Monday, April 13, 2009

here they do it spiritually.

Good morning, Internet! I'm sitting here with my coffee, pondering what it is I should recommend to you today. After all, I'm trying to stick to no more than one (1) recommendation a day; therefore, they're all very special.

And it seems my better half way outclassed me yesterday with his totally incredible, well-written, well-argued post arguing for human rights. So I feel the ante's been upped. I watched a movie yesterday, in the hopes that I could recommend it to you, but it was truly awful. All you need to know about Venom (1982) is: Klaus Kinski sort of stars in what could be called Snakes on the Thames.

Hmmm...Kinski...always makes me think of Werner Herzog...oh! Of course!


Today's recommendation is: Stroszek (Herzog, 1977).

Oh, the love poems I could write about this film. Oh, the incomprehensible over-educated squealings I probably will write about this film.

I saw Stroszek for the first time in the second semester of my first year of college in the first film class I ever took, and I could argue that it's one of the main reasons why I devoted my life* to film. There are many early examples of this; I will recommend each of them to you at a later date.

I had seen Kaspar Hauser in high school (It was one of about 10 "foreign" VHSes our local Blockbuster had), but I had no idea who Bruno S. really was, and it barely penetrated my entitled skull that it was the same director.

But seeing Stroszek on a big screen like that in the teaching auditorium - complete with the faded color palette, the impossibly vertical shots of Berlin, the expansive horizontal shots of Midwestern USA - really changed something for me. At the time, I wanted to be a lawyer or a translator or something, something having to do with words (and, implicitly, power; I did grow up in the suburbs of New Jersey). All was words to me, and I knew plenty, in several languages.

I couldn't have explained it this way at the time, but the film showed me the fallacy and weakness of language. The primacy of jargon in the film, of specialized and privileged languages, demonstrate to me the privilege of the image, which in turn somehow filled me with hope. Auctioneers, prison officials, bankers - it didn't matter what they were saying; you could figure it out from the image. For the first time in my life, words seemed a weak failure. They do right now.

Maybe images are in and of themselves simply another language; I don't know. A greater encompassing universe existed outside of the artificiality of words. This had always been true, but I had never noticed until I'd watched that film.

Herzog's mordantly funny dirge for the American dream was resplendent with tacky roadside Americana, hyperbolic accents, and anonymous countryside, but it also showed seedier parts of Berlin life. Only subtle aspects of the film are temporally-bounded at all - fonts, cars, hairstyles - so it seems a general paean to 20th century Americana, or at least, a very specific kind of Americana - one that may or may not have actually existed. One you see hints of in abandoned roadside stands and places where newer paint is peeling. The characters in Stroszek - Eva, Bruno, and Scheitz - move, cross an ocean, dream big, and the same systems, problems, and power structures follow and consume them. It was both incredibly depressing and awesome, in the old-fashoined, awe-inspiring sense. The world created was so perfect, so believable, so close to mine, yet different. I could watch the sad stories forever.

The film seemed charmingly enamored with its subjects. I really don't believe that Herzog had an exploitative intent. The sadness and absurdly tragic trajectory of the characters' lives seemed, to me, somewhat affectionate.

I don't know what it says about me that I can't find this film as anything but life-affirming and quietly wondrous of the big, big world, that it fills me with a conviction that most of us have a strong survival instinct no matter what - but there you have it.

I won't wreck the ending for you, but I think you will probably disagree with me after you see it. But if you see it after reading this I have more than achieved my goal.

*measured in terms of X, where X = years of educational attainment AND units of tens of thousands of dollars of educational indebtedness.


I had no way of knowing it when I first saw this film, but the year after I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to go to Germany. It was a strange and alienating year, full of drifting, being privy to much I could not understand, and twice during that year I spent months living in Kreuzberg, one of Bruno's old haunts. I never saw Bruno, I'd wander through the alleyways, getting slightly lost, always imagining I could hear sad accordion music just in the next courtyard.

The New York Times had an article last Christmas about Bruno, complete with a video.


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