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EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF AND GOD AGAINST ALL (Werner Herzog - West Germany
Lacking a traditional narrative or dramatic structure and full of obscure images, this film feels more like a hypnotic dreamlike experience. It also features one the more enduring trends in Herzog's work: the featuring of individuals with exceptional physical or psychological conditions.
The film is based on the true story of Kaspar Hauser, a young man who suddenly appears on the market square in the German town of Nuremberg in 1828. This strange occurrence has become one of the most enduring inspirations in German history, literature and science, with well over a thousand books written on the case. When Kaspar Hauser was found, he could barely grunt, let alone speak and caused a minor sensation among the locals. After living in a cellar for years with only a pet rocking horse, he is abandoned by his protector and provider, the mysterious "Man in Black." Having been isolated from all humans except his mysterious protector, Kaspar is suddenly thrust into civilization, and is expected to adapt himself to 19th-century society. He becomes a public spectacle and everyone in town lines up to catch a glimpse of him. Soon the local officials in town decide he is too much of a (costly) burden and, in an attempt to profit from the public interest, he is turned over to a circus ringmaster, where he is added to the local carnival freak show, as one of "The Four Riddles of the Spheres." The other three include "a midget king", "A little Mozart" (an autistic or catatonic child), and a lute playing "savage". When Hauser comes under the tutelage of a sympathetic professor (Walter Ladengast), he gradually acquires an impressive degree of socialization and learns to express himself with a reasonable degree of clarity, but most of society's conventions, manners and thoughts is more the young man is able to adjust to.
Herzog adopted a technique of incorporating film material shot by others filmmakers into the film. Early on in the film, just before Kaspar is found on the town square, Herzog used material shot on super 8 of a Bavarian landscape and the town of Dinkelsbühl, that was almost disposed off, but Herzog thought it would be ideal for his film. These grainy shots, accompanied by a requiem of Orlando DiLasso, make for one of the most haunting images I've ever seen on film. Dream sequences are another important aspect in this film. In one of them, Kaspar Hauser has dream images of the Sahara desert, for which Herzog used material he shot in the Western Sahara on earlier occasions. I don't know of any other director who used this technique to such avail up until now. One of the most stunning scenes is when the "Man in black" leaves him with the shot on the mountain and soon after the music with the requiem starts. It's almost like a romantic twist on 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Herzog has done a fantastic job recounting the legend of Kaspar Hauser to the screen. The casting of Bruno S. in the role of Kaspar Hauser is of particular interest. He was a street artist in Berlin, when Herzog found him and decided he would be ideal to play the role of Kaspar Hauser. Before this, Bruno S. had a troubled past. After being severely beaten by his mother, he became deaf and was placed in an institution for retarded children at the age of three. At nine, when he tried to escape, he was transferred to a correctional institution. With further escape attempts, he amassed a number of criminal offenses and was incarcerated for more than twenty years. The authenticity of Bruno's performance brings such an element of sincerity to the film, that makes it almost impossible not to root for his cause. Bruno S. also starred in Herzog's STROSZEK (1976).
Camera Obscura --- 10/10
"This is the story of a soul", someone said and I agree because loneliness is here described through a slow moving plot and endless silences which make us see Kaspar Hauser not as a man but as something more sulfuric, almost a being from outer space. The performance of Bruno S. is simply moving and caused me a lot of tears and the use of time through the narration is perfect for a film of this kind. The poetic vision of Werner Herzog is very peculiar and unique and you can love it or hate it but you cannot ignore it. Herzog doesn't care about the audience, he tells what it wants in the way he likes and that's the praise and the defect of European cinema and it's what makes the difference between European authors and American ones.
Herzog has a way with documenting history as if it was our own past we were
re-living. It all seems strangely familiar, yet slightly surreal. This
film is rich with detail of the period (19th century), yet it's not the
slightest bit in-your-face like so many of the current period films that
seem to be about nothing more than lush furniture and the people who sit on
them. Yet there are images here that you'll never forget! There are some
especially stunning sepia dream sequences of an Arabian caravan strolling in
soft, slow-motion across a windswept desert. They reminded me of Sam
Fuller's effective use of raw colour footage of distant lands in "Shock
Corridor". Images that seem to burst out at us from the B&W angst of a
mental ward. Such contradictory images seem perfectly normal in Herzog's
world, since after all, they're from the world of our dreams.
As always, Herzog finds great music for his score in this film, and he uses it in a very subtle way. But he also is a master at allowing silences to tell part of his story. If one is really listening, they can hear a great many things that define the world that his characters are inhabiting. This of course, was more obvious in films like 'Aguirre', where one swears they can still hear the wild birds squawking in their head for days! Can any film-going experience be more real?
But this film is not all just sound and imagery! The story is a puzzle. It's up to us viewers to decide who this man is and how his mind functions. It also challenges us to think about how our own minds function. While various "instructors" try to cram a lifetime of education into Kaspar's brain in just a few short years, we are forced to re-evaluate the logic that we have been taught. This is illustrated with great tongue-in-cheek humour when Kaspar approaches a lesson in logic with a Zen-like understanding that leaves his instructors livid. Needless to say, this film is a good preamble to "Being There", only more subtle, more haunting, and far more memorable.
The film will also bring to mind "The Elephant Man", not just in its depiction of circus "freaks", but in its illustrations of cruelty, madness, kindness and alienation. It is in essence, a movie about humanity. Told in a poetic vision with just the right doses of wit, intelligence and mystery. For this is, The MYSTERY of Kaspar Hauser. The film never pretends to be a documentation. It is simply an interpretation. One man's imagining of what might have gone inside the mind of a man who was born into the world at sixteen. See it with that in mind, and you'll have one of the richest movie-going experiences in your life!
Even if this film had failed on the level of character or narrative
(which it doesn't), I would still love this movie for its incredible
imagery. The memory/dream sequences are haunting and will never leave
my head. The opening shot of a field, long blades grass bowing under
the wind to the music of Pachelbel, is extraordinary. And of course
there's the performance of Bruno S, the most intensely hypnotic and
genuine performance you will ever see.
But my favorite scene is of the impresario and the dwarf king and his kingdom. This is a true Herzog moment -- bizarre but somehow still a moment of striking epiphany -- the dwarf a parallel, isolated soul to Kasper's own isolated, lonely soul. The extremity and weirdness of moments like these seem commonplace and everyday in a Herzog film, and therefore somehow commonplace and everyday even in our own lives.
Herzog's characters tend to have an uneasy relation to language, whether they are Kaspar, who lives years in his life without language at all,Bruno(Stroszek,1976)who, rather than explaining his emotions,builds a "schematic model" of his feelings, or Fini Straubinger(Land of Silence and Darkness 1970),who cannot explain in words how it feels to be blind and deaf.Indeed, virtually all of Herzog's films are populated by marginal beings who resist language or who affirm its insufficiency to produce "true" meaning.For Herzog, their resistance to language is clearly a sign of their purity.More importantly, this resistance has the effect of rendering such figures opaque and image-like.An image that is visually striking but not wholly susceptible to verbal explanation.Their opacity gives them the quality of an unformulated image, an image that to some extent retards or actually interrupts the narrative flow with its non narrative effect.Kaspar is "outside of language and outside of difference," and later resists the patriarchal narrative with which he is equipped.Despite the pronounced literary subtext in these films, the dismissal of writing as a secondary mediation in contrast with the immediacy of the image occurs persistently in Herzog.The words of Kaspar's name spring up as the watercress he has planted, becoming living things in a triumphant romantic gesture that recalls Holderlin's longing, in BREAD AND WINE, for "words which spring up like flowers."By gestures such as these, Herzog has, in his view, redeemed language by transforming it first into a thing and then into an image.The lack of erotic impulse in Herzog's narratives is pronounced: the sexualized body is not of interest to Herzog and in his characters libidinal impulses tend to be sublimated into an all-consuming vision or to disappear into introit by some other means.Kaspar's enthusiasm for knitting that so shocks Lord Stanhope and in his general refusal to distinguish between male and female tasks.The black caped man who initiates Kaspar's entry into narrative, a symbolic father whose identity nevertheless remains enshrouded in mystery, resembles on one so much as Dr. Caligari in his black cape.As in some measure the "founding text" of German cinema and as an allegory per SE, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI would naturally speak to a filmmaker anxious to create a bridge between German films of the Weimar period and those of his own time.So the black caped father functions here as the symbolic father of German cinema as well.Within the overall narrative of the film, it is the Caligari figure who intervenes with violence at various junctures in order,it would appear, to be able to direct its course.This violence, in turn, generates in the imagination of Kaspar a succession of visionary images that, like Herzog's films, begin with landscapes.When, in one dream sequence, Kaspar creates a mythical landscape of the Caucasus, a landscape with golden temples for which there has been no equivalent in his experience, Kaspar is creating with natural signs, like Herzog in hoping to bring "the real" into his film-making.
Not only is THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER Werner Herzog's best film but I
also believe it to be the greatest film ever made along with Stanley
Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. KASPAR HAUSER has some of the most
incredible and powerful images ever filmed.
The opening shot is that of a rye field blowing in the wind; we hear Pachelbel's 'Cannon' and the following words appear on the screen; "Don't you hear that horrible screaming all around you? The screaming men call silence." This sequence perfectly captures the spirit of this film; the beauty of suffering seen through the eyes of a human that is untainted and unformed by society.
This film changed my life. I now see the world with a new set of eyes. It has the most amazing photography, brilliant use of music and an amazing performance by Bruno S.; a schizophrenic street musician who never acted before and who had been incarcerated for most of his life.
Kasper Hauser is one of the great masterpieces of the New German Cinema and stands as one Werner Herzog greatest achievements. It is a powerful movie that will strike at the heart of the viewer through it's strong visuals and thought provoking story. Those who are use to the spoon fed narratives of Hollywood may find Kasper Hauser hard to deal with. But those who are willing to engage themselves both mentally and spiritually will find the movie richly rewarding.
Werner Herzog's film deals with the true story of Kasper Hauser (Bruno
S.), a young man who appears, supposedly out of nowhere in a small
German town of Nuremberg in 1828. The film deals with Kasper's slow
educational process and his introduction into polite society by
Professor Daumer (Walter Ladengast). Kasper is a true outsider, and the
film looks at the problems this creates (for example, Kasper is unable
to believe that god could create the entire universe from scratch, so
he his shunned by the church elders).
The films title (The Enigma of Kasper Hauser is just one of many others) seems to sum up the film perfectly. We never really know just who Kasper is and why the mysterious man wants to hurt him; the film ends up giving us more questions than answers. But the beauty of the film lies in the performance of Bruno S. his child like innocence and odd take on life is so pure and beautiful, I love the scene where he talks about how he sowed his name in seeds, and how someone had trodden on it. This seems to be a pretty clear metaphor for the film, how Kasper was crushed by the town folk, and used for social merit.
Herzog's visuals are also fantastic, from the soft focus opening of the boat on the lake; to Kasper's dream of the caravan at the end he fills the film with a mixture of the naturalistic and the surreal. No other director has given his films such an air of the hypnotic and the style works wonders with this story. Kasper Hauser is a beautiful, if at times painfully slow film, that gives us yet another interpretation of the outsider in society, definitely worth the watch.
A truely visionary work!!I have always been fascinated with the story that this film tells.Herzog seems to be an expert at showing the way that an outsider relates to the world.Bruno S. is amazing in the lead role , Herzog has definitely made the right casting choice.the movie is just a must for all fans of cinema,even if your not a Herzog fanatic you will still be moved by this extraordinary vision!!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a highly artistic treatment of a very sad story. The cast is
very good, especially Bruno S. in the main role, a non actor but a
pretty determined fellow. This suits the movie very well. Contrary to
Forrest Gump or Chance the Gardener in Being There, Kaspar Hauser is
definitively an intelligent being, a man with a will and, if the
guesswork about his past is correct, a fast learner - a man with
opinions. He is not above telling his keepers" that his life in
confinement with a total ignorance about anything of God's creation was
a better existence compared to what followed. He talks mechanically but
with much determination and palpable inner pressure. Everything he says
wants to convey meaning. Not one for smalltalk, Kaspar Hauser is. (it
is highly recommendable to watch this in the original German version)
The script is excellent. There is an emotional side, where speculation about this true story is admitted, and in contrast the protocol" of the officials, scientists and theologians who make Kaspar Hauser the subject of their curiosity and their studies. The protocol" part is clearly delivered as a comedy, embodied by the protocolist himself, a Dickensian geezer. Any scientific and philosophical approach to the Hauser phenomenon is presented as complete albeit generally well intentioned humbug, and in the end one is as helpless an saddened as in the beginning. But at least these people collected a lot of data which let one assume that the story Kaspar Hauser learned to tell was true. The most touching detail was the discovery that the man had unusually soft feet.
Kaspar Hauser appeared in 1828, a time which in art is known as the Biedermeier period. The English translation for the term is nosegay, the term bieder" means something like meek, conformist or even cowardly. In culture it meant kind of bourgeois pretty pretty", frail, introverted, apolitical. The makers of this movie took great pains to create settings that seem to come right out of Biedermeier paintings. They were awesomely effective, I must say in admiration. The sites and locations are very well chosen. I particularly liked how domestic animals and birds were integrated into the scenery I never remarked this in a movie before. Of course, Kaspar Hauser as a person is as anti Biedermayer as can be and a misfit if anything.
The background" of this movie is pure evil. For all the considerable kindness Kaspar Hauser receives from Biedermeier society, it is not capable to dispel it. In the end Kaspar Hauser comes stumbling into a Biedermeier garden with an expression of amazement in his face and his waistcoat covered with blood. He has been stabbed, no one knows where, why or by whom. It is all in the background, or the substructure. But it happens, almost like in H. G. Welles Time Machine. On his deathbed Kaspar Hauser tells an unfinished story he has thought out (on the screen transformed into a badly flickering Super8 footage one of the very few weak points of the movie), and the final point is made, namely that even an unfinished story is worth being told. In this case I could not agree more.
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