Monday, August 23, 2010
As chance would have it, I watched both The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Stroszek this week, which adds an extra poignancy, for me, to the news of Bruno S.’s death. Who was Kaspar Hauser? Was he a feral child? Was he an aristocrat (the Prince of Baden?) strategically kept out of the way for testamentary reasons before his mysterious release and just as mysterious death? Was he a fraud? Whichever he was, I can think of few more melancholy-lovely films than The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and the happy accident at its centre of the feral child and Findling actor that was Bruno S. I think of the terrible seriousness of his staring into the middle distance and his finger gestures as he speaks, his attempts to disappear into the window of his tower when confronted with the terrifying spectacle of a chicken, the silent tears that course down his cheeks when he puts his finger in a candle-flame. The terrible seriousness too of his logic when he tells his kindly benefactor how much bigger his room in the tower was than outside, since then, when he turned round, his room was still there, everywhere he looked, while now when he turns around, the view vanishes. Or the scene in which he informs a stockinged buffoon of a clergyman of an apple’s wilful disobedience (‘Clever apple!’) when it rolls down the path and jumps over his benefactor’s foot. I think of Hölderlin, taken in by the kindly carpenter Zimmer. But in reality Kaspar’s benefactors found him more of a handful than Herzog’s film suggests, accusing him of deceit and sudden fits of temper. On set Bruno S. was quite a handful too, haranguing the director and the other cast members for hours, it seems, about the injustices of the world (he grew up in Nazi children’s homes, and was lucky to have avoided an early death there). The dawning discovery, watching his other Herzog film, Stroszek, most of whose other cast members were not professional actors, that Bruno had not exactly been acting in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. But very little acting is required for some of the most affecting scenes in the film, anyway. The simple ‘So you’re back’ with which the barman in Bier Himmel greets him on his return after two and a half years in prison. The charming solemnity of his bugle notes to mark his release (‘Bruno gives a signal’). The beautiful Weimar cabaret quality of his performance in the courtyard on the glockenspiel and accordion. His declaration to the bank official in Wisconsin who comes to his mobile home that ‘Your visit does us great honour’. The awful rightness of his spending the last few quarters in his pocket, before shooting himself, on the dancing chicken, piano-playing chicken, and firetruck-driving rabbit in the amusement arcade. They make for an ending to the film that is both sombre, farcical, yet noble all at once, as was the man himself. These are two of my favourite films. I salute you, Bruno S., brave spirit. The chicken is dancing still!
And needless to say, if anyone would like to help me out (despite the five years I have been doing this now) with stopping those embedded youtube clips from mucking up my margins, please feel free, in the comments stream.