Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)

Dwarfs take over their asylum in this bizarre, surreal film from Werner Herzog. Anchor Bay USA R0 boxset + DVD release.

The Film

An asylum populated and run entirely by dwarfs. The inmates rebel and the head of the asylum takes a hostage and barricades himself in a room. Meanwhile the inmates cause havoc, torturing blind inmates, killing animals and destroying every vestige of civilisation.
Even Dwarfs Started Small is simply one of the strangest movies ever made. With no particular narrative or even purpose, it mostly consists of the small cast of dwarfs destroying things and making chaos. As the film progresses, their actions become more and more surreal until the film's bizarre ending. Pacing is very slow, almost none existant, closer to some of director/writer Werner Herzog's 'visual documentaries' like Fata Morgana (1971) than his feature films. Herzog keeps the story and settings very vague, although the entire cast are dwarfs, there are pictures of 'normal' people, and all of the sets and props are of a normal size - there are no hints as to when/where the film is set. The presence of a rebellion in the film has lead many people to see it as a parody of the left-wing revolutionary movements of 1968, although Herzog himself denies that this was an intention. He does, however, seem to be trying to push the limits of acceptability in films, so the story has the dwarfs torturing animals and blind people, as well as some strange religious imagery. If most of Herzog's work could be considered dream-like, or nightmarish - Dwarfs most closesly resembles a drug addled fever dream from which some people might never recover.

Herzog's direction is strong with some nice camerawork that captures the 'action' well. The cast is entirely composed of dwarfs, most of them with no acting experience - they perform suitably well in this film with some impressive stuntwork although how many of their performances were real and how many deliberately strange for the film, is hard to tell.

Ultimately, Even Dwarfs Started Small ranks as Herzog's strangest film - strong stuff considering that few of his works could ever be considered 'normal'. Fans of ultra-bizarre cinema will love this, and it should be of interest to Herzog fans - but mainstream movie fans should stay far away!

In Brief

Directed by anyone interesting? Werner Herzog - one of European cinema's best directors with a powerful artistic vision in all his films.
Any violence/gore? Some animal violence (mostly simulated, although the cock fight is real).
Any sex? Some references and there are some soft-nude images in magazines read by the characters.
Who is it for?
A very strange film, recommended to fans of ultra-bizarre cinema.
Good soundtrack?A minimal score from Herzog's frequent collaborator Florian Fricke.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Black and white.
The print quality is decent, very grainy and some noticable print damage in a few scenes. Always watchable.
Audio German mono. Sounds fine.
Subtitles English - translates the German.
AvailabilityAvailable in the Werner Herzog collection boxset, and as a seperate release.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with Werner Herzog, Norman Hill and Crispin Glover. Very interesting.
  • Werner Herzog biography
Region Region 0 (ALL) - NTSC
Other regions? Anchor Bay UK DVD - includes 5.1 audio (rather pointless considering the film's lack of action) although it is cut by over 2 minutes for animal cruelty.
Cuts? None known. German language print.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 30th August 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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