Karl May

Director: Hans-Jürgen Syberberg
Year Released: 1974
Rating: 2.0

A famous German writer (and perpetual fibber) Karl May (Helmut Käutner) is shown - in this lengthy treatment by Syberberg, as part of his "German Trilogy" - defending himself against serious legal charges for lying in his books (he writes about, among many things, the American West and Native Americans without ever having visited the states until much later in his life) and for being of 'bad character' (he was imprisoned as a younger man) - naturally, Syberberg uses him as not simply being an emblem of the Germanic Spirit, but also as a sort-of 'mentor' to Hitler (which has been debated). May's background is not well-known in the slightest here in the U.S., so it's wise to read up on him in advance since familiarity is assumed - to compound this issue of unfamiliarity, Syberberg's treatment of the subject matter is, for him, too creatively restrained: known for his flamboyant, experimental and theatrical approach to moviemaking (on display in Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King and Hitler: A Film From Germany), he keeps this 'straight-forward' (and tedious), allowing himself only a handful of inventive transgressions. It almost feels like willed self-control is taking place: May's writings are full of adventure and surprises (and a hit with German kids at the time) ... but Syberberg instead chooses to film his real-life courtroom controversies and protracted diatribes about life and his homeland.