You could almost forgive the New German Cinema for Fassbinder, after watching this extraordinary, one-off biography. Syberberg was always the most innovative and uncontaminated of their film makers and you can see that this is from the director of PARSIFAL with it's length, solemnity and operatic quality but this film manages to add purpose to weightiness.
Karl May was, of course, the German children's' author who wrote cowboy stories without ever leaving home. His most famous characters Old Shatterhand and Winnetou the Warrior are still known and sparked a cycle of sixties movies with Lex Barker, Stewart Granger, Pierre Brice and Rod Cameron - who was casting that lot.
The film finds an aged May, in Nazi Germany, up on charges of immorality springing from his claim that he actually was Old Shatterhand and the authorities wanting to know what he was doing out in the piny woods with that naked red man? One of the best scenes has Kaütner as May refusing to reply to his lawyer's entreaty that he deny the allegation as the old man turns him out.
This sinister-comic proposition is striking enough in itself but it is handled in a manner slowed down to the age of its veteran participants
Kaütner the great German director of the forties and fifties now
again become an actor (the feeble HAUSER'S MEMORY was his other outing, making the point of Syberberg's skill),the legendary Lil Dagova from CALIGARI and The CONGRESS DANCES, one time blonde 3rd Reich tootsie Söderbaum, on and on. There is the double impact of the unfamiliar but justified pacing and the recognition of all these once significant talents in a serious, unfamiliar vehicle.
It's not a crowd pleaser but it does show the potential of movies being pushed to the limits by a major imagination and should be valued for that more than the films made about it, which are still uncritically recycled.
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