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Intermediate Digital Processes ART 340 (FIST 340)

Advanced Digital Processes ART 540 (FIST 540)


Spring Term III 2015 Monday & Wednesday 1:00-4:30 PM
Hurvis 013 (24 hour/7 day access w/swipe card)
http://www.digitalprocesses.blogspot.com
CONTACT:
Instructors: John Shimon & Julie Lindemann, Associate Professors of Art
Email: shimon-lindemann@lawrence.edu (best way to reach us outside of class)
Office: Wriston Art Center 109, 920.832.6534
Office Hours: Tuesdays 10-12 AM. Fridays by appointment.
ART 340 COURSE DESCRIPTION:
A continuation of ART 240 using the digital medium within a contemporary art context. Digital photography, experimental video, social media,
performance, and installation are covered while using the Internet and campus spaces as venues for projects. Contemporary art discourse is
examined through projects, readings, lectures, demonstrations, discussions, critiques, and visiting artist presentations. Mac-based. (6 units).
PREREQUISITE: ART 240 or ART 245. Limit 9.
ART 540 COURSE DESCRIPTION:
A continuation of ART 340 using the digital medium at an advanced level. Digital photography, experimental video, social media, performance, and
installation are covered while using the Internet and campus spaces as venues for projects. Contemporary art discourse is examined through projects,
readings, lectures, demonstrations, discussions, critiques, and visiting artist presentations. Mac-based. (6 units).
PREREQUISITE: ART 340. Limit 5.
LEARNING OUTCOMES (students should be able to):
1.
Produce digital media works expressing an individual aesthetic that function as art while meeting project deadlines.
2.
Understand how artists use digital media to make works of contemporary art for exhibition in a gallery or museum context.
3.
Use Web 2.0 platforms such as Blogger, Flickr, YouTube, SoundCloud, and other emerging social media to engage others in
your ideas and projects while establishing your artist identity.
4.
Build community through collaboration while developing strategies for negotiating the constantly evolving digital environment.
5.
Examine the proliferation of technology, information, and images while considering the ways perceptions of time, space,
memory, and human experience have changed as a result.
CRITERIA FOR EVALUATION:
1.
Projects (60%): Complete 3 projects, worth 10% each with the final project being worth 30% reflecting your
creative, in-depth investigation of the digital medium and related debates, and the development of your digital skills. Projects
must be newly generated material and finished along with a 150-word blog post reflecting on your work (include
hyperlinks, visuals, video clips to illustrate your text) along with comments posted on 2 classmates blogs and presented at the
beginning of the class on due date. Late Projects receive a lowered grade for each class meeting they are late
(e.g. an A gets lowered to a B if 1 class late, to a C if 2 classes late, etc.). NOTE: ART 540 students must demonstrate
increased sophistication and output thus raising the bar in discussions and critiques.
2. Reflection Blog Posts (10%): Write 2 250-word blog posts on assigned/required artist lectures worth 5%
each. Reflections will be graded + (A), (B), - (C). Jot down notes to remind you of points you found most compelling.
Always quote our primary reading in your text. Your post must analyze how the artist presents issues related to their work and
how their work relates to issues covered in this course along with comments posted on 2 classmates blogs and presented by
the project deadline. Late posts receive a lowered grade (see above).
3.
Attendance (15%): Attend and be on time for ALL class meetings and PAY ATTENTION as a great deal of material is
covered rapidly. Only ONE excused absence is allowed. Email instructors in advance of missing a class indicating
reason and how you will handle missed class work. NOTE! Working at a computer during discussions; leaving the
lab more than once per class; texting, playing video games, Facebooking or emailing; or arriving late/leaving early will cause
you to be marked absent for the day. Repeated absences and habitual lateness adversely affect your attendance grade
(e.g. an A gets lowered to a B if two (2) absences, to a C if three (3) absences, etc.).

4.

5.

Participation (15%): Participate in discussions and contribute to the ongoing dialog. Your ability to help others, lead a
discussion, articulate your ideas and observations, and define your own work is important. Readings and discussions are
designed to enhance your learning outside of class and give you the intellectual tools to produce, critique, and discuss works of
art. Class time includes work time. Bring project material with you and plan to work during class so that you can get help from
peers and instructor.
Honor Code: Please reaffirm the LU Honor Code in your heart and mind on all projects.

MATERIALS REQUIRED:
1. Book (required): The Practice of Everyday Life by Michel de Certeau (UC press, PB, 1984, ISBN 978-0-520-27145-6,
$27.95). Available at Viking Bookstore and online.
2. USB3 External Drive (required): LaCie or Sea Gate for storing/editing video and still images. Check Target, Best Buy,
amazon.com (1 TB about $75).
3. Headphones with 1/8 mini-plug (required): Conventional light-duty or heavy-duty noise canceling.
4. SONY NEX-5 camera and tri-pod (provided): Pairs of students will share a camera for capturing stills, video, and sound.
HURVIS 013 & WRISTON iMAC LABS:
1. LAB ACCESS: 24/7 keycard access to the Hurvis 013 and Wriston Digital labs (except for times used by other
courses). Building passes will be provided.
2. APPLICATIONS: Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, etc.), Final Cut Pro, Mac iLife (GarageBand, iMovie, iDVD, etc.),
Microsoft Office (PowerPoint, etc.), and Blurb BookSmart.
3. HARDWARE: HURVIS LAB: 15-iMac computers, B/W HP laser printer, and M-Audio Midi keyboards.
WRISTON LAB: 3-iMacs, Wacom drawing pad, 3-Epson scanners (scans up to 8.5x11), Epson photo quality inkjet
printer, Epson CD/DVD inkjet printer. Epson 10000XL scanner (scans up to 11x14) and Epson 44 wide-format photo
quality inkjet printer available for advanced work.
4. CAMERAS/CAMCORDERS: Canon DSLRs and video cameras available for check out.
5. EDITSHARE MEDIA SERVER: 1 TB storage space for class video and audio projects.
6. LAB ETIQUETTE: Maintain good group work habits. Be considerate of other students/faculty using facilities by:
turning off your cell phone and using headphones when working with sound/video. No eating/drinking in the lab. Leave
your workstation clean--do not leave equipment/belongings in the lab!
INFO/RESOURCES:
1. Supplies Locally: MURRAY PHOTO for cameras and media (10 College, 920-733-5885, murrayphoto.com),
COMPUTER WORLD for Mac accessories (3015 W. Wisconsin, 920-733-9547), TARGET for cameras, external
drives, media (target.com, 4301 W. Wisconsin, 920-731-5566)
2. Supplies Online: Adorama for equipment & media (800-223-2500 adorama.com), eBay for used equipment,
props (ebay.com), APPLE STORE for Mac accessories, drives (800-692-7753 apple.com), B&H PHOTO VIDEO
for cameras, etc. (800-221-5743 bhphotovideo.com).
3. ONLINE PLATFORMS: BLOGGER.COM for online blog publishing, BLURB.COM for print on demand photo
books, FLICKR.COM for sharing/archiving images, GOTPRINT.COM for post cards, SOUNDCLOUD.COM
for sharing sound, VIMEO & YOUTUBE.COM for sharing videos,
4. Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities: Students who have a disability covered by the
Americans with Disabilities Act are entitled to academic accommodations. Students must initiate all requests. Please
contact the Office of Student Academic Services (ext. 6530) for info and advice.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: (on reserve or available at the Mudd Library)
The Practice of Everyday Life by Michel de Certeau (1984)-REQUIRED
Simulations by Jean Baudrillard (1983)
Relational Aesthetics by Nicolas Bourriaud (1998)
Allan Kaprow: Art as Life by Allan Kaprow and editors (2008)
The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now by Lev Manovich et al. (2008)
The Language of New Media by Lev Manovich (2002)
The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan (1967)
Art Safari series by Ben Lewis (DVD, 2005)

ART 340/540 - DIGITAL PROCESSES


COURSE CALENDAR + PROJECTS
WEEK 1
MAR 30 (M)

INTRODUCTION:
Surveys, prerequisite check, instructor/student introductions, syllabus review (key dates), course format.
Required materials include book, external drive, and headphones.
NOTE: ALWAYS BRING RAW MATERIAL TO EACH CLASS TO WORK ON AFTER
PRESENTATIONS! BE PREPARED TO WORK UNTIL 4:30!
DIGITAL MEDIUM CAUTION: Be prepared for problems that can arise while working on large complex
projects that could prevent you from meeting deadlines. Final Cut, PhotoShop, and GarageBand can
unexpectedly quit and you can lose your work. Accept this and begin employing good disaster-management
strategies to spare frustration and disappointment:
Save Often Keep a back-up copy before making a radical change.
Save Incrementally Save your file as follows: myProject01, myProject02, myProject03, etc. This way,
if a file becomes corrupt or mysteriously vanishes, you can reload previously saved version.
Back up saved files to more than one media Besides saving to your external drive, save to
DVDs or CDs especially raw data such as audio, video, and stills.
Test files Before a presentation or deadline test your project on various computers!
THE PRACTICE OF EVERYDAY LIFE PPTX: An introduction to Michel de Certeaus observations of life,
art and power structures. We will look at art that broke down barriers between art/audience/life such as
Johnas Mekas personal films, Sopie Calles conceptual projects, Buckminster Fullers visions, and study in depth
Werner Herzogs Stroszek.
BLOG UPDATE WORKSHOP:
Re/Design hone template, color palette, font, update profile/portrait, add Favicon if you dont have one!
Email instructors shimon-lindemann@lawrence.edu your blog URL so it can be added to the class blog list.
Subscribe to <http://digitalprocesses.blogspot.com) where you can track on your classmates blogs.

PROJECT No. 1 MODALITIES OF ACTION DOCUMENTED PROJECT


Use digital media to extract an art experience that helps heighten the experience of an everyday mundane ritual. Find rhythms
that create poetry. Create an awareness of interplays with light. Convey a feeling of presence. Deeply feel or truly understand
whats happening. Does this ritual/action support or subvert the prevailing power structures agenda? Post it on the Internet.
READ: de Certeau p. 29-89 Chapter III Making Do: Uses and Tactics
LEARNING OUTCOMES (students should be able to):
1. Design an art project based on actions in the everyday world.
2. Document the process and performance of your action with video, stills, mapping, text, sound recording etc.
3. Produce a new media object reflecting your experience.
4. Contribute to the continuum of intellectual ideas.
REQUIREMENTS CHECKLIST:
1. Post your concept and project plan in 100-words on your blog using ideas from de Certeau. DUE: APRIL 1.
2. Document your project with video or stills to most evocatively represent your experience and perceptions including
interactions with others, artifacts, and remnants. Edit video footage into a 2-4 minute video uploaded to your YouTube
channel OR select an inter-related series of 15-25 still photographs uploaded to your FLICKR account or equivalent.
3. Post a 250-word reflection on your blog with links to your project. Include questions asking viewers about the issues
your piece provokes. Identify the broader implications as they relate to the assigned readings.
4. Post 2 comments responding to classmate posts.
DUE: APRIL 8 (W)
APR 1 (W)

SIGN OUT SONY NEX-5 CAMERA KITS & TRIPODS (FROM KEVIN T. SUMMERS)
PROJECT No. 1 Present project plan blog post for feedback.
UTOPIAS PPTX: Trace the evolution of intentional communities over the past 100 years. What happens
when Life becomes Art?

APR 3 (F)
6 8 PM

3 NEW SHOWS OPENING WITH MUSIC @ WRISTON ART CENTER GALLERIES


RECOMMENDED!

WEEK 2
APR 6 (M)

WORK DAY Bring in raw material and be prepared to work in class.


READ de Certeau p. 29-90 for next time

APR 8 (W)

DISCUSS de Certeau p. 29-90


JONAS MEKAS-Filmmaker and experiencer of Life. Presentation/Screening.

WEEK 3
JAN APR 13 (M)

PROJECT No. 1 DUE/CRITIQUE


READ de Certeau p. 91-130 for next time

PROJECT No. 2 THE IN-BETWEEN PROJECT


Consider the in-between, the around, the here and there that creates the nothing that lies beyond something. Use digital media
to describe space or to document a performance about a space. Make the unseen seen in a way that it evokes sublime beauty,
empty loss, joyful humor, etc. Go beyond the path of obviousness. Ask the question, Is the way we walk the way someone
demands we walk?
READ: de Certeau p. 91-130 (Part III Spatial Practices)
LEARNING OUTCOMES (students should be able to):
1. Design an art project that considers the spatial based on de Certeau.
2. Build skills in creating digital objects and posting them to the Internet.
3. Experience Life in a more profound/perverse way.
REQUIREMENTS CHECKLIST:
1. Look around: really look.
2. Experience: feel something.
3. Act: do something. Create a digital object. Dont be satisfied with the results if they arent working for you.
4. Post a 250-word reflection on your blog with your video embedded and an analysis of your creative process along with
detailed reflections on how your treatment relates to the assigned readings.
5. Post 2 comments responding to classmate posts.
DUE: APRIL 20 (M)
APR 15 (W)

DISCUSS de Certeau p. 91-130


SOPHIE CALLE: Not knowing where to go.

WEEK 4
APR 20 (M)

PROJECT No. 2 DUE/CRITIQUE

APR 21 (T)
4:30 PM

MARTIN BRIEF @ WRISTON AUDITORIUM RECOMMENDED! Reception after lecture.

APR 22 (W)

LAWTON HALL (LU MUSIC PERFORMANCE 10) VISIT: Lawton will talk about doing music and
art. Ask questions and take notes. Post a 250-word blog reflection. DUE: April 27 (M).
REVIEW LIST OF ARTISTS TO RESEARCH for next time

WEEK 5
APR 27 (M)
1:30 2:30
PM

RESEARCH PROJECT: Review requirements, artists, suggestions for designing an art PowerPoint (PPTX).
VISUAL RESOURCES LIBRARY/MUDD LIBRARY WORKSHOP: VRL librarian Colette Lunday
Brautigam will present info on digital images (e.g. ARTstor). Reference librarian Gretchen Revie will talk about
library resources (books and videos), Internet research using credible sources.
LAWTON HALL 250-word blog reflection post due.
READ de Corteau p. 177-203 for next time

PROJECT No. 3 EVERYDAY LIFE RESEARCH REPORT


Produce an illustrated report on one of the listed artists. Analyze how their work can be related to everyday life and how they
use digital media (if at all) in any part of their process. Before our meeting, get familiar with the following artists:
Alma Allen, Dick Blau, Judy Chicago, Francesco Clemente, Sue Coe, Dan Estabrook, Valie Export,
Alan Kaprow, Ana Mendieta, Bill Owens, David Robbins, Carolee Schneemann, Gillian Wearing,
Hannah Wilke, Sam Taylor-Johnson (born Taylor-Wood).
LEARNING OUTCOMES (students should be able to):
1. Conduct research on an artist using an academic library and online resources.
2. Present an illustrated talk on an artist with a clear, focused thesis, and appropriate images.
3. Think critically about how art practice, art history, and contemporary theory intersect.
REQUIREMENTS:
1. DEVELOP A THESIS & CONDUCT RESEARCH: Conduct research online and at the library to gather enough
material to develop a thesis or argument about the nature of your artists art practice, ideas, and past work.
2. SELECT IMAGES: Select digital images using ARTstor or other credible online image sources. Use about 10 images or brief
video clips to illustrate specific points. Read each image you show. Make sure you have a talking point for each.
3. DESIGN SLIDE SHOW: Use PowerPoint to design your slide show. The background should be neutral (black, white, gray)
and fonts simple so they do not distract from art. Include the title, size, medium for each image. Start with a slide by stating
your name and the title and thesis of your presentation. End with your bibliographic sources. A few bullet points
and quotes are okay, but avoid reading the entire report off the screen! Video clips less than 1-minute may be included. Put
your .mov video files in same file folder as PPTX. Do not hyperlink to online videos as there are usually loading delays.
4. PREPARE OUTLINE: Write a 2-pg. outline including your thesis and key points for use during presentation with a
1-pg. bibliography listing 8 sources which can be books, print periodicals, or online journals/websites (to be handed in to
instructors after presentation).
5. Present your 8-minute PPTX from external drive, email to self.
6. Post a 150-word reflection on your artist with pertinent links and images.
7. Post 2 comments responding to classmate posts on this project.
DUE: MAY 4 (M) Late presentations will not be accepted and will receive an F.
APR 29 (W)

DISCUSS de Corteau p. 177-203

PROJECT No. 4 IM A BELIEVER NEW MEDIA ART WORK


Develop a new media project that works as art based on a new or previously developed idea or concept. Possibilities include:
video (either a 5-7 minutes or a series of 1-3 minute shorts), sound, video/performance, website, installation, projection (student
responsible for securing venue), photo book, portfolio of inkjet prints, social media spectacle etc. Collaboration among students
in the class is encouraged though all student collaborators must contribute equally to final work.
REFERENCE: Ways of Believing in de Corteau p. 177-203
LEARNING OUTCOMES (students should be able to):
1. Conceptualize, research, and plan then cultivate the skills necessary to work independently on a self-designed project.
2. Use a computer and readily available software and free online platforms to produce a new media object as art.
3. Understand new media and how it can be used in your art practice.
REQUIREMENTS CHECKLIST:
1. Write a 2-page typed project proposal (with workflow/timeline and bibliography) then create a PPTX presentation
explaining your idea and approach (include 2 alternate ideas in brief at the end). Describe your concept then quantify (e.g.
How many prints? How long a video or performance? Etc.). Address how project builds on your interests and prior artwork.
List weekly goals with individual action steps in a timeline. Be as specific and realistic as possible. Include 2 artists (1 must be
contemporary and the other historic) related to your project to research as you start your work. DUE: MAY 11.
2. Meet individually with instructor at your workstation to discuss proposal and progress. DUE: MAY 13.
3. Meet individually with instructor at your workstation to discuss progress. DUE: MAY 18.
4. Present your work-in-progress project to the group for critique in a form appropriate to your project (e.g.
PowerPoint overview, rough cut video, draft layout, etc.). DUE: MAY 27.
5. Meet individually with instructor at your workstation to discuss your progress. DUE: JUNE 1.
6. Write 2-sentence project synopsis with title and email to shimon-lindemann@lawrence.edu. Individual meetings with
instructor to review progress. DUE: JUNE 3.
7. Post a 250-word reflection on your blog with links to your project (in appropriate form) and visuals along with a
discussion of your working process by June 8th at midnight. This is an important part of your grade!
8. Post two (2) comments responding to classmate projects. Present your work in the Warch Campus Cinema. Be
prepared to introduce yourself and your project and conduct a discussion afterward.
DUE: JUNE 8 (M) @ 3:00-5:30 PM @ Warch Campus Center Cinema

WEEK 6
MAY 4 (M)
MAY 6 (W)

PROJECT No. 3 ARTIST RESEARCH REPORTS DUE: Prepare to listen and ask relevant
questions. Hand in required hard copy materials.
PROJECT No. 4 PPTX presentations to class and written proposal due for feedback.

WEEK 7
MAY 11 (M)

BUCKMINSTER FULLER THINKING OUTLOUD SCREENING: View the PBS 1969 documentary
by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon in the Warch Campus Center Cinema (90 mins.)
Buckminster Fuller: Consider his life and work. Buckminster Fuller spent his life working across multiple
fields--such as architecture, design, geometry, engineering, science, cartography and education--in his pursuit to make
the world work for 100% of humanity (from Buckminster Fuller Institute website).
PROJECT No. 4 Individual meetings proposal.

MAY 13 (W)

TECHNOLOGY & THE DEATH OF OBJECT-BASED ART PPTX: Contemplate current notions of
materiality vs. immateriality in art.
PROJECT No. 4 Individual meetings.
READ: Werner Herzog handout for May 18 (M)

WEEK 8
MAY 18 (M)

STROSZEK SCREENING: View the 1977 feature film by Werner Herzog in the Warch Campus
Center Cinema (115 mins.).
PROJECT No. 4 Individual meetings progress.

MAY 20 (W)

STROSZEK by Werner Herzog discussion including a viewing of the film with audio commentary by
Herzog. Post a 250-word blog reflection with de Certeau quoted. DUE: MAY 27 (W).

MAY 22 (F)
6-8 PM

SENIOR EXHIBITION @ WRISTON GALLERIES RECOMMENDED!

WEEK 9
MAY 25 (M)

MEMORIAL DAY NO CLASSES

MAY 27 (W)

PROJECT No. 4 Work in progress presentations.


STROSZEK 250-word blog reflection post due.

WEEK 10
JUNE 1 (M)

PROJECT No. 4 Individual meetings progress.

JUNE 3 (W)

PROJECT No. 4 Project title and 2-sentence synopsis due for program (email to instructors).
PROJECT No. 4 Individual meetings progress and last minute trouble shooting.

WEEK 11
JUNE 8 (M)
3-5:30 PM

PROJECT No. 4 SELF-DESIGNED DIGITAL MEDIA WORK DUE/FINAL CRITIQUE @


WARCH CAMPUS CENTER CINEMA: Present your piece with a polished verbal introduction. Your
presentation should last about 8 minutes! Plan to stay until everyone has presented! Public welcome.

CHECKLIST OF MANDATORY THINGS TO DO BY FINAL CLASS DAY


SONY CAMERA KITS & TRIPODS MUST BE RETURNED
TO KEVIN SOMMERS BY MONDAY, JUNE 8 @ 3 PM!
Return all LU digital equipment (cameras, recorders, cables, chargers, lights, tripods)
to avoid charges. Check and re-check your room for small items!
Remove art and devices from Hurvis and Wriston Digital Labs to avoid loss or damage!
Back up any files left on lab computers to avoid loss when equipment is reimaged over break!

JS&JL 3.22.2015

Roger Ebert on Werner Herzogs Stroszek


July 7, 2002
Who else but Werner Herzog would make a film about a retarded ex-prisoner, a little old man and a prostitute, who
leave Germany to begin a new life in a house trailer in Wisconsin? Who else would shoot the film in the hometown
of Ed Gein, the murderer who inspired "Psycho" (1960)? Who else would cast all the local roles with locals? Who
else would end the movie with a policeman radioing, "We've got a truck on fire, can't find the switch to turn the ski
lift off, and can't stop the dancing chicken. Send an electrician."
"Stroszek" (1977) is one of the oddest films ever made. It is impossible for the audience to anticipate a single shot or
development. We watch with a kind of fascination, because Herzog cuts loose from narrative and follows his
characters through the relentless logic of their adventure. Then there is the haunting impact of the performance by
Bruno S., who is at every moment playing himself.
The personal history of Bruno S. forms the psychic background for the film. Bruno was the son of a prostitute, beaten
so badly he was deaf for a time. He was in a mental institution from the ages of 3 to 26--and yet was not, in Herzog's
opinion, mentally ill; it was more that the blows and indifference of life had shaped him into a man of intense
concentration, tunnel vision, and narrow social skills. He looks as if he has long been expecting the worst to happen.
Herzog, who with Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder brought forth the New German Cinema in the late
1960s and 1970s, saw Bruno in a documentary about street musicians. He cast him in the extraordinary film "Every
Man for Himself and God Against All" (1974), also known as "The Enigma of Kasper Hauser." It told the story of an
18th century man locked in a cellar until he was an adult, and then set loose on the streets to make what sense he
could of the world. Bruno was uncannily right for the role, and right, too, for "Stroszek," which Herzog wrote in four
days.
Ah, but there is a reason why the screenplay came quickly. Herzog had the location already in mind. He and the
American documentarian Errol Morris had become fascinated by the story of Ed Gein, who dug up all of the corpses
in a circle around his mother's grave. Did he also dig up his mother? They decided they had to open the grave to see
for themselves. In Q&As we had during tributes at Facets in Chicago and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis,
Herzog told me the story: Morris did not turn up as scheduled in Plainfield, Wis., the grave was never opened, but
Herzog's car broke down there and he met the mechanic whose shop provides a key location and character for the
film.

With the destination in mind, Herzog found the story writing itself. The film opens with Bruno (Bruno S.) being
released from prison, walking into a bar, and meeting Eva (Eva Mattes), a prostitute whose pimp mistreats her. He
offers her refuge in his apartment, which has been looked after by the elderly, tiny Mr. Scheitz (Clemens Scheitz).
Mr. Scheitz announces that his nephew in Railroad Flats, Wis., has invited him to move there. It is time, Bruno
announces, for them all to begin their new lives. Eva raises money through prostitution (her clients are Turkish
workers at a construction site), and the three find themselves in Wisconsin and in possession of a magnificent new
40-foot 1973 Fleetwood mobile home.
But this plot summary sounds mundane, and the tone of the movie is so strange. "Stroszek" is not a comedy, but I
don't know how to describe it. Perhaps as a peculiarity. We get the sense that Herzog is adding detail on the spot: as
Railroad Flats happens to the characters, it happens to the film. Mr. Scheitz's nephew is played by Clayton Szalpinski,
the very mechanic who repaired Herzog's car, and he regales the newcomers with local color. A farmer and his
enormous tractor have gone missing, and Clayton believes they are to be found at the bottom of one of the many local
lakes. He has a metal detector, and on days when the ice is thick enough, he searches.
Bruno is sure the idyll cannot last. He is positive that the papers they signed at the bank will sooner or later require
them to make payments, and he is right. Scott McKain plays a painfully polite bank employee who tries to explain
that the TV set "might/would" have to be repossessed (he often uses two words to take the edge off of both; McKain
perfectly captures the tone of a man embarrassed to be bringing up money). Eventually there is the unforgettable sight
of the Fleetwood being towed off the land, leaving Bruno to stare at the forbidding winter Wisconsin landscape. He
knew something like this would happen.
The thing about most American movies is that the actors in them look like the kinds of people who might be hired for
a movie. They don't have to be handsome, but they have to be presentable--to fall within a certain range. If they are
too strange, how can they find steady work? Herzog often frees himself of this restraint by using non-actors. Clayton
Szalpinski, for example, has an overbite and backwoods speech patterns, but he is right for his role, and no
professional actor could play a small-town garage mechanic any better. And Bruno S. is a phenomenon. Herzog says
that sometimes, to get in the mood for a scene, Bruno would scream for an hour or two. In his acting he always seems
to be totally present: There is nothing held back, no part of his mind elsewhere. He projects a kind of sincerity that is
almost disturbing, and you realize that there is no corner anywhere within Bruno for a lie to take hold.
Many movies end with hopeless characters turning to crime. No movie ends like "Stroszek." Bruno and Mr. Scheitz
take a rifle and go to rob the bank, which is closed, so they rob the barber shop next door of $32 and, leaving their car
running, walk directly across the street to a supermarket, where Bruno has time to pick up a frozen turkey before the
cops arrest Mr. Scheitz. Bruno then drives to a nearby amusement arcade, where he feeds in quarters to make
chickens dance and play the piano. Then he boards a ski lift to go around and around and around.
This last sequence is just about the best he has ever filmed, Herzog says on the commentary track of the DVD. His
crew members hated the dancing chicken so much they refused to participate, and he shot the footage himself. The
chicken is a "great metaphor," he says--for what, he's not sure. My theory: A force we cannot comprehend puts some
money in the slot, and we dance until the money runs out.
"Stroszek" has been reviewed as an attack on American society, but actually German society comes out looking
worse, and all of the Americans seem naive, simple and nice, even the bank official. The film's tragedy unfolds
because these three people have nothing in common and no reason to think they can live together in Wisconsin or
anywhere else. For a time Eva sleeps with Bruno, but then she closes her door to him, and in a remarkable scene he
shows her a twisted sculpture and says, using the third person, "this is a schematic model of how it looks inside
Bruno. They're closing all the doors on him."
Earlier in the film, in Berlin, after he loses his job and his girl, Bruno goes to a doctor for help. This man (Vaclav
Vojta) listens carefully, is sympathetic, has no answers, and takes Bruno into a ward where premature babies are
being tended. Look, he says, how tenacious the grip reflex is, even in this little infant. A child clings to the doctor's
big fingers. Bruno looks. We can never tell from his face what he is thinking. The baby cries, and the doctor tenderly
cradles it, kissing its ear, and it goes to sleep. That is, perhaps, what Bruno needs.
from rogerebert.com