I’ve decided to teach New German Cinema but was alarmed that I didn’t enjoy The American Friend (West Germany, 1977) directed by Wim Wenders and was concerned that these films wouldn’t ‘stand up’ for me. With American Friend I found the mix of genre and arthouse elements didn’t work whilst I was sure they did the first time I saw it (in the early ’80s). Maybe my sensibility has changed; maybe such mixing is no longer novel. Whatever, Stroszek was as good this time as it was when I first saw it (around 1980); despite the fact I’m convinced I didn’t ‘get’ the film then: I would’ve been touching 20.
Was a central thematic of New German Cinema articulating a relationship with America? Certainly this is central to Fassbinder’s reworking of melodrama and is important in Alice in the Cities (Wenders again) which I will watch again soon; I’ve just ordered Elsaesser’s book to find out.
Bruno S plays Stroszek and there are clearly autobiographical elements in the character; whilst he’s patently a non-actor this works well in the role but might be off-putting at first. He and two other misfits go to live the American Dream where everyone who works hard can get rich. Does anyone outside of America still believe this; or are many people in such desperate straits that even badly paid dead-end jobs in America can count as riches?
The getting into debt is perfunctorily done but that works as part of the episodic narrative. The climax is truly bonkers with Stroszek clinging on to two American icons: a thanksgiving turkey and a gun. The final 10 minutes are hallucinatory.
Stroszek is from Berlin, then a centre of Cold War politics. Now East and West are reunited (see Yella) the political dynamics have changed. America, ‘the leader of the free world’ could then more readily justify its hegemonic position. After the invasion of Iraq and its concomitant abuses, such as Guantanamo, the lack of morality in America’s leadership of fawning nations – such as UK – is evident to all except cynics. Would Stroszek even be allowed into American now?
Herzog is great at framing scenes and offers a compelling view of the middle of nowhere.