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Even Dwarfs Started Small

Directed by Werner Herzog.
With Helmut Döring, Paul Glauer, Gisela Hertwig.
Germany, 1970, DCP, black & white, 96 min.
German with English subtitles.

“When we behave, nobody cares. But when we are bad, nobody forgets!”

Even by the standards of crazy Werner Herzog, this film is crazy. But like all of his films, the craziness is not the point; rather, it’s a tool, used in a very specific way, by a master craftsman. In this, his second narrative feature, Herzog tells a story of revolution. On a remote island, inside a repressive institution, the unhappy inmates rebel and rise up against their guards. What results is furious anarchy—but as with most displays of anarchy, there are actually some unspoken rules being followed, and this is what really interests Herzog.

And, keep in mind, the film’s title is quite literal. Both the inmates and the guards are played entirely by dwarfs. In fact there are no regular-sized people in the film, yet the chairs and the beds and the doorknobs are sized only for nonexistent big people. No wonder the dwarfs are angry. Herzog’s sympathy, as always, is with the so-called freaks and their rampage against the rigged system. Franz Kafka would have cried with happiness, and then cried with unhappiness.

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