Even Dwarfs Started Small (1971) – Werner Herzog

I dug into another title from the Movies That Cause Trauma chapter of the Ten Bad Dates with De Niro book, and I have to say, having watched this offering from Herzog, I may not be traumatised, but I am definitely unnerved and put off by some of his work to be sure.

Shot in black and white, and feeling uneasily like a documentary, this supposed drama-comedy follows a group of little people who are inmates at a remote asylum, also overseen by a little person, who turn the place into anarchy.

These characters go all out, trashing the place, bullying their blind neighbours, killing a pig, having accidents, tearing things up, terrorise a monkey, and generally wandering around giggling and complaining to themselves.

The whole thing is rather haunting, and while Herzog argued the film was not made to feel exploitative, there is a sense of discomfort that permeates the film, even as the camera works to stay at their eye level. There are a number of troubling moments, which I think will haunt me for a time, but I just find myself more interested in what Herzog was trying to say, and what the impetus for this film was.


A lot of the dialogue feels unrehearsed, and a script probably wasn’t so much in play as the idea of a narrative Herzog wanted to follow, and then capture with the cameras that race around the complex like the true madmen. It seems so eager to capture anything and everything that it doesn’t capture any of who these people really are.

I found my attention wavering in and out constantly, and was not captured by the cinema verite style that permeates the film, and certainly didn’t feel anything towards the film’s subjects except sorry that they had to go through it. If I’ve missed the point please let me know, but I couldn’t find much to engage with through the course of the film.

And while I imagine there are other viewers who could be in fact bothered to the extreme by this film, and the way it plays out, perhaps I have become too jaded about certain things to be traumatised by it.

Still, there are more titles to come, and we are still in the early days of this book, there are countless lists to explore and titles to watch. So grab your tub of popcorn, and settle in as I continue to work my way through Ten Bad Dates with De Niro.

Even Dwarfs Started Small 2

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