January 14, 1977 [Stroszek]

I watched Stroszek, but I'm not sure what I saw. Was it Werner Herzog's elaborate home movie about relatives who otherwise would never have been remembered? Was it a surreptitious documentary, secretly following a strange man--"Der Bruno Stroszek," "played" by one "Bruno S."--and a prostitute who travel with an old man interested in "animal magnetism"--the literal kind, if that makes sense--all of them tired out from Germany, hoping America is still the New World--but ending up in the worn-down frozen reaches of Wisconsin?--and isn't the country getting rustier, the edges raggedy, the trash always swirling at our ankles? It's as though "Keep America Beautiful" left with Lady Bird Johnson, and all we have left is these sad foreigners holding up the mirror to our threadbare nature--until we're the foreigners, like Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land--except in reverse: Stroszek and Eva and Scheitz are not famous enough to become pawns, just marbles in a cigar box, tilted one way, then the other.

The movie is almost sad--but something about Stroszek's determination to be himself moves things--I almost wrote the word "transcendent" to describe what happens--but that word, too, is getting worn out these days, its shining teeth and clean breath in need of attention; so I'll forget the bigger world, out there beyond the Wisconsin tundra, and watch Stroszek and his frozen turkey ascend--not, in the end transcend--while dancing chickens and ducks and whatnot frenetically play him off.


  1. What a movie, right? A demonstration of the power of cinema to tell a tale of absurdist tragedy. The America that Herzog shows us is enigmatic, full of magic -- not the magic of discovery, which is what it must have seemed to promise to Bruno, but rather the twisted, mundane sanctity of nature at its most remote, alien and unknowable and ultimately empty.

  2. Jesse M, you're so right about nature in Herzog; you put me in mind of "Encounters at the End of the World," Antarctica "alien and unknowable" even with its beauty. I'm also thinking of Herzog's professed disgust with "civilization" McMurdo--which looks a bit like the thrift-store clutter of "Stroszek"'s Wisconsin.

  3. To this day, this is one of my all-time favorite movies. The last fifteen minutes alone is one of the greatest sequences ever committed to celluloid.

    One interesting note, though. I watched the film with Herzog's commentary track one time. He said that he wasn't trying to say anything negative about America or the American people in the film. Quite the opposite, in fact.

  4. As for Herzog's "pro-Americanism": I can see it, especially from his perspective: watching things in outrage and ecstasy, the two things mix-mastered until the "truth" has more layers than a parfait--and you know what they say: "Parfait's gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!"

  5. It's funny. Herzog has actually stated that his favorite part of the US is the mid-West where he filmed "Stroszek."

  6. Well, I've been up there--my mother-in-law was born in a tiny town in northern Wisconsin--and it can be pretty wonderful. First time I drove through the state was after a stay in a cabin in Canada, and my future wife and I arrived in Wisconsin late afternoon, and traveled southwest, preceded by a sunset that lasted forever, the farms lit in green and the bright white of those fences, with red barns all neat and trim. So I get it, Werner.
    postscript to driving story: By the time we reached the Mississippi on the Iowa side, it was dark, and this English major from NJ got to see Huck and Jim's river for the first time by moonlight. As John Goodman says in "Raising Arizona," "I do love to drive."


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