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The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) (DVD)

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  • Intriguing historical film
  • Wordy and dry at times
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      25.05.2014 13:19
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      • "Intriguing historical film"

      Disadvantages

      • "Wordy and dry at times"

      The Incredible Life of Kaspar Hauser

      Based on the historical figure of Kaspar Hauser, who by his count was kept chained up from birth in a small cellar, until one day he was released with no apparent reason, dumped in the middle of Nuremberg by a mysterious man dressed in black with only a couple of letters as his possessions, and then becoming a sensation for Germany's 19th century intelligentsia following his rehabilitation, is an interesting, if a bit wordy, 1974 Werner Herzog drama. "Jeder fur sich und Gott gegen alle" ("Every Man for Himself and God Against All" aka. "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser") stars the somewhat strange street musician Bruno Schleinstein (typically referred to as "Bruno S."), whom Herzog cast into the role after seeing him in a documentary despite him not having any prior acting experience. Having been beaten as a child and having spent much time in mental institutions, Schleinstein certainly made a good fit as the socially awkward Hauser being carted around as an attraction with his uniquely shaped ideas on logic and religion, which rub some of the more "knowing" people of the time the wrong way - though in typical Herzog fashion his casting choice was not a simple one as the director recounted the actor having suffered from low self-esteem, highly eccentric behaviour, and having been continuously suspicious of Herzog's motives. Regardless, there has likely never been another person to have so inimitably been able to truly play a character such as Hauser with this much authenticity and true conviction.

      As far as Hauser himself goes, there has been much debate - even during Hauser's lifetime - as to whether his story was authentic or whether it was all just an elaborate hoax, with many of his supporters eventually coming to tire of his behaviour and propensity for lying, suspecting Hauser for craving attention and coming up with ways to elicit a reaction even to the point where his eventual death by stabbing was possibly in reality just an accidental suicide (the film recounts things more from the side of Hauser's claims than from the viewpoint of his surrounding witnesses). Still, whether you ascribe to Hauser's claims or not, in terms of the film Herzog successfully presents the man as the riddle he has come to be known as. And while it takes much of Hauser's life at face value, there's a lot to appreciate here, particularly in regards to Bruno S.'s unique performance. And though admittedly the film has a tendency to at times settle into espousing various dry ideological dogmas for prolonged periods at a time, which inevitably also have the ability to lose the interest of more easily drifty minds, this remains an interesting film about a man crafted into society through the most peculiar of circumstances and how he develops into a sensation in a world that is so wholly alien to him. (c) berlioz 2014

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