“Let's pour gasoline on the flowers, they're in full bloom,” proposes one of the pintsize insurrectionists in Werner Herzog's Even Dwarfs Started Small , in which an all-dwarf cast runs amok on an otherworldly volcanic island. Pointless havoc descends into total chaos, played out to a soundtrack of maniacal giggling and Canary Island folksong, while cannibalistic chickens, a crucified monkey and cockfighting attest to the director's customary flair for animal imagery. This extraordinary film– a sort of missing link between Todd Browning's Freaks and Harmony Korine's Gummo— has often been interpreted as a grotesque metaphor for the failings of the late '60s student revolts. A different kind of anomie pervades Fassbinder's Katzelmacher, a hypnotically shifting tableau of urban ennui in which a tight-knit group of young malcontents– including a mini-skirted Hannah Schygulla– spend their summer afternoons leaning or sitting on the railing outside a Munich apartment building, bickering about sex and money, and occasionally engaging in sullen, apathetic couplings. Their disaffected idyll is interrupted by the arrival of a Greek laborer, the katzelmacher (cock artist) of the title– played by Fassbinder himself– whose rumored sexual prowess strains existing tensions to breaking point. In these, their respective second films, Herzog and Fassbinder stake out the turfs that they would subsequently develop and call their own. In both style and content, these two relentlessly uncompromising filmmakers couldn't be much further apart, but at this early stage in their careers they clearly shared a bracingly bleak and darkly comic view of the human condition that announced the arrival of the new German cinema of the '70s.

Fri., Feb. 13, 7:30 p.m., 2009

LA Weekly