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Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)
Filmmaker(s): Werner Herzog

The inhabitants of an institution in a remote country rebel against their keepers. Their acts of rebellion are by turns humorous, boring and alarming. An allegory on the problematic nature of fully liberating the human spirit, as both commendable and disturbing elements of our nature come forward. The film shows how justifiable revolt may be empowering, but may also turn to chaos and depravity. The allegory is developed in part by the fact that the film is cast entirely with dwarfs

Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)

Chicken Out

Herzog is important to me. He seeks out situations that have recoil, he takes chances and makes honest choices. His being is broken, and that means the choices and the power of the situations affect me.

But sometimes he works with a situation that doesn’t have psychic danger. Sometimes he makes bad choices. Sometimes his brokenness is all we get.

I can’t say that this is a failed project. These things have their own autonomy and find a way that works. I can’t say that I am offended or repelled either. It seems no less depraved than most of life. I’m just disappointed that things did not line up so that it could touch my soul.

Herzog is not an accident; he is an engineered vessel. He made himself, makes himself. He works at this. In this case, he successfully created a environment. He already has established the balance he would keep between highly stylized abstractions and discovered raw truth. But his means for abstracting are not yet mature. His choices in what raw things he finds are wrong, wrong for him and us.

I have to think of this as practice for “Hearts of Glass”, which is something of a masterpiece along these lines.

A problem apart from all this, all this about him as an immature artist, there is another problem. Werner is German and carries a notion that the guilt of existence can be somehow formalized. This translates for most “reviewers” in this being an allegory of corrupt society in some form; the fears of the reviewer determine the allegory. That stuff gets in the way.

There is a potentially remarkable scene. Since the midgets are of all similar size and mental carriage, there is a clear order, physically manifest. The two — let’s say — weakest members of this society are forced into a bed to have sex. The mob cackles behind the door. Later, a larger wiser woman gives some wisdom to her inferior, the “wife”. She shows a cigar box full of dead bugs dressed in formal attire, wedding garments.

“I have a spider here with eight legs. I know spiders have six. I was going to knit it a sweater.”

This could have been devastating. This could have changed lives and sparked silent revolutions. A later Herzog would have made it work, found how to make it have power shooting toward us.

Here, it is just part of a dull spectacle.

Posted in 2010

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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