I felt terribly homesick for the motherland, Wisconsin, the other day. Fortunately, a filmmaker of genius went there when I was a wee lad, and recorded it for posterity.
In 1976, Werner Herzog decided to visit a small town called Plainfield in Wisconsin's Waushara county. He was smitten. It shows in the cinematography. This pond could have been across the road where I grew up. In fact, it's about thirty miles away.
The Pure Product of America: Plainfield? Isn't that where...
Yes. So what? Anyway, Herzog's car broke down, and a mechanic named Clayton Szalpinski fixed it. Herzog gave him the role of the American nephew in the film he was shooting, Stroszek. In fact, most of the non-Germans are locals. He wrote the script in four days.
Quick plot synopsis: three down on their luck Berliners -- a street musician, Bruno; a prostitute, Eva; and an elderly eccentric, Mr. Scheitz -- decide to move to Wisconsin. They live in a nice mobile home and drink Old Style and watch real football on the TV and hang out with deer hunters. But things go badly, the bills pile up, Eva hangs out at the truck stop and leaves for Vancouver. Their mobile home is auctioned off. Bruno and Mr. Scheitz try to rob a bank, but it's closed, so they go to the barbershop next door:
The barber opens the cash register for them. They buy a frozen turkey across the street in a store, a dead ringer for my great-aunt Ruby's old grocery in an even smaller town than Plainfield. Mr. Scheitz is arrested. Bruno takes the turkey, and the gun, and a lot of beer, and drives his tow truck to a ski lift in an Indian town in North Carolina -- Ho-Chunk never looked like that -- where he rides the lift with his gun and his turkey. You hear a shot. The film ends with a lot of farm animals doing strange things -- a chicken dancing on a turntable, a duck playing a drum with its beak -- to some peculiar country music.
Many people call this film anti-American. I'm not sure why. Some of them mean it as a compliment. The Americans mostly come off as goofy and apologetic and bewildering, while many of the Germans come off as thugs, brutes, or robots -- although the preemie doctor doesn't (and the preemie, of course). Yes, Bruno probably shoots himself. But he had a good run, you know?
Anyway. It seems pretty clear to me that Herzog figured out Wisconsin. Later on, David Lynch figured out this movie. I'm pretty sure the Coen brothers did too.
And now I have my much-needed fix of brown wood panelling, brown plaid sofas, brown station wagons, and blaze orange hunting caps worn casually. Thank you, Werner Herzog.