Five Reasons: Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)
Welcome to another edition of Five Reasons, where I give you five very valid reasons to check out a film if you still need some convincing. If you have seen the film you get to peek inside my brain and find out why I love the movie so much. If you’re okay with peeking inside my brain, because there is all kinds of crazy shit going on there. Moving on: Here are five reasons why I highly recommend checking out Werner Herzog’s 1970 art film Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen, which is just one of his many masterpieces.
1. Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog is one of my favorite directors. Before he became an almost full-time documentarian, with occasional works of fiction here and there, he was putting out great art house films like Even Dwarfs Started Small. What I love most about him is his sense of humor, which I feel is not typically German, but very dark and outrageous. He will make you laugh at things you normally wouldn’t consider funny and probably would rather make you cry or feel sad. He also has a great feeling for what works on the screen in terms of making the audience relate with the actors. His characters are always crazy, mad lunatics and he tends to emphasize the more “demented” aspect of humanity. However he also loves his characters dearly and he never makes fun of them, but rather sympathizes with them and sees himself in them. The next four reasons will show you what I mean more thoroughly.
2. Black & white
As someone that looks with a certain nostalgia to the black & white era and wishes that more pictures today were photographed that way Even Dwarfs Started Small is a great treat. In 1970 color was the new standard and making your film in black & white was somewhat of an anomaly. However especially for independent filmmakers it was a lot cheaper. The black & white in this film is beautiful to look at, but also adds to the weird and uncomfortable atmosphere of the film. As does the music by the way. I couldn’t imagine this film be in color, it just wouldn’t be the same. To me when a filmmaker uses black & white post-1960s I don’t feel he needs a good reason to do so, because I love it, but most people will ask Why? For some reason I always think that they are trying to make some kind of moral statement about how in real life not everything is black or white. Yes, sometimes it’s just a romantic notion of films equating dreams and reminiscing the good old days of the golden age, or financial calculations. In this case it’s probably all of the above.
3. Social commentary
I am not a sociologist, but it’s apparent that Herzog was trying to make some kind of social commentary when he made this seemingly odd film. The story of a community of dwarfs where they all turn against the authority, who takes one of them as a hostage to protect himself, clearly serves as a microcosm to comment on the world of “normal”-sized people. Everything that happens in Even Dwarfs Started Small mirrors what happens in the real world, much like in Lars von Trier’s Dogville the town of Dogville is a metaphor for America as a whole. These little people are every bit as greedy, selfish and violent as human beings everywhere else. The weaker dwarfs are picked on and abused, the animals are tortured and killed etc. Herzog also seems to be commenting on life’s futility using the image of a car endlessly spinning in circles, which he then would reprise in Stroszek. All in all it’s just a fantastic piece that will make you think about a lot of things if you let it.
4. An All Dwarf Cast
Now there’s something you don’t see everyday: A film starring exclusively little people. Today, dwarfs are used mostly to be made fun of in movies, which I find really sad and disrespectful. This film however treats them like “normal” people. The title alone shows you the film won’t take a politically correct approach, but it’s also not going to make fun of them. Why is this a good reason to watch the film though? Well, I feel that it’s a very original idea and thus an original film. There’s nothing quite like it. Ted Browning’s Freaks (1932) is as close as it gets and it shares some similar themes, but Even Dwarfs Started Small is a truly unique film and in a world of remakes and reboots and franchises what’s more refreshing than that? By the way: I want you all to reflect for a couple seconds on the word “franchise” and realize how studio executives have basically turned film into nothing more than a vulgar product that has nothing to do with art anymore. Also, I just have to applaud the cast for some genuinely great performances.
5. Hand-held camera
Today using the hand-held camera has become standard fare, even for movies that aren’t part of the found footage sub-genre. However in the 70s this filmmaking technique was very innovative and Herzog could be considered a pioneer, a visionary even. Sadly, art films like Even Dwarfs Started Small go unnoticed by mainstream moviegoers. Again, however Herzog didn’t use the hand-held camera just for fun, but had some very good reasons to do so. A mobile camera allows you to get in closer on the action, to photograph your actor from an unconventional angle and move more freely. This all adds to the realism of the film and the actors being allowed to work more naturally, because they don’t have to constantly worry about where the camera is going to be. The use of hand-held camera also helped to create the uneasy, unsettling atmosphere I was referring to earlier, because as I said the storytelling ends up feeling more real and organic, which can only be a good thing.
These are the five reasons why I think Werner Herzog’s Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen is a masterpiece and why you should see it. If you have seen the film: I’d be interested to hear what you liked most about it. If you haven’t seen the film: Watch the film!