Read the Obsessive Character Studies of Cinema’s Big Dreamer, Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog’s scripts read like great literary novels, half-dreamt worlds yet to materialise. What follows are character studies for his haunting 1977 film Stroszek: Detailed to the point of surreality, each is a beautifully written portrait


Stroszek – Bruno S

Eva – prostitute, vagrant 

Scheitz – Stroszek’s neighbour 

Burkhard – pimp 

Prince of Homburg – pimp 

Bud Donohue – mechanic 

Cholo – his helper, an Indian 

Burhan Yücsel – prison inmate

Hoss – prisoner pending deportation (looks like Hoss from the Bonanza family)

Good Boy Beo – a type of starling from Borneo, almost as large as a jackdaw, his speech indistinguishable from a human’s


Bruno S: he plays Stroszek. Short, stocky, scruffy. In lieu of a belt he uses a piece of string to hold up his pants. His fly is usually open, but he doesn’t notice. Even in winter he goes without socks, his bare feet in loafers that look as though he fished them out of the trash. He has small, work-worn hands, the fingernails always black with dirt. You can tell from looking at him how often Bruno’s been beaten, and it’s also clear he has spent years behind bars. He has the look of an abused animal. But behind this exterior lurks a person of deep feeling, as you can tell when he paints or fools around on the piano. When he’s talking to you, he sometimes grabs you by the middle finger and squeezes. He smokes a lot. It’s hard to guess his age. His creativity has always been thwarted. While trying out colours for his paintings one time, he discovered that blue, yellow and red, when turned fast on a disk, produce white. He’d like to publish this discovery. Bruno has a powerful aura; he projects a compelling, defiant sense of dignity. He has that rare quality: a glow from within.

Eva (Eva Mattes): she could resemble the character she portrayed in Deer Crossing, a role that suits her. She looks rather ‘country’, a bit plump but somehow graceful. Even when she says “Fuckyfuck” to the Turks working on the construction site, she doesn’t lose her natural grace. She doesn’t express herself well in words, but she feels at ease with her body. Her taste in clothes tends to make her look cheap. She thinks her English is good, but most of what she says is gibberish. She has a powerful drive to escape from the bondage in which she finds herself.

Scheitz: small, graceful, with unusually refined manners. Some of his gestures express inimitable grandeur, for instance when he greets someone. He stoops slightly, and with his skinny calves he appears almost weightless. Delicate, waxy hands. He scrapes his face raw every morning when he shaves. His eyes water constantly, and now and then a tear rolls down his cheek. He speaks about his theories with profound conviction but doesn’t take it amiss when a person responds with scepticism. He plays the piano very well. Bruno and Scheitz treat each other with great respect. Only on closer inspection do we realise that Scheitz is quite frail; the impression of his inner lovability carries the day.

Burkhard (Burkhard Driest): big, strong, macho, exuding a sense of barely contained rage. An odd combination of intelligence and brutality. He looks rather weather-beaten. Studying law, robbing banks, spending time behind bars: all that has left its mark on him.

The Prince of Homburg: a sinister fellow through and through. Anything the most drastic Spaghetti Westerns have dished up in the way of villains pales by comparison with Homburg. He still has panther-like moves from his time as a professional wrestler and boxer. Thick wrists, powerful fists, stumpy fingers, a terrifying man, especially because he never speaks. Not one to be trifled with, he looks incredibly rough and dangerous. His forearms are covered with tattoos. His suits have a sinister elegance to them.

Bud Donohue: an auto mechanic, a skilled worker, gaunt, in his 40s. A narrow face with bushy sideburns. His skin has absorbed so much motor oil and grease that they’ve become part of him. He never wears anything but mechanic’s overalls. Extraordinarily glib, a phenomenal talker; he has a repertoire of sayings that can make your head spin. Yet he’s quick-witted in a lovable way. When he kicks the Indian, it’s more histrionic than hostile, an expression of an odd comradeship.

Cholo: Bud Donohue’s helper. A taciturn young Indian with a gentle expression. He has soft lips. Like many militant people of colour in the United States, he wears a woollen watch cap pulled down over his ears. His most noticeable feature: he looks like a hunchback at first until you realise that he tucks his head in so far that it seems to emerge from between his shoulder blades. Completely Americanised, good-natured, a show-offy gait. He holds his own against Bud quite effectively.

Excerpt from Scenarios III by Werner Herzog is published by University of Minnesota Press.

Originally published in Germany in Stroszek-Nosferatu. Zwei Filmerzählungen, © 1979 by Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich.

English translation © 2019 by Krishna Winston. Used by permission. All rights reserved.