Stroszek, Werner Herzog (1977)

An excellent example of how illuminating it can be to see your own country through the eyes of a foreigner. Stroszek is played by Bruno Schleinstein, the severely damaged man Herzog so brilliantly or revoltingly exploited or rescued (depending on your perspective) in his The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser in 1974. Stroszek, an alcoholic petty criminal and busker, flees the narrow cobbled alleys of old Europe with a funny old professor-type in a beret (whose merry decrepitude reminded me of the great homeless chef in Tampopo) and a cow-eyed prostitute who’s tired of being beaten by her pimp. The three of them arrive in the new world, buy a car, and drive to the middle of nowhere in frozen flat Wisconsin. The American dream consists of weak beer, bad food, sexual exploitation, lousy jobs, tv game shows, truck stops, racism, shag carpet, predatory lenders, and dark gray skies flicking out hard snow. Eventually, Stroszek ends up at a roadside tourist trap with a frozen turkey under one arm and a shotgun under the other, watching electrocuted animals do tricks. Dancing chicken, rabbit driving a fire truck, duck playing a drum. The soundtrack careening hysterical harmonica and hollers of Sonny Terry. They say Ian Curtis watched this just before he hung himself, and Sarah Kane references it in the last play she wrote before she hung herself: “The chicken won’t stop dancing.” Watch it with a friend.

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