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Stroszek promotional poster
Directed by Werner Herzog
Produced by Willi Segler
Written by Werner Herzog
Starring Bruno S.
Eva Mattes
Clemens Scheitz
Music by Chet Atkins
Sonny Terry
Cinematography Thomas Mauch
Editing by Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus
Release date(s) 1977
Running time 115 min.
Language German

Stroszek is a 1977 film by German director Werner Herzog. It was written in four days specifically for Bruno S. and was shot in Berlin, two towns in Wisconsin, and in North Carolina. Most of the lead roles are played by non-actors.



Bruno Stroszek (Bruno S.) is a Berlin street singer. Released from prison and warned to stop drinking, he immediately goes to a familiar bar where he comforts Eva (Eva Mattes), a prostitute down on her luck, and lets her stay with him at the apartment his landlord kept for him. They are then harried and beaten by Eva's former pimps, who insult Bruno, pull his accordion apart and humiliate him by making him kneel on his grand piano with bells balanced on his back. Faced with the prospect of further harassment, Bruno and Eva decide to leave Germany and accompany Bruno's eccentric elderly neighbour Scheitz (Clemens Scheitz), who was planning to move to Wisconsin to live with his American nephew Clayton.

After sightseeing in New York City they buy a used car and arrive in a winter-bound, barren prairie near the fictional town of 'Railroad Flats'. There Bruno works as a mechanic with Clayton and his Native American helper, Eva as a waitress at a truck stop and Scheitz pursues his interest in animal magnetism. The pair buy a trailer which is sited on Clayton's land, but as bills mount, the bank threatens to repossess it. Eva falls back into prostitution to supplement her wages, but it is not enough to meet the payments. She tires of Bruno's drunken ramblings and deserts him by leaving with a couple of truck drivers bound for Vancouver.

A man from the bank visits Bruno, who is now drinking steadily, and has him sign off on the repossession. The home is auctioned, and he and Scheitz, who is convinced that it is all a conspiracy, set off to confront the "conspiracy." Finding the bank closed, they hold up a barber shop beneath it, make off with 35 dollars and then go shopping in a small store across the street. The police arrive and arrest Scheitz for armed robbery without noticing Bruno.

Holding a large frozen turkey from the store and the shotgun, Bruno returns to the garage where he works, loads the tow truck with beer, and drives along a highway into the mountains. Upon entering a small town the truck is breaking down and he pulls over to a restaurant, where he tells his story to a German-speaking businessman. He then starts the truck, leaves it circling in the parking lot with a fire taking hold in the engine compartment and goes into a tourist trap across the street, where he starts a ski-lift and rides it with his frozen turkey. After Bruno disappears from view a single shot rings out, presumably his suicide. The police arrive at the scene to find the truck is now fully ablaze. The film ends with a sequence to the harmonica music of Sonny Terry, which shows a chicken dancing, a duck playing a bass drum and a rabbit riding a toy fire truck, in coin operated attractions that Bruno activated on his way to the ski-lift.


  • The apartment and instruments used in the film were all property of Bruno S., who had purchased them with the money provided by The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.
  • Parts of the movie were shot in Nekoosa and in a truck stop in Madison, Wisconsin. The concluding scenes were shot in Cherokee, North Carolina which is 612 miles (985 km) from Madison.
  • The small crew often did not obtain any official permits, just using unchanged localities and local people.
  • Herzog discovered Bruno S. in a documentary about street musicians. Herzog was fascinated with Bruno and despite the fact that he had no training as an actor Herzog cast him as the lead in two of his films, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Stroszek.
  • Parts of the film were shot in Plainfield, Wisconsin, the hometown of serial killer Ed Gein. There, Herzog had planned to meet documentary filmmaker Errol Morris to dig up Gein's mother's grave, but Morris never showed.[1]


One of the most interesting aspects of the film is Herzog's use of local talent for the many smaller parts, including the mechanic and bank official (Scott McKain). During a trip to Wisconsin, Herzog met the car mechanic (Clayton Szalpinski) who would later play the part in the film. His intent was to use local talent to portray characters in a naturalistic fashion. One of the most memorable political points in the film is found in Bruno's discussion of politics under the Nazis and politics in the U.S. He finds that Nazi brutality was displayed in the open while U.S. political/economic oppression occurs in the fine print of contracts. The ending of the film is much debated, and it involves an enigmatic scene of dancing chickens and rabbits inside a local tourist trap.

The film incorporates many biographical details from Bruno's life. Born the son of a prostitute and severely abused by her, he spent his childhood as a ward of the state in a mental institute and his early adulthood as a street musician.


The film has a 100% "freshness" rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert called it "one of the oddest films ever made" when including it as one of his "Great Movies".[2]


  • Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the band Joy Division, reportedly committed suicide a few hours after watching the film on BBC 2 on May 18, 1980. The original vinyl release version of Joy Division's posthumous album Still featured the following groove notation: "The chicken won't stop" (side A), etched chicken tracks across the grooves (sides B & C), and "The chicken stops here" (side D). These are all in reference to the film's grim finale. This scene is dramatized in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People. Curtis (portrayed by Sam Riley) is also seen watching the film in the 2007 biopic Control.
  • The Rebel, a solo project of Ben Wallers from the Country Teasers, wrote a song titled "The Idiot" that closely follows the plot of the film. It was later released on Live Album, a collection of live recordings by the Country Teasers. The song is named after Iggy Pop's album (which Ian Curtis also listened to before committing suicide).
  • 4.48 Psychosis, Sarah Kane's final play before her suicide, featured the lines "the chicken's still dancing/ the chicken won't stop".


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