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Even Dwarfs Started Small

Even Dwarfs Started Small

Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen

Werner Herzog

West Germany, 1969

Credits

Review by Leo Goldsmith

Posted on 14 December 2004

Source Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD

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Features: Directors: Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog and the makers of Jackass have much in common: a willingness to risk life and limb for the sake of visual entertainment, a boundless desire to portray the extreme and the grotesque, and a fondness for dwarfs. Indeed, Herzog could easily be classified as a provocateur or a director of gimmicks if it were not for his often intensely sedate style. A film like Even Dwarfs Started Small exemplifies this bizarre stylistic contradiction: take a premise sure to shock and offend, strip the story and dialogue of almost any narrative convention, and film the ensuing chaos with the impassive, absurdly patient eye of a documentarian.

Here, the premise involves a cast composed entirely of dwarfs who wreak havoc in a bleak, post-industrial landscape devoid of features. The film’s narrative is muddy and sparsely explicated, but discernible. The patients of a mental institution have broken free and imprisoned their captors, and as the institution’s director waits holed up inside, the patients burn, taunt, or abuse everything they come across: cars, furniture, animals, trees, and other patients.

While another director might have played this story of liberation and anarchy for its ecstasy (see Zéro de Conduite or Revenge of the Nerds) or its humanism (see A Man Escaped or The Great Escape), Herzog captures a moment of pure chaos—neither inspiring nor liberating—in all its nightmarish disarray. Rather than championing the dwarfs as masters of their condition, the film posits dwarfism as the condition of humanity as a whole. The characters in the film are therefore not dwarfs—it is the massive construct of the social order that has grown and mutated to unmanageable, elephantine proportions. Patient and unrelenting, Herzog stages this steady destruction of all property and propriety, a total deterioration of narrative logic and social norms emblematized by the images of a crucified monkey and a cannibalizing chicken.

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