Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stroszek (1977)


There are two basic types of Werner Herzog characters: the megalomaniacs who try to bend nature to their wills and fail (Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Timothy Treadwell) and the innocents who find themselves coping with a strange and chaotic universe (Kaspar Hauser, Juliane Sturze, Dieter Dengler). Bruno Stroszek is one of the latter, as Herzog transplants Bruno S., Kaspar Hauser from Every Man for Himself and God Against All, out of the 19th century into contemporary Germany. Just as Bruno had played Kaspar as a confused innocent stuck in a bizarre world he never made, so now are the contrasts even higher: Stroszek (like Bruno S. himself) has been institutionalized for most of his life and has only rudimentary adult skills; when confronted by two thugs who force themselves into his grungy apartment, his response is total submission, like a dog.

After realizing how incapable he is of dealing with this existence, he tries, with a pair of friends - a prostitute and an old guy - to build a new life in Wisconsin. Here, the expression about not being able to get away from yourself comes firmly into play, as Eva the prostitute goes back to doing tricks for extra cash, and Stroszek has no idea how to make enough money to pay for his mobile home or color TV. All of this is played out not in clammy, decrepit West Germany, but in a land that promises a brighter future for anyone, yet is full of its own share of weirdness. After dealing with an unctuous banker and a jabberjaw auctioneer, Stroszek makes his final stand against the cold rationality of the world in an arcade, where you can make a rabbit ride a tiny firetruck or a chicken dance by plugging in a few cents.

The experience of watching a film like this is essentially heartbreaking, and illustrative of the whole scope of human life, from the unstoppable survival instincts of the tiny babies Stroszek views in the premature ward of the hospital, to the late-in-life rebelliousness of Mr. Scheitz, who holds up a barbershop with a shotgun out of disgust at the failures of the system, and is promptly arrested across the street buying groceries.

Through all of this, Bruno S. watches and tries to cope, until he can take it no longer and has one of those wonderful movie flameouts that we only really saw in the '70s. Everything that felt distanced in Herzog's Kaspar Hauser - the pastoral tone, the historical setting - is gone here, and the movie slaps you around with the essential tragedy of life.

I also notice from IMDB that this movie was apparently released on my birthday in 1977, which is funny.

6 comments:

frankbooth said...

Nice place you got here. When did you move in? Small, but I like what you've done with it. I'd put the sofa over there, though. It's a feng shui thing.

I love this film. Seen it four or five times...it's one of those movies that I force people (especially new girlfriends --it's a great indicator of compatibility) to watch when I find out they haven't experienced it. It's grim, but it's also hilarious. I wonder what Woyzeck would have been like had it starred Bruno, as Herr Herzog had originally intended.

(Hmm, maybe here should be a website that lists nothing but movie release dates and allows people to enter their birthdays to see what films coincide.)

It's funny (in a sick way) that Winterbottom, in 24 Hour Party People, indirectly blames Stroszek for the suicide of Ian Curtis. Definitely not a movie to watch alone if you're feeling down.

Now that I knw where you live, I'll be sure to stop by now and then...neighbor.

Jeff McMahon said...

Thanks, I'll hide the Heineken.

frankbooth said...

I'm sure you've already noticed, but tread lightly at HE.

Crankypants is roaming around in his longjohns with a shotgun and jug marked XXX, blasting away at anyone who calls him "old" or otherwise fails to show the proper respect. Earl Hofert, RIP. Is it near his 60th birthday or something?

Did he really threaten to ban you? I vaguely recall something like this, but what was it about?

(I'd better pop over and see if I've been zapped. It would almost be a relief -- I'd definitely get more done. What is it that's so addictive about that stupid site?)

Jeff McMahon said...

Yes, I saw what was going on at HE. I can only guess that he's having a mood swing. The incident you talk about was this:

Wells had written about a screening or something that David Poland and Nikki Finke hadn't shown up to and Wells did - he wrote 'Poland and Finke passed'. Some other poster made a joke about it sounding like Poland and Finke were dead, which I thought was clever, and I wrote 'well-done'. To this very innocuous remark, Wells flew off the handle and claimed that I was making a 'low, personal' attack on him and went into a tizzy and demanded that I watch it or he'd ban me. Since I hadn't done anything wrong, I got pissed off, called him some accurate names, and stormed off. The shame is, everytime I try to get out, I get pulled back in. I've read Wells for 7 or 8 years now, he's been a horrible person that whole time, but he gets a lot of traffic and he's perversely addictive. Too bad,really.

frankbooth said...

Wow, don't know how I missed that one. Insane. He doesn't even go after JM (who I generally like), he goes after you for approving. And you're right, it wasn't really offensive to begin with.

I really didn't think my Hickenlooper sendup was that bad. I didn't call him an exploitive illiterate like Lou Reed did, or refer to him as Chickenpooper. You said you were amused, and I assume at least a few others felt the same way. I'm beginning to respect Don Murphy more. He makes shitty movies and is a bully, but at least he gives as good as he get and isn't a crybaby who needs protecting from the big, bad blog world.

I think it's the birthday. Got to either have just passed, or be coming up. Especially since he nixed Hofert for using the O word.

So just what did happen at C and F? You said he was civil. How long were the three of you there? Did H get plastered? We can take it private of you'd rather not get into it here.

Oh, I see he just called you a moron. Charming. I like the community, but is it really worth the abuse to see trailers and read gossip? I may just keep pushing and TRY to get 86ed for my own good.

Jeff McMahon said...

The C and F experience was very civil and Hickenlooper was fine in person (he's a charming guy and he doesn't get angry on the blogs, just overheated - you can tell that his politics are based on simple ignorance, which makes it shocking that he came from Yale, but then so did GWB).

Meanwhile I believe that, deep down, Mr. Wells is basically oblivious to the outside world. I was friendly to him in person so he really didn't care who I was, and he was playing with his digital camera. And he never banned me because he's lazy. That's why in general he doesn't care about most of the fights and abuse that happen on his site, until they point out things that he's touchy about. He also fits the stereotype of the out-of-touch Hollywood liberal all too well. And he thinks he's hip because he rides a motorcycle, which is...what it is.

I hate to give him even this much mental energy. A friend of mine works for Sony Classics and deals with him regularly for ad sales, and apparently he has a fairly widespread reputation.