner Herzog (Nosferatu the Vampyre, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?) has somewhat waned in recent years, I still revere him for being a man who has directed some of my absolute favorite films and documentaries and with the possible exception of the wildly idiosyncratic celluloid portrait of Teutonized Americana, Stroszek (1977), his aberrant absurdist black-horror-comedy dystopian flick Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) aka Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen is the reason why the adventurer auteur will always have my respect. In fact, I would go so far as saying that next to Even Dwarfs Started Small, Herzog’s most popular works like Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), and Fitzcarraldo (1982) seem like slightly above-average action flicks for jaded hippie stoners who listened to one too many overly long krautrock songs. Not unsurprisingly (at least to me), Herzog himself admitted that compared to Even Dwarfs Started Small, his work Aguirrelooks like kindergarten,” even if the former film features grown adults who are for the most part shorter than kindergarteners.  A gritty and sometimes grating Cinéma vérité-like black-and-white flick filmed on the Canary Islands, at Lanzarote, a desolate and seemingly dead area that was deforested and turned into an island desert of sorts by various volcanoes throughout the 1700s and 1800s, Even Dwarfs Started Small follows a motley crew of crazed kraut midgets who escape an institution and wreak havoc and start a nonsensical rebellion against the director and guard of the institution, stirring a micro-apocalypse of sorts that results in dead pigs and chickens, the torture of blind midgets with goggles, and the destruction of every organic and manmade object in sight. Apparently banned upon its release in West Germany, Even Dwarfs Started Small also apparently inspired death threats from supposed ‘white supremacists’ (or at least that is how Herzog described them), but the director ultimately faced the most hatred from members of the far-left, namely the 1968 German student movement (aka 68er-Bewegung), or as Herzog described it himself, “Some of the fiercest opposition I had against this film was from the dogmatic left, which believed that this film depicted…was somehow ridiculing and depicting the world revolution, which was failing and which was ending in destruction and catastrophes…and they were the fiercest opponents and at the same time racists.” Additionally, Even Dwarfs Started Small also proved that Herzog was not willing to play nice as a representative of German New Cinema and refused to utilize cinema to disseminate Trotskyite/Marxist like far-left propagandist like Alexander Kluge, Volker Schlöndorff, Helma Sanders-Brahms, and Margarethe von Trotta, whose oftentimes politically pedantic films are bound to inspire banality in those who do not subscribe to such outmoded and instrinsically idealistic politics. As Thomas Elsaesser wrote in his comprehensive work New German Cinema: A History (1989): “Not all film-makers agree with this interpretation of a film’s function. Even Dwarfs Started Small, for instance, was Herzog’s way of representing his isolation after the 1960 Oberhausen Festival. The film issued a challenge to the German Left about what Herzog saw as the impossibility of combining political revolution with radical subjectivity.” In other words, Herzog was an uncompromising individualist and lone wolf among calculating cultural collectivists and red-flag-wavers and Even Dwarfs Started Small was proof that he was, with the exception of fellow Bavarian auteur Herbert Achternbusch (whose story Herzog adapted into the film Heart of Glass (1976) aka Herz aus Glas), quite possibly the most intrinsically iconoclastic kraut filmmaker of his generation. 



 With its entire cast of German midgets, it should be no surprise that Even Dwarfs Started Small was heavily influenced by the truly carnivalesque American Pre-Code horror flick Freaks (1932), but as Werner Herzog stated himself, he found Todd Browning’s depiction of malevolent and malicious midgets to be a tad bit politically correct in its seemingly reluctant use of little people (to Browning's credit, Freaks ultimately ruined his filmmaking career). Essentially plot-less in structure, the film follows an agitated army of deleterious and sometimes deadly dwarves that, assumedly due to much time spent locked up in a dubious institution, go unrelentingly wild and reckless once unleashed, ultimately becoming more barbaric and inhumane toward their former captors, thus demonstrating the truism that a slave is oftentimes much more cruel than his master once the tables are turned. Although lacking in leadership structure, one could argue that the leader of the rebel runts is a micro-man around 2 ½ feet tall named Hombré (Helmut Döring, who later appeared in Herzog’s 1974 film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser), a fiendishly funny fellow whose smile is more sinister than that of Conrad Veidt in the Hollywood silent masterpiece The Man Who Laughs (1928). Of course, as demonstrated by a scene where he fails to climb up a bed to have sex with a female dwarf that bears a striking resemblance to Anne Frank, the other dwarves have a hard time respecting Hombré’s authority because, after all, he is the smallest member and most mentally unhinged of his rebel group. Not unsurprisingly considering his failure with real-life erotic pursuits, Hombré also has a problem keeping his eyes off of 1930s Spanish pornography, stating to himself pathologically whilst looking at the nubile Latin babes, “Yeah, yeah, pretty girl!...Lovely tits!” The archenemy of the deranged dwarves as a fellow named ‘The President’ (played by Pepi Hermine, who also played the president in Robert Downey Sr.’s supremely sardonic sociopolitical satire Putney Swope (1969)), who has traded roles with his patients/prisoners and has been locked inside the institution by the rebels and has another dwarf named Pepi (Gerd Gickel) bound to a chair. The President makes serious threats of killing Pepi if he is not let free, but his pleas and threats are met upon deaf ears by the innately irrational rebels, who only increase their tedious terror and cold carnage. One of the larger dwarfs, a film noir mobster-like fellow named ‘Territory’ (Gerhard Maerz) rides around the institution on a motorcycle and eventually rigs a truck to run around tediously in circles while his compatriots use it as a makeshift playground of sorts. After having a mock religious feast, the midgets start smashing plates, including hurling them at the spinning truck. Meanwhile, the rebels kill a gigantic pig and torture blind midgets with futuristic goggles, who are assumedly employees of the President. Like mad berserkers attempting a sort of anarchic baptism by fire, the rebels also set a number of potted plants on fire and attack them, thus demonstrating with each violent attack, their ecstasy for chaos and destruction only grows larger. Amongst all the needless destruction of flowers and trees, the instincts of farm animals are subverted by man’s destruction, including baby piglets who attempt to nurse from their dead mother and chickens who try to cannibalize each other. With his pint-sized pals following behind him, Territory mocks Christ’s crucifixion by walking around with a cross with a live monkey tied to it. In the end, Hombré almost laughs himself to death while watching a large camel defecating. When the President finally escapes from the institution, he is so wacked out of his own mind that he attempts to bark orders at an inanimate tree, thus demonstrating that all forms of order and structure have been subverted and turned meaningless. 



 In its depiction of literal midgets with a need to overthrow authority despite having an incapacity for establishing order themselves and who become more senselessly sadistic than their captors, Even Dwarfs Started Small, whether auteur Herzog’s intention or not, ultimately acts as an audacious absurdist allegory for the 1968 German student movement who, while attempting in vain to create a commie utopia of sorts, almost plunged West Germany into chaos and spawned moronic terrorist groups like Baader-Meinhof Group. Indeed, as Herzog’s film demonstrates, these spoiled and self-absorbed ‘mental midgets’ of the far-left were not inspired by serious societal reform, but senseless and nihilistic destruction, as well as a petty and pernicious desire for power that they were willing to achieve through any means possible. Considering the public outcry to Even Dwarfs Started Small from the supposed ‘progressive’ German far-left, it seems that Herzog was totally on point in his depiction of political rebels as small savages with an innate incapacity for self-control and discipline whose actions reflected a certain derangement of the post-WWII German mind and a visceral and irrational chaos in the Teutonic collective unconscious. Sociopolitical considerations aside, Even Dwarfs Started Small is a merrily macabre masterpiece in terms of aesthetics alone, as a nightmarishly surreal piece of chilling yet comical celluloid slapstick and a foully flavorsome fever dream from post-Hitler Hades where reality has became more deranging and devastating than any dream. It should be noted that director Werner Herzog has stated often that he rarely dreams during sleep and felt a strong fear that his nation would plunge into chaos, thus one could argue that, with the Sapphic cinematic freak shows of Ulrike Ottinger like Freak Orlando (1981) and Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press (1984), Even Dwarfs Started Small acts as the most unpleasantly pure and audacious unadulterated depiction of post-WWII Aryan neurosis and nihilism ever captured on celluloid. Going on to influence American aberrant-garde arthouse flicks like Harmony Korine’s Gummo (1997) and Crispin Glover’s What Is It? (2005), Even Dwarfs Started Small inevitably foretold the apocalyptic atmosphere that would eventually reach not only the rest of the Occident, but also the United States and the rest of the extra-European ex-colonies. Indeed, if there ever was a film that was made to prepare one for a very tangible doomsday and laugh in the process, it is undoubtedly Even Dwarfs Started Small, a work which director Werner Herzog even had to admit, “Yes it is, but it’s the darkest of comedies you can imagine…yeah, I find it very funny…something of it is very, very funny, but at the same time, I feel my stomach ache when I start to laugh.” As a work that was only his second fictional feature-length work, Even Dwarfs Started Small which he directed while in his late-20s, Herzog was somehow able to reconcile barren and brutal yet breathtaking landscapes that fall somewhere in between the world of Michelangelo Antonioni (L'Avventura, Eclipse) and Dutch Renaissance painters Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder with a cast of characters too weird and sinister for Fellini Satyricon (1969), as well as deranged diacritic artfulness that totally transcends Browning’s Freaks (1932) and a surreal satirical tone that would probably even shock Luis Buñuel, so I will always have a special affection for the wacky Bavarian auteur, even if he is, rather inexplicably, a staunch Steven Spielberg apologist. 



-Ty E

11 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

On the poster that little bird looks exactly like an even smaller version of Zelda Rubinstein, you see, even here there is a Heather O`Rourke connection ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

In the picture of the seven dwarfs sitting down, the one on the far right nearest to the camera looks like that little geezer who was in the much reviled (and in my opinion, under-rated) 1996 Marlon Brando version of "The Island of Dr. Moreau", it was 25 years later and he had deteriorated quite badly obviously, but it still could be him.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

In that same picture have you noticed how the little bird 4 from the front has got an incredibly pretty face, almost like a living breathing porceline doll, what a little darlin` ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Hey, a slave is often more cruel than his master because hes simply exacting REVENGE ! ! ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Why couldn`t you have shown a picture of the little darlin` who looked like Anne Frank ?.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I still cant believe how much that little bird on the DVD cover looks like Zelda Rubinstein, the resemblence really is quite astonishing.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Its so magical when i arrive here and see that you`ve reveiwed (superbly as usual) a legendary cult item like this, as opposed to the pansy queer faggot bull-shit that you unfortunately besmirched this site with yesterday.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

They look so sweet sitting there, especially that little darlin` in the middle.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I wonder what the relationship between the dwarves and Herzog was like during filming, i bet they looked upon him as a kind of cinematic God and would obey his every order and com-girl-d without question or hesitation.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost are all worthless piles of British dog-shit, i wish someone would murder those pathetic bastards.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The geezer on the motobike looks like the classic example of "a right silly bastard" ! ! !.