Stroszek (Werner Herzog / West Germany, 1977):

"Keep your fly zipped," advises the parole officer in an early scene, prison bars reflected through glass for the benefit of Grosbard and Hoffman (Straight Time). The immigrantís ballad by Werner Herzog, out of the cooler and into the bullying hands of pimps in a dry little send-up of Fassbinderian torment. "Berlinís been really getting on my nerves," so off to America for the cracked accordionist (Bruno S.), the mauled prostitute (Eva Mattes) and the wizened neighbor (Clemens Scheitz), their ship is a small white dash on the high-angled New York panorama. The drive to Wisconsin is an impressionistic distillation of the road-movie subgenre, awaiting the trio are wintry rural expanses and one pooch with a bright green Hawaiian lei. (Not for nothing is Errol Morris thanked in the opening credits.) Happiness on credit in the New World, a vision of freedom only until the reality of repossession, the mobile home is wheeled in and then away to the scratchy tune of "Silver Bell." "Canít say I know the language, but something smells fishy to me." The Berliner Mauer in the heartland is a patch of land guarded by rival tractors with shotguns, thereís little difference for the outcasts, the blunt degradation back home is here doled out "politely, with a smile." And yet thereís genuinely beguiled affection from Herzog toward these oddball Americans and their ribald limericks and auctioning lingo, so much so that the story canít resist ending like a western, cowboy hat and barbershop robbery and all. The spindly newbornís instinctive grip, the metal detector on top of the frozen lake, one surreal view after another, a sustained captivation. At its center is the rough glow of Bruno S., part Rip Torn and part Beethoven, ludicrously clutching a stolen turkey and still mysteriously gallant in his battered understanding that "it goes in circles." The dancing chicken at the coin-operated kitsch pit is nothing less than Dickinsonís "Hope is the Thing with Feathers," Sonny Terryís hollering harmonica is a requiem for every dreamer. Cinematography by Thomas Mauch. With Wilhelm von Homburg, Burkhard Driest, Clayton Szalpinski, Ely Rodriguez, and Scott McKain.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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