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Hans-Jürgen Syberberg is a representative of the Neuer Deutscher Film, and it took decades until his works are starting now to reach worldwide distribution. "Karl May" (1974) is one part of Syberberg's Trptychon, besides "Hitler" and "Ludwig II".
While both Hitler and Ludwig II are sufficiently known to the US public, Karl May is probably not, although generations of German children owe their knowledge of American history, especially American-Indian wars. to his over hundred novels and novellas. However, that May has never gained fame in the New World which he loved so much, has its good reasons: Karl May has his whole live, on hundred thousands of pages, described landscapes between the Apalachian Mountains and the Californian Coast without ever having set one foot into the New World. He used encyclopedic dictionaries, reference works, every printed story and each picture he good get to let his fantasy wander through the Plano Estacado or to the shore of the "Silver Sea", to drink for blood brotherhood with Winnetou or to meet Old Shurehand or the Shut. During the decades, May's own inventions became so real that he toured through Saxonia (which he never left), clothed as Old Shatterhand and believing that he is Old Shatterhand. Besides using a fake doctor title (which was "appointed" to him by a Chicagoan shoe-maker) and a series of criminal acts in his youth and early years for which he had spent some years behind the bars, it is a fact that nobody was more successful, in the 19th century, than him in editing worthless but very entertaining dime novellas. I remember the 60ies and 7oies when there had been, in Germany, the last big Karl May-Wave, when pupils spent their last cent for getting used Karl-May-volumes in thrift-shops or antique book-stores. It was the time when Pierre Price and Lex Barker in the main role filmed May's most famous works, the "Winnetou"-novels.
Syberberg's film is a well crafted piece of high art, I respectfully admit that, not being a Syberberg-fan. But besides that, he has a crew in this two-parted movie that you will never find so easily on 1 or 2 discs. I just mention Helmut Käutner, Kristina Söderbaum, Attila Hörbiger, Käthe Gold, Mady Rahl and Lil Dagover. To see them again - many of them were at the end of their lives when the film was made - is alone worth watching this strange and uniquely made movie.
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