Werner Herzog’s second film with lead actor Bruno S. (following The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser) was written specifically as a vehicle for the unusual performer’s rough-edged naivety.
Having reneged on a promise to cast Bruno in the film Woyzeck (for which he was replaced by Klaus Kinski), Herzog wrote Stroszek in just four days, taking aspects of the mysterious actor’s biography for inspiration. The film follows the fortunes street performer Bruno Stroszek as he leaves Berlin for an adventurous journey to America. But once there he finds it barely the land of opportunity, and has to eke out a meagre existence on the barren trailer parks of Wisconsin. Herzog’s first film in America portrays the territory with the same alien, barren inhabitability as his films in the Amazon and Sahara.
Taking inspiration from contemporaneous documentary filmmakers Les Blank and Errol Morris, Herzog also presents an unflinching portrait of rural American deprivation, which would in turn inspire the works of later filmmakers Harmony Korine and David Gordon Greene. Stroszek obtained further cult notoriety for supposedly being the film Ian Curtis, singer of Joy Division, watched before committing suicide in 1980, a not entirely verifiable fact depicted in the films 24 Hour Party People (2002) and Control (2007).