Werner Herzog’s Stroszek
I saw the best movie I’ve seen in years- Strosek, written and directed by Werner Herzog. The story is a loose biography of Bruno S., a weekend and somewhat broken busker living in Berlin. Bruno S., whose full name is Bruno Schleinstein, was a German actor, artist and musician. More of a self-taught street busker than a musician, and that’s meant as an compliment. Listening to Bruno S. play on the street and articulate his stories is hypnotic and fascinating.
Bruno, in real life, spent most of his younger life in and out of mental institutions. He performed in courtyards on weekends and worked as a forklift driver during the week. Bruno S. was cast in two Herzog movies, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser in 1974 and Stoszek in 1976. Bruno S., born in 1932, died in 2010 at the age of 78.
So here’s the the story. Stroszek, the lead character (Bruno S.) is released from jail for some alcohol related offense, but not before he’s lectured by the warden about drinking, with the warden making Stoszek swear he will never touch alcohol again. Strozek swears to it, “cross my heart and hope to die”. Right after he’s released, he wanders into a bar and orders a beer. There he connects with Eva, a prostitute that’s being hassled by her pimps. Stroszek offers Eva to come home with him to his apartment that’s been kept waiting for him by his ancient and eccentric landlord, Scheitz. Stroszek is harassed and humiliated constantly by the pimps and Eva is eventually severely beaten. Scheitz’s cousin Clayton, living in Wisconsin, sends a letter stating that Scheitz, Stroszek and Eva can live on his property in Wisconsin.
With their new life awaiting in Wisconsin, the trio set off to America and first sightsee in New York City. They buy a used car and drive to Wisconsin, driving across a desolate, mid-American winter landscape. Stroszek buys a trailer and has it installed on Clayton’s property. Eva works as a waitress at a truck stop and Stroszek works for Clayton in Clayton’s garage repairing cars, trucks and tractors.
Stroszek, Eva and Scheitz fall behind on the trailer payments. Eva eventually runs off with two semi-truck drivers heading the Vancouver and the trailer is repossessed by the bank.
Stroszek and Scheitz try to rob the bank in town but it’s closed. They rob a basement barbershop instead and net $32. Instead of escaping, they go across the street to a grocery store. Stroszek buys a frozen turkey. Scheitz is arrested but the police don’t see Stroszek. He escapes with the frozen turkey and the shotgun Scheitz used to rob the grocery store and drives to the garage. He steals Clayton’s tow truck and drives to a tourist trap town where the main attractions are dancing and piano playing chickens. Stroszek rides a ski lift up and down a small hill with the frozen turkey and when he is out of sight, we hear a gunshot.
I was blown away by this move and how well it caught the absurdity and banality of rural mid-American life. The landscape is rural ghetto. The residents are simple yet complex and fit right in. There’s such a home movie grittiness to Herzog’s films the make them time independent. If this film came out today shot by Herzog, it would have the same impact, but only if Bruno S. was playing the lead. Bruno S. was such a natural, instantly mesmerizing actor. Eva Mattes (playing Eva) and Clemens Scheitz (playing Scheitz) are brilliant in their supporting roles.
Stroszek was shot in Berlin, NYC and in Nekoosa, Madison and Plainfield Wisconsin. Ed Gein territory.
Right now who is my favorite filmmaker? Werner Herzog, without a doubt. Stroszek is a movie I’ll watch again and again.