First off, I've seen this three times, once with the commentary on. I haven't seen it in a couple years though.
I just recommended this movie to blog reader and good friend R.D. so I figured I'd put my thoughts in an actual post instead of in the "recommendations" comments where Cory brought this up. I know winter rates has seen it. I know that my wife fell asleep during it, and that my brother for some reason has refused to watch it, probably because he watched The Color of Pomegranates on my recommendation.
But anyway, here's a bit about why I like this movie so much.
It's got to start with the performance by Bruno S., a non-actor. I don't think you need to know his back story in order to appreciate his performance, but it does give the performance depth, I think, and it explains where some of the quiet intensity in the character comes from. He spent nearly the first 25 years of his life in an asylum and had absolutely no social skills upon leaving. When Herzog found him, he was sort of just getting by as a street musician (pretty much exactly what he does in the film). He was in one other Herzog movie, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, but other than that hasn't acted. And this performance, I think, is so amazingly powerful. Aside from that aforementioned intensity, there's just this focus that he has that makes him impossible to ignore. He brings to life this character who is not only confused by life, but tortured by it. I honestly think his is one of the best acting performances I've ever seen.
I don't know if I love the screenplay or if I love what has to be a lack of screenplay. The characters seem to float through this mysterious bastardization of the American dream (it is, I believe, the most accurate depiction of the American dream in film history). They've got no control and are pushed by forces they can't possibly hope to understand. It seems like the direction/writing goes right along with that. There are times when it seems like Herzog is filming one of his weirdo documentaries instead of filming from a script. It 's liberating and gives the movie a passion and realism that I don't think it could have otherwise. There's also a humor, but it's a spontaneous humor, not a written humor. I love the scene with the hunter. Really, I almost want to laugh just thinking about that old man. I also think the scene in Berlin with the baby is fantastically powerful and poignant. So much of this movie sticks around long after the movie has ended.
I also love the imagery--the stuff in Berlin and then the desolate beauty of the American Midwest. Herzog is known for filming exotic and difficult places, and here he somehow makes Wisconsin look exotic and difficult. The finale in Cherokee, North Carolina sounds almost comical when described. You've got the circling truck, Bruno on a ski lift with a frozen turkey, and the coin-operated animal tricks, all with that maddening Sonny Terry music in the background. If that doesn't scream Americana, I don't know what does! According to the commentary, Herzog's crew hated it all so much that they refused to work and forced him to film it all on his own. I love great movie endings, and all of my favorite movies (i.e. City Lights) have great ones. Herzog's good at endings, and I think the dancing chicken rivals his best--the monkeys at the end of Aguirre: The Wrath of God and the midget laughing at the defecating camel at the end of Even Dwarfs Started Small are also brilliant. Sure, some people would say, "But the chicken dances for so long! Why? Why? Why!?" But I just love how Herzog's camera lingers in his films and this seen is the perfect example of that. I couldn't imagine a more perfect amount of time to see that chicken.
According to legend (urban legend?), by the way, Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, committed suicide while watching the closing scene of Stroszek. I'm not sure about the validity of that story.
The film's just got this mystique, this aura, this strangeness. It's such a simple story and even a simple telling of the story, but at the same time it's open to interpretation, I think. It's not just about the American dream (nightmare?). I really don't think two people can see this and see the same thing, and that's how all great art should be. Thematically, it's nowhere near uplifting. It's relentlessly bleak, but it's got this unique color and quirkiness that makes it much easier to swallow than the typical bleakness of life. And to me, there's an honesty to this bleakness. It's what makes this movie a rewarding experience for me and what makes something like Slumdog Millionaire disappointing.
As any of the four and a half readers of this blog probably realize, what I love in movies that I love are the moments on the fringes. This movie is almost all fringe! For whatever reason, it's something that I can easily connect with and something that I feel completely comfortable with. I'm not even sure if I'd call Stroszek the best Werner Herzog movie, but I'm pretty sure it's my favorite.
As winter rates could tell you, I love accordions.