The authorities are holding an investigation into a serious incident which occured at one of their mental institutions recently. In that institution, in a remote part of the world, there had been a rebellion and the inmates had overthrown their guards, so that the head of the place had holed up in his office with a hostage, occasionally trying to reason with the siege outside by climbing onto the roof. He had difficulty telephoning for help as the inmates had torn down the lines outside and so a waiting game began, with the patients causing havoc.
Did I mention that everyone in this film, from the inmates to the governor, are played by little people, a fact that is never acknowledged by the characters? This was one of director Werner Herzog's earliest films, and as idiosyncratic as you might expect, although do not anticipate many stunning revelations about the human condition, all of which are very much in the eye of the beholder anyway, because most of the drama is taken up with what is techincally termed "arseing about". It's as if Herzog saw his cast as unruly children thanks to their dimensions, and had them act accordingly, with anarchic results.
So if you ever wanted to see a dwarf riding a motorbike then this is the film for you, and that's not all their antics entail. The inmates go from simply being mischievous to being outright sadistic, but they always take a great amount of glee in their sport, whatever shape it adopts. In some ways this is the 1970, all-dwarf cast version of Jackass The Movie, featuring such stunts as jump aboard the moving van as it goes round in circles driverless, or settle down for dinner only for it to turn into a plate-smashing foodfight. All the way through, the patients are enjoying themselves immensely.
But they are not doing anything constructive with their newfound freedom, which is perhaps Herzog's point: given the chance to do anything they want, chaos rather than a new order is the result. As the governor makes pleas for calm which shouted down go unheard, or complains to his hostage about the awkward position he has been put in, this voice of peace and sense looks increasingly ridiculous, but then, the rioters outside don't come out of this in an especially beneficial light either. Weirdly, the mood is one of crazed good cheer, with the tied up hostage barely able to contain his giggles.
And that's not to mention the laughter of one of the rebels, Hombré (Helmut Doring), the tiniest of the men and the one who stands planted to the spot, grinning and in fits of chortles at every opportunity (except when the others try to make him get married to the tiniest of the women, he is none too keen on that). It's his maniacal laughter, which sounds speeded up but isn't, that gives the film much of its feeling of insanity, and when most of those who have seen it bring to mind this film, it's that crazed chuckling that pops into their heads. The trouble with Even Dwarfs Started Small is that once you get the idea after about the first five minutes, what plot there is has nowhere to go, and you end up watching the rest of it to see how far Herzog will proceed in his quest to find striking imagery. Here, some might say he goes too far.
Eccentric German writer/director known equally for his brilliant visionary style and tortuous filming techniques. After several years struggling financially to launch himself as a filmmaker, Herzog began his career with the wartime drama Lebenszeichen and surreal comedy Even Dwarfs Started Small. But it was the stunning 1972 jungle adventure Aguirre, Wrath of God that brought him international acclaim and began his tempestuous working relationship with Klaus Kinski. The 1975 period fable Heart of Glass featured an almost entirely hypnotised cast, while other Herzog classics from this era include Stroszek, the gothic horror Nosferatu the Vampyre and the spectacular, notoriously expensive epic Fitzcarraldo.