Schroeter started out as an underground filmmaker in 1967. Garnering a small cult following, the director also made his mark on the international festival circuit. Defying categorization, his films lie somewhere between avant-garde and art cinema. Magdalena Montezuma was a German underground star that became his muse until her death in 1985. Other notable actors to star in his films include: Bulle Ogier, Carole Bouquet, and Isabelle Huppert.
After attending the Film Festival at Knokke, Belgium in 1967, Schroeter made his first 8mm film, Maria Callas Portrait, that consisted of animated stills of Callas overlaid with the sound of her singing. Eika Katappa was his first feature, which mixes pop and opera. The film was self-financed and won the Joseph von Sternberg prize for “the most idiosyncratic film” at the 1969 Mannheim Film Festival.
His “total cinema” films were predominantly produced by Das kleine Fernsehspiel (“The Little Television Play”), a small experimental department of the German public-service station. The company supported some of Schroeter’s most controversial projects including: The Bomber Pilot (70), Salome (71), Macbeth (71), and Goldflocken (76). The Reign of Naples marked the director’s shift toward more plot-driven films, commenting: “it is much more radical to play with the content than with the aesthetics of the image. The era of independence is over. Our society has not fulfilled the promises hoped for around ’68-’70.” The film won many prizes domestically and internationally and was his first commercial release.
Schroeter had also worked in film as a producer, cinematographer, editor and actor. As an actor, he appeared in several films directed by his friend Rainer Werner Fassbinder, including Beware of a Holy Whore (1971), and a number of theatre productions. During the second half of the 1980s, Schroeter became widely known as a theater and opera director both in Germany and abroad, returning to filmmaking in 1990 with Malina, a literary adaptation starring Isabelle Huppert based on Ingeborg Bachmann’s novel. The film won the German Film Award in Gold. Deux also stars (and was written for) Huppert and premiered at Cannes in 2002, but didn’t get German distribution.
His 1980 film Palermo oder Wolfsburg, telling the story of a Sicilian guest worker in Germany, won the Golden Bear at the 30th Berlin International Film Festival, while his 1991 production Malina was entered into that year's Cannes Film Festival.
Although he is mainly known for elaborate and excessive camp fables, the director also made some hard-hitting documentaries including Smiling Star (83) and For Example, Argentina (83-85) about the Marcos regime in the Philippines and the Galtieri military dictatorship in Argentina, respectively.
At the time of his death Schroeter had been organizing a photography exhibition with his art-dealer friend Christian Holzfuss featuring his own works, most of which were manipulated portraits of the many actresses with whom he had worked over the years. In 2011 a documentary about the director was made by Elfi Mikesch, a close friend and collaborator, entitled Mondo Lux: The Visual Worlds of Werner Schroeter
In 2016 he was awarded posthumously with the Traetta Prize for his work in the rediscovery of the roots of European music.
In the 1960s Schroeter worked with Rosa von Praunheim, who is also gay. Schroeter also worked as a theater and opera director, in Germany and elsewhere. In the late 1970s Schroeter met the Irish artist Reginald Gray at a collection of Yves Saint Laurent in Paris. Gray painted a portrait of Schroeter.La morte d'Isotta (1968)
Grotesk - Burlesk - Pittoresk (1968)
Eika Katappa (1969)
Anglia (1970, TV film)
Der Bomberpilot (1970, TV film)
Salome (1971, TV film)
Macbeth (1971, TV film)
Der Tod der Maria Malibran (1972)
Willow Springs (1973)
Der schwarze Engel (1975)
The Reign of Naples (1978)
Weiße Reise (1980)
Palermo or Wolfsburg (1980)
Day of the Idiots (1981)
Der Rosenkönig (1986)
This Night (2008)
Virginia's Death (1968)
1968 Übungen mit Darstellern
1968 Paula - Je reviens
1968 Mona Lisa
1968 Maria Callas Porträt
1968 Himmel hoch
1968 Callas Walking Lucia
1968 Callas-Text mit Doppelbeleuchtung
1975 Johannas Traum
1980 Die Generalprobe
1983 Der lachende Stern
1986 De l'Argentine
1986 Auf der Suche nach der Sonne
Poussières d'amour - Abfallprodukte der Liebe (1996)
2000 The Queen