FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

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FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby Jeff K » 16 Jan 2009, 02:51

We've got a truck on fire, can't find the switch to turn the ski lift off, and can't stop the dancing chicken. Send an electrician."

The last lines spoken in the film and with that, the sad journey of Bruno comes to an end. The events leading to the bizarre conclusion are in turn, depressing, funny, satiric and strangely moving. Strozek is the story of three hapless outcasts, Bruno, Eva and Mr. Scheitz ,who flee their grim and violent surroundings in Berlin and move to America in search of a better life. However, once there, their lives become even more desperate and what little domestic bliss they had, slowly falls apart. As depressing as that might sound to those of you who haven't seen the film, it's a surprisingly humorous movie filled with so many splendid images and scenes that only someone with the twisted mind of Werner Herzog could come up with. In addition to the overzealous dancing chicken, I loved the manic auctioneer selling off Bruno's possessions, the ongoing search for a tractor supposedly buried under ice, Mr. Scheitz explaining animal magnetism in German to a couple of befuddled but polite farmers, Bruno buying a frozen turkey after he and Mr. Scheiltz hold up a barber shop, a doctor affectionately holding a premature baby, etc. I could go on and on since there's so many memorable scenes.

What was the point of Stroszek? Is it Herzog's interpretation of the American dream? That's the general consensus. I tend to think of the story as one of unrequited love that Bruno has for Eva. He's lonely and desperately needs companionship and is willing to start a new life in America with Eva only to find his new surroundings just as cold and alienating as everything else was back home in Germany. The sad truth is, I don't think Bruno would have been able to find happiness anywhere.

Again, the story isn't as grim as I might be making it sound. The cast is terrific, especially Bruno S. who spent over twenty years locked up in prisons, mental institutions and orphanages. I can't begin to imagine what was going through his head as he made this film. It had to be a painful experience. Evas Mattes is also outstanding as the prostitute who can't break away from old, bad habits. She was one of the few people in the movie who was a professional actor. Almost everyone else had never acted before which adds so much to the films' charms.

If you haven't seen Stroszek yet, I'd suggest you correct that situation as quickly as possible. If you have seen it, watch it again. It's unforgettable.
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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 16 Jan 2009, 16:42

I plan to watch it tonight. I'm going to stop myself from reading your review until after.
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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby Alvin Row » 17 Jan 2009, 05:41

First off: well written JK, I think that sums up the mood of the film quite well.

This being the fifth Herzog film I've seen (third of his 'fiction', though they all seem to blur the lines one way or the other) I have to say it's my favorite so far. I found it much more engaging than the others; not to say they weren't fantastic in their own ways.

While watching his films, I tend to find myself with mouth agape thinking either "Holy shit, I can't believe someone dreamed this up" or "Holy shit, I can't believe these people are real". With Stroszek, I just found myself overwhelmed with an undefinable mix of emotions. I know that somewhere in the film there exists comedy, sadness and a serious amount of political commentary; though, and this is what makes the film so moving for me, I have a hard time isolating specific scenes that purtain to just one of those descriptors. The best example I can think of these themes intertwining is the scene where Bruno, down on his luck (as always), is getting drinking with the two mechanics: we have the comedy of Clayton Szalpinski's hyper-sexual song and dance, the sadness of Bruno's relapse into heavy alcoholism and the political dimension of the obvious language barriers between characters causing for inability to understand each other (comfort each other, help each other, etc.).

It seems like Herzog turned his skills more inward and, rather than going big-picture, boiled the film down to a very personal level. Often times with his films I feel as though the protagonists are speaking for more than just themselves (Fitzcarraldo or Aguirre), which is fine. But it leaves the viewer feeling as though those characters are bigger than life and beyond repair; the films become more of a spectacle.
With Bruno, Eva and Scheitz, I felt like if I could only interject I could help somehow (and oh, how desperately I wanted to).

Well, this was my first Film Club experience and I'm already looking forward to more; hopefully I won't be so long winded everytime.

ps. Can anyone identify the song that's playing when Scheitz interupts Bruno and Eva's embrace? It's sampled by Jens Lekman. Yeah, I like Jens Lekman.

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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby Snarfyguy » 20 Jan 2009, 18:27

I'll contribute more, but I do want to recommend the DVD commentary track to anyone who has access to it. Herzog generally does great commentary and this one is no exception - lots of great information and yarns.
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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby The Modernist » 26 Jan 2009, 02:50

Bumping this. Did anyone else watch it?

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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby mentalist (slight return) » 26 Jan 2009, 07:57

I did. Can't think of much to say. Not good at this criticism gig. I liked it. The use of non professional actors in film can be very effective (Toni for instance) and I think it was in Stroszek. As was mentioned before it's a movie that can make you both laugh and cry at the same time. Is it a comedy? Tragedy? . I loved the old guy, what a face he had. The way he gets just dragged off by the cops towards the end of the film is poignant, but again you can't help but laugh.
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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby the masked man » 26 Jan 2009, 08:54

I'm watching this tonight - I'll comment then.

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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 26 Jan 2009, 17:05

I got dashed in my plans to watch it last week and have been trying to find a quiet moment to do so ever since.
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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby the masked man » 27 Jan 2009, 12:15

Jeff K wrote:
What was the point of Stroszek? Is it Herzog's interpretation of the American dream? That's the general consensus. I tend to think of the story as one of unrequited love that Bruno has for Eva. He's lonely and desperately needs companionship and is willing to start a new life in America with Eva only to find his new surroundings just as cold and alienating as everything else was back home in Germany. The sad truth is, I don't think Bruno would have been able to find happiness anywhere.



I was thinking about this point when I watched it again last night. In truth, I'm not even sure that the 'American dream' even enters the equation initially, as the protagonists only have the haziest idea of what America is - witness Bruno's surprise when he discovers that German is not commonly spoken in Wisconsin. In the same vein, note the symbolic use of the television set. It's always switched on, yet no-one ever seems to be watching it, as, aside from the anglophone Eva, none of the trio can understand any of it. Notably, it's often showing American football, a complex sport that's incomprehensible without a thorough grounding in the rules - is this a metaphor for how lost these people really are? They do kind of stumble into a form of the American dream, but it seems accidental. Their main motivation is, above all, to escape the cruelty of life in Berlin, and the US offers up a chance for escape.

This is a genuinely weird film. It's not even striving for weirdness; it's just that Werner Herzog sees the world in a certain way and just wants to capture images that support his worldview. Visually, it's very downbeat, though not without a certain poetry. In the DVD commentary, Herzog notes that much of the film was improvised; sometimes, while shooting, they'd just discover a location, like the frozen lake (which indeed looks beautiful), and (without gaining authorisation) would just shoot a scene there. The only requirement is that, somehow, these scenes fit into the world of Bruno and his friends.

Then you have the casting. The performance of street musician Bruno S is quite unnerving; he doesn't so much act as make pronouncements. It files in the face of any theory of film acting, and somehow it's absolutely well-suited. Maybe because he's acting out a role that reflects his real-life history, there is a kind of reality there, however stilted it may seem. And his appearance is something else! Roger Ebert makes a good point in his review of the film:

The thing about most American movies is that the actors in them look like the kinds of people who might be hired for a movie. They don't have to be handsome, but they have to be presentable--to fall within a certain range. If they are too strange, how can they find steady work?


Actually, that's true of most major movie cultures, but it does highlight how Herzog likes to do things differently. Bruno S is a strange, unkempt figure with a haunting stare and a total lack of self-consciousness: at one point he shambles through a Berlin street with his flies down! This also highlights how good Eva Mattes is; as virtually the lone professional actor in the film, she conforms to this model of looking 'presentable' outlined by Ebert, and has indeed been cast by Hollywood (as well as appearing in movies by Fassbinder and other directors of the 70s New German Cinema). It would be very easy for such a figure to stand out in this milieu, but she looks entirely comfortable, her relaxed naturalistic style blending in just fine.

Of course, you have to consider the number of memorable set-pieces, and most of these have already been listed in Jeff K's perceptive review above, so I don't need to go through them again. However, I will just mention the ending, which I consider to be one of the most impressive pieces of film-making I've ever seen. I'm deadly serious - this isn't hyperbole; I can think of no director (with the possible exception of Errol Morris, who Herzog frequently name-checks in his commentary) who could come up with images like this.

There is more I want to write, but I'll leave it for a moment. Basically, I'd like it if first more people would see this film and add their comments - the film deserves it!
Last edited by the masked man on 27 Jan 2009, 16:37, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby Snarfyguy » 27 Jan 2009, 14:48

the masked man wrote:However, I will just mention the ending, which I consider to be one of the most impressive pieces of film-making I've ever seen. I'm deadly serious - this isn't hyperbole; I can think of no director (with the possible exception of Errol Morris, who Herzog frequently name-checks in his commentary) who could come up with images like this.

It's interesting that Herzog so adamantly refuses to (never mind explain, but) even discuss the final scene. He's perfectly content to dispense anecdotes throughout the DVD commentaries, but here - of all places - he draws the line.

Not that his films aren't strewn with equally unlikely images either, so why gets in a huff about his dancing chicken, I'll never know.

He speaks elsewhere (maybe in the Fata Morgana commentary) about our need for images - new images that Hollywood hasn't already shown us a million times over. I think the end of Strozek is simply a novel visual recapitulation of theme of absurdity and pointlessness that weighs pretty heavily in the film.

I think there's also a lurking suspicion out there that the ending is simply a red herring and that it doesn't express hopelessness and pointlessness, but that it itself is pointless. I also think that H won't comment on it because he's challenging us to think about it for ourselves and make the connection.

*****

I recently watched The Man Who Fell to Earth, which brought this movie to mind, as there are some pretty strong parallels regarding the outsider's experience of the U.S.
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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby The Write Profile » 28 Jan 2009, 10:22

I've just watched this film, and the only way I can describe it is that it's a rich scrapheap of images. Herzog has called it a "ballad" in the past, and certainly music plays a big role in it- not only in Bruno S.'s performances, but also the way its soundtrack blends traditional german folksongs with what seems to be country hoedown type music-and much like a good ballad, it's less about how much sense it makes, but the response it inspires in the audience, and whether they're prepared to go along with it. Certainly, the film becomes easier to get a grip on the further you get into it, if only because you become used to its disjunctive rhythms.

I must say that Bruno S is quite astonishing- as maskedman points out, he doesn't so much act as make pronouncements, and even at his quietest, he appears to be slowly trying to pull himself from the brink. Perhaps the most unsettling scene is the one where he tries to explain to Eva how trapped he feels- granted, no one beats him or verbally taunts him here, but everywhere he goes he would be considered an oddity. Eva's response to him in the scene is as sympathetic as he would have any right to expect, but it's clear that she's frightened. Indeed, for most of the picture, Eva seems to merely react at what's thrown at her- it's Bruno who tries to force his way out, despite the fact he lacks the social skills to achieve this.

There's also something oddly touching in the unrequited love story between Bruno S and Eva- as strange and somewhat unhinged as he is, he's also the only person who seems to show any true compassion to her. Certainly, he's intelligent, and unnervingly self-aware, it's just that he can't find any frame of reference to fit himself into. It's as if he has to learn new customs and rules everytime he steps outside the door.

But as I said, the film's a rich scrapheap of images, whether it's the opening scene where Bruno leaves the prison (notice how Herzog cuts between shots throughout this segment- you're never left with a totally "even" frame, something seems to be slightly askew), to Bruno's accordian performance in a Berlin courtyard, to the ill-fated trio's treck accross the ice to find a "missing tractor", to the pitiless shot of the truck taking their mobile home away to the final, astonishing conclusion that other posters have already described. Roger Ebert points out in his review that no sequence in the film finishes in a conventional manner, and so maybe that ending takes this premise to its natural extreme, but the frightening thing about the conclusion is that in many ways, it's no strange than the supposedly "normal" exchanges between Bruno and the nervous, akward bank manager. This is an America where you can win the game, if only can figure out what sort of game you're actually meant to be playing. After all, what kind of country would confiscate someone's Mynah bird? Perhaps the characters' greatest failing, is that, unlike the Mynah Bird, they have no talent for mimicry.

Incidentally, for those wanting to know what Bruno S has been up to, a strangely moving profile on him featured in New York Times just last month. Also, seeing that Roger Ebert has been quoted in this thread, it's worth pointing out that Herzog actually dedicated his most recent film Encounters at the End of the World to him. Ebert wrote a very touching fan letter in response.
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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 06 Feb 2009, 17:35

Okay...it took me forever but I managed to watch this last night. Herzog has always been a huge gap in my experience as a film lover, but certainly one viewing of Stroszek is enough to make me want to do something about that.

There have been some really insightful comments about the film thus far. I read this thread this morning after viewing the film last night and found myself just nodding my head as I read all of your posts. In particular Jeff K nailed it in his opening post when he observed, "The sad truth is, I don't think Bruno would have been able to find happiness anywhere." That is indeed the sad truth - and the answer to anyone who sees the film as nothing more than a critique on America. It may in fact be that, but it is clearly much, much more than that.

Without negating anyone elses take on the film, I'd like to take a stab at my own reading of it:

The enduring thought that sticks with me since watching the film is that this is a film about how one lives after a bill comes due that they have no resources to pay. What happens then? They take away everything you have and leave you alone, impoverished, with no means to cope and nowhere to go. You are set adrift to wander aimlessly without shelter or safety.

This is obviously the situation we see Bruno get into, but in many ways it is the situation that both he and Eva were already in when the film started. In fact both have seemingly been in this position for years. Perhaps Herr Scheitz has been in this position too for decades with nobody much noticing. I think it could also be argued that Berlin in 1974 was also still paying an unpayable bill. Perhaps this is what Herzog was getting at. LIke that premature baby, everybody in this film is just hanging on even as they are barely formed enough to face the world they must live in. What they want is what that baby finally gets - reassurance...safety...a place to rest protected. Maybe that is what we all want in life.

There is a sense that this film is all epilogue. LIke Repulsion (the next film on our list), the real story took place long before the opening scene. It is only hinted at - the psychic abuse that leaves our main characters so stunted. In his review of the film Roger Ebert describes Bruno by saying that it seems like something is missing (he even refers to him as retarded). But is something simply missing in Bruno, or was something taken. Or perhaps both. Again like that baby - perhaps he came into the world less than perfectly equipped only to be robbed of any tools he did have to cope with life via the abuse of the cruel people and cruel circumstance. And what drove Eva to her sad life choices? Though she habitually falls back on her one survival instinct, it is clear that this is not a life she would have chosen if things were different.

So they dream of that safe place. America. But the reality of America is just the opposite. America being such a young country labors under the illusion that everybody is equipped for success. It is a new world and nobody comes to the party with any baggage that needs to be considered. We'll let you sign for a house you can't afford and scratch our head in wonderment when you can't meet the bill on a working persons salary. We'll take your last three dollars for breakfast and never give it any thought. We'll listen to your problems and joke about taking your girlfriend. It is the land of dance chicken, dance.

As I was watching the film I couldn't help thinking, "so this is what all of those indie filmmakers think they are trying to achieve". I even wondered why I didn't hold its quirkiness against it. But the reason is obvious. Stroszek's oddball moments are earned because they come out of its characters suffering. Not their indications of suffering, or big shows of suffering - but the quiet observation of real human pain.

This is a great, sad, painful but entirely moral film. I am very happy I made time for it.
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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby Snarfyguy » 06 Feb 2009, 18:10

Good post!

Now see all of his other movies!
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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby the masked man » 07 Feb 2009, 14:06

It's a real pity that we haven't had more posts on this film; but the flipside of that is that just about everything posted here has been of a very high standard. Quality not quantity is, after all, an enviable state of affairs. This, I'm sure, reflects on Jeff's choice of film; he's selected a movie that has touched us all, and made us examine how we watch films. Good work, J!

Right, that's enough backslapping. There is just one aspect I've been considering. Inevitably, much of the comments have focused on how strange many of the set pieces are, but there's one scene that seems to belong in a more conventional movie about coming to America. This is where the trio, having arrived in New York, go up the Empire State Building. Bruno gets to blow his horn, and there's a fleeting sense of euphoria there. As I say, this seems quite normal; yet the more the film goes on, the more you realise that there's a poignancy there. This exhilaration is as good as life is going to get for any of them.

Herzog here is also, I believe, using a kind of symbolism. For much of the movie, the characters struggle with their surroundings. A haunting scene in the Berlin section is where Bruno performs his music in a tenement block; he looks dwarfed by the imposing architecture. Meanwhile, once they get to Wisconsin, the flatness of the terrain echoes how earthbound their lives are. But in New York, they briefly conquer their surroundings by being so elevated. For once, the world seems at their feet as they survey the landscape from the observation point. It's just a small moment of triumph that Herzog generously offers to his troubled characters. I think it's quite beautiful; if I wanted to sound pretentious, I'd describe it as a vertical moment in a horizontal film. ;)

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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby The Modernist » 12 Apr 2009, 22:49

I lasted about an hour into this. I couldn't go on anymore, this must be one of the most tedious films I've ever seen. It seemed to be like a proto-dogma study of ugliness and the bleakness of life as much as I could tell.

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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 12 Apr 2009, 23:10

Pretty shocking reaction from you Moddie.
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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby The Modernist » 12 Apr 2009, 23:36

I thought I should try and finish it, so I just have (in a manner of speaking, it wasn't exactly a film that had my eyes pinned to the screen).
It was rather like a Diane Arbus photograph: a voyeuristic study of freakishness. However while I can get some aesthetic value out of Arbus' work, I struggled to engage with this on any level. The best that I can say is Herzog has made something pretty unique and true to itself though it bought me no pleasure.

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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby The Modernist » 12 Apr 2009, 23:37

Davey the Fat Boy wrote:Pretty shocking reaction from you Moddie.


Yes I'm surprised too really. I certainly wasn't expecting to dislike it.

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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby The Write Profile » 18 Apr 2009, 07:29

Dr Modernist wrote:I lasted about an hour into this. I couldn't go on anymore, this must be one of the most tedious films I've ever seen. It seemed to be like a proto-dogma study of ugliness and the bleakness of life as much as I could tell.


I think it's so much more than that. I know this is the weakest kind of excuse, but the more the film progresses, and the "stranger" it becomes, the more sense it seems to make. I mean, there's just so many startling images to it, and striking interludes that it shouldn't add up, and yet it does, partly because, if nothing else, it believes its characters are worth its time. It never looks down on Bruno, or the prostitute, or the old man. It realises they're out of place, and would be anywhere. But by the same token, it seems to almost celebrate the fact it allows him the opportunity for many leaps of logic (the dancing chicken!). It's not as perfectly single-minded or primal as Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo, but instead it points towards the approach he'd later take in his documentaries, this idea of searching for some "estactic truth".
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Re: FILM CLUB - 'Stroszek'

Postby The Modernist » 13 Aug 2010, 12:05

bump for moving