PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

Kaspar Hauser

Matthew A. Stern

An intriguing drama that creates a complex world of scandal so atmospheric that you hardly realize how truly discomfiting and bizarre the imagery is until you've emerged from it.


Kaspar Hauser

Director: Peter Sehr
Cast: André Eisermann, Jeremy Clyde, Katharina Thalbach
Distributor: Kino
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 1993
US DVD Release Date: 2007-12-08

Among casual fans of foreign film and art-house aficionados alike, the name Kaspar Hauser brings to mind two men, neither of whom are Kaspar Hauser. The first is Werner Herzog, director most famous cinematic adaptation of the legendary feral child's tale. The other is the film's star, Bruno S., a real-life outsider with no acting experience, whose debut role was as the titular Teuton in Herzog's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. The film known in the original German by a more philosophical, distinctly Herzogian title, Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (Every Man for Himself and God Against Them All) uses the story of Hauser to explore Herzog's thematic obsessions.

The real-life tale of Kaspar Hauser is so shrouded in strangeness that it's no shock it became the subject of a conspiracy theory that persists to this day. A foundling child, Hauser mysteriously appeared on the street of Nuremburg in Germany in 1828, repetitively muttering cryptic statements, clutching one anonymous letter, and another purportedly from his mother, but written in the same hand as the first. Hauser revealed that he had been raised in complete isolation, kept by an unknown captor in a tiny cell with minimal human contact.

Rumors of Hauser's royal heritage spread and persisted and just as mysteriously as he appeared, he was stabbed to death by an unknown assailant. The strange story of Kaspar Hauser acts as perfect raw material for Herzog. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser paints the historical character as one of Herzog's many solitary, visionary underdogs. Beginning as a blank slate, Bruno S.'s character grows to question the provincial presuppositions of the everymen who surround him, his bizarre origins giving him a more profound understanding of the world.

Unlike Herzog's film, Peter Sehr's Kaspar Hauser explores the mythology, rather than interpreting the reality. The 1993 film, now available on DVD in the US, fleshes out the Hauser legend with a healthy dose of highly dramatic historical fiction. Kaspar Hauser depicts a switched-at-birth scenario in which the heir to the throne of Baden is kidnapped at the behest of Countess Hochberg (Katharina Thalbach). The baby that would have been Hauser is murdered, while the real heir is locked up in Hungary.

Peter Sehr has been quoted as drawing parallels between the ruthless murder of the baby for political expediency and the regime of Nazi Germany, but as the sexually-charged intrigues and brutal machinations of the aristocracy in the House of Baden unfolds, the world of Kaspar Hauser is more reminiscent of The Roman Empire, as depicted in I, Claudius, than the Third Reich.

Convoluted and wholly Julio-Claudian plots of competing deceit unfold in the House of Baden as a backdrop to the parallel narrative of Kaspar's imprisonment. In a series of uncomfortably claustrophobic scenes, we see a young Kaspar scraping the ground with his fingers and repeating the mantras he compulsively speaks when he is finally released onto the streets of Nuremburg.

Andre Eisermann portrays a full grown Kaspar, one whose mannerisms, tics, and reactions are just slightly over-the-top, adding to the vague, dark surrealism of Sehr's storytelling. When Kaspar grows frustrated, his eyes bug out of his head and turn a frightening bright red. When he gets frightened, he runs off, cartoon-like, in no apparent direction. His reactions to the world are as vaguely surreal as the world in which he's situated, and highlight both Eisermann's ability to portray a range of bizarre, childlike emotions, and Sehr's talent for unflinchingly depicting a world tinged with pervasive strangeness.

The wide-eyed, innocent Kaspar finds himself at the mercy of his surroundings as he tries to understand the world around him. First the subject of strange medical tests by his guardian, he is told of his purported royal heritage by fey British aristocrat Lord Stanhope (Jeremy Clyde), he becomes enraptured with Stanhope's unegalitarian values and begins parading around like an aristocratic parody, as well as embroiled in a short-lived homosexual love affair with Stanhope (the stimulation resulting in a tragicomic shot of the confused Kaspar’s erection). Meanwhile, behind the scenes, various forces work to figure out exactly who and where Kaspar Hauser is, and how the status of the displaced heir to the throne of Baden can best be used.

Sehr's darkly sensationalistic and unapologetically perverse telling of the story of Kaspar Hauser as it may have happened doesn't carry the philosophical heft of its Herzog-directed predecessor. It is, however, an intriguing drama that creates a complex world of scandal so atmospheric that you hardly realize how truly discomfiting and bizarre the imagery is until you've emerged from it.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.