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Bruno S. as Kaspar Hauser, a man raised in complete isolation suddenly released into the world at maturity in THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER.


THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER aka EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF AND GOD AGAINST ALL


Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle 1974, 109m 11s (S!F), 109m 23s (BFI)


In Werner Herzog’s audio commentary to this, one of his finest and most humane films, the writer- director challenges a charge of obscurantism by claiming that there exists in the German language “entire libraries” devoted to the study of the true-life case of Kasper Hauser, an abandoned young man found standing in a public square in Nuremberg, Bavaria in May 1828 with almost no command of speech and holding an unsigned letter of introduc- tion in his hand. This is surely an exaggeration, but Hauser is indeed a well-known figure of the Bavar- ian past. He became interlinked with German folk- lore because his strange and short public life ended as mysteriously as it began, when he was suddenly stabbed to death in 1833 by an unseen assailant, just as the former sideshow attraction, rescued from that ignoble fate and educated by a piteous scholar, was being courted as a local celebrity by members of high society. Not only does Hauser’s curious life story have parallels to other “noble savage” stories in history, such as that of Victor of Aveyron (1788- 1828, the subject of François Truffaut’s 1970 film


L’enfant sauvage/THE WILD CHILD), Ishi (1860- 1916, the last surviving member of a Native Ameri- can tribe who descended from the mountains to become a janitor in the Natural History museum that made him famous), and Joseph Carey Merrick (1862-1890, the fabled Elephant Man), but it ad- dresses the existentialist concerns of us all in the way it is bookended in absolute mystery. Bruno S. makes an uncanny screen debut as the zonk-faced Kaspar, whose experience of life— cruelly raised to military-serving age in a sense-de- priving dungeon, abruptly abandoned to the four winds, then variously cared for and exploited—is alternately tragic, adventurous and nurturing, giv- ing rise to a unique and often surreal perception of the world around him. Initially placed with the fam- ily of a local police guard, who teach him how to sit up and eat, and hold a baby (whose preciousness makes him weep), he is soon consigned to working as an exhibit in a lowly carnival sideshow (another human spectacle is the tiny King of Punt, a country whose leaders are supposedly born smaller with each new generation, played by EVEN DWARFS STARTED SMALL’s Helmut Döring), supposedly to repay the community that fed and housed him. He eventually escapes and is given a home and an education by the more humane sponsor, Professor Daumer (Walter Ladengast), who exposes him to


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