Wednesday, September 17, 2014



Director/Screenplay: Werner Herzog

There's been numerous legendarily troubled movie shoots over time. “Apocalypse Now,”'s for instance was documented famously in the documentary "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalyspe", Katharine Hepburn wrote a book about the shoot for "The African Queen", just to get her frustration out of her system, "Heaven's Gate"..., the numerous failed attempts by Terry Gilliam to do "Don Quixote" but with all those, there’s one movie whose legendary shoot might just have everyone beat, and to absolutely no one’s surprise, the director in charge of that shoot, everyone’s favorite psychopath director, Werner Herzog. Les Blanc's award-winning documentary called “Burden of Dreams,” about the making of “Fitzcarraldo,”, shows these unbelievable lengths Herzog and everyone else inevitably went through to make the film. 

For starters, 40% of the film was shot when its star, Jason Robards, fell ill and had to back out of the project. Then when Herzog was out looking for a replacement, Robards’s co-star Mick Jagger had to leave to go on tour with the Rolling Stones. With nowhere else to go, he ended up having to write Jagger’s role out completely, and stuck with his old frienemy, Klaus Kinski having to play Fitzcarraldo, both of whom would try to hire hitmen to kill the other during the shoot. Then he had to relocate the film production 1200 miles down the Amazon after his film got caught in the middle of a local tribal war, and this was only the first year of this four-year filmmaking odyssey.

As crazy as the behind the scenes actual film of “Fitzcarraldo,” you practically gotta see to believe. Kinski plays Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, a rubber manufacturer in South America at the turn of the 20th Century, who’s tried parlaying his work into other projects, all of which had failed. His passion however is opera, particularly Enrico Caruso and Sarah Bernhardt and his dream is to eventually build an opera house in the middle of the Amazon and have Caruso to perform there. In order to partake in this dream, he gets his wife (Claudia Cardinale) to finance him on a voyage up a river to an area where there’s numerous rubber trees still unclaimed because of the difficulty of getting there, along with the unfriendly natives, in combination of a second river, near the area that’s too rapid to travel back. His idea is to start claiming the land and building a city along an area where the two rivers nearly cross, and literally move the rubber by having a three story steamboat dragged from one river to another, oh, and in this scenario over a mountain! 

Here’s the real-life part that makes this a must-watch: Herzog, decided to actually pull a four-story story steamboat up the fucking mountain. There are no special effects, this is actually what he does, and then, during one incredible sequence, that was both shot for the film and went into the documentary, careens the boat into the rapids, and shoots while he’s on the boat. Believe it or not, this story is actually loosely based on a real guy who actually tried something like this, although that guy took the boat apart before dragging the parts to the other side of a mountain, built the boat again and then took to the new river. Herzog left it intact, and in fact injured a good number of Natives, and destroyed a few boats while trying this. Herzog believes, maybe more than anybody that one must sacrifice and do anything and everything possible, in order to make the movie, which to him, making movies is the ultimate artistic challenge, and the fact that his characters constantly challenge the unbending, unyielding limits of nature, show a man obsessed with the metaphoric struggle of having to live a life in a world that is so clearly not designed by man. (Not insinuating it was designed by God or any other higher being). 

Fitzcarraldo, might be Herzog’s most obsessed hero, and strangely enough, his most clear-thinking one. His idea is not bad, and in fact is fairly creative, and in many ways successful, up until the very end. The images of this steamship coming up through the Amazon with a gramophone blaring Caruso and fascinating the Natives is one of the most incredible images in film, and that's one of many numerous ones in this film. It’s certainly not Herzog’s best film, it’s way too long, and the plan is so far-fetched and impossible, it’s hero, well not surprisingly, is constantly bordering on madness. Maybe of course that’s the idea, but even if it wasn’t, I doubt it could’ve ended up any other way. Either way, Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo,” is a symbol of the incredible lengths people go for achievement. How far one will go for their dreams and Herzog is an incredible symbol to the lengths one will go to for their art. 

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