23rd Oct2014

‘The Werner Herzog Collection: Disc 2′ Review (BFI)

by Mondo Squallido

It is finally time to look at the second disc of the BFI collection box set. Hope you enjoyed part one and potentially found it useful. This time round, there are only two titles to devour. One being my personal favourite Herzog film, and the other being an example of his early television documentary work.

Werner-Herzog-DVD

THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER (1974)

“Nothing lives less in me than my life”

Up until his late teens, Kaspar Hauser (Bruno S.) was locked in a cellar by a man in an overcoat and top hat. Devoid completely of any human contact aside from his mysterious captor, Kaspar had only a toy horse to occupy his time. One day however, Kaspar is finally released by the man, taught some very basic phrases, handed a letter and a Bible, and left in a town square in Nuremberg. Understandably, the locals are intrigued by this mysterious fellow and Kaspar becomes something of a sensation. The locals take pity on him and begin to teach him how to speak and become a respectable citizen. However, it goes sour for Kaspar and he becomes the latest attraction at the local circus. Thankfully, appalled by what he is seeing, a well respected schoolmaster by the name of Herr Daumer (Walter Ladengast) takes Kaspar in to his own care and helps further him in to a well respected and decent human being. After a while, Kaspar begins to question aspects of society and religion. Starts to think for himself and even baffles Daumer and his fellow academics. There is much discussion, debate and philosophising. Not only that, but Kaspar falls in love with music. Unfortunately, he is attacked by the man who held him captive and is then mysteriously stabbed once recovered from the initial attack. Facing death, Kaspar ponders about visions he has had and then slowly fades away.

The film is based on the real Kaspar Hauser, a German youth. Of course, Herzog’s adaptation does drift away from the original source material in places. We are meant to sympathise with Kaspar’s hardships and celebrate his liberation, in both the literal and metaphorical form. What I feel the story teaches us is that more often than not, those who have different ideas than ourselves, are not always incorrect. I feel it also tells us that we should nurture young minds and not completely disregard ideas and concepts based on the background or position in society of the person who conceives them. I found Kaspar Hauser to be such a touching, yet devastating film. It’s an emotional roller coaster Bruno S. plays Kaspar perfectly. The fact Bruno spent the majority of his youth in mental institutions plays heavily in his portrayal of a character that is not too dissimilar to himself. It’s the subtlety in his portrayal that makes it work. It may not be Herzog’s most groundbreaking effort, but this is his masterpiece. A great example of taking a real life situation and presenting it in film form. It’s a simple film, with a simple message that is also full of childlike wonder.

HANDICAPPED FUTURE (1971)

The only other feature on the disc is Herzog’s 1971 television documentary that raises awareness about how handicapped people (children in this case) were treated by society in Germany at the time and compares it to how handicapped people are treated in America. Herzog’s subjects in the German portion of the documentary are a group of children born with missing limbs. It looks at how they are grouped together in complexes and educated. They are somewhat segregated from society. That being said, it does shine a light on those who are genuinely trying to help and educate the children, but you can’t help but feel distress at the fact that they are again, grouped together in one housing complex and not integrated in to society. That becomes in a way, hardly surprising after you hear accounts from the parents and the children themselves of how they have been demonised. We then cut to America and follow a German born university lecturer who has his independence thanks to things like an electronic wheelchair and his place of residency adapted to make his life more comfortable. Overall, this is a simple documentary that has the focus purely on the subject matter. Just like Kasper Hauser, you will be touched and devastated. A very powerful piece of documentary film making.
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I think that the two films on the disc go hand in hand. They both deal with how society looks at people who aren’t deemed as ‘normal’. They both tackle and address important social issues. They also show that just because someone is different, there is nothing stopping them from doing the same things you can achieve. Both films are presented wonderfully, especially the documentary. So far I am adoring this set for the supplemental features alone. On the disc you get a stills gallery, trailer and audio commentary for Kaspar Hauser.

You can buy this set from the BFI here; and to find out more about the BFI and some of their releases check out their website here.

Thank you for joining me once again… here is to disc 3!

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