A documentary on the chaotic production of Werner Herzog's epic Fitzcarraldo (1982), showing how the film managed to get made despite problems that would have floored a less obsessively ... See full summary »
During the 1800s, paroled Brazilian bandit Cobra Verde is sent to West Africa with a few troops to man an old Portuguese fort and to convince the local African ruler to resume the slave trade with Brazil.
In the 1950s, an adolescent Werner Herzog was transfixed by a film performance of the young Klaus Kinski. Years later, they would share an apartment where, in an unabated, forty-eight-hour ... See full summary »
This film shows the disaster of the Kuwaitian oil fields in flames, with few interviews and no explanatory narration. Hell itself is presented in such beautiful sights and music that one has to be fascinated by it.
Fitzcarraldo is an obsessed opera lover who wants to build an opera in the jungle. To accomplish this he first has to make a fortune in the rubber business, and his cunning plan involves hauling an enormous river boat across a small mountain with aid from the local Indians.Written by
Rune Sandnes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The film was shot during one of the region's driest summers on record. Indigenous Amahuaca launched a hit-and-run raid on the film camp. One man survived an arrow through his throat. His wife was hit in the stomach, necessitating eight hours of emergency surgery on a kitchen table. According to Werner Herzog, "I assisted by illuminating her abdominal cavity with a torchlight, and with my other hand sprayed with repellent the clouds of mosquitoes that swarmed around the blood." Herzog decided against a revenge attack, believing it would be bad for relations. See more »
When the Molly Aida is to be re-floated on the Ucayali river, coming from the west, the river
visibly flows from left to right. It should be flowing to the north, which would be from right to left. See more »
Based on a historic figure, this is the story of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski), known as "Fitzcarraldo", an eccentric visionary living in Amazonia. He first tried building a Trans-Andean Railroad, but went bankrupt. When we meet him, he's trying to make a living by selling ice to Amazonia natives, although we first see him on a small boat with his sometimes significant other, Molly (Claudia Cardinale). They've traveled 1200 miles down the Amazon to an opera house to hear Enrico Caruso sing, because Fitzcarraldo is an opera fanatic who especially loves Caruso. He loves opera so much that he dreams of building an opera house in the relatively remote outpost of Iquitos, Peru, where he's been living. Understandably unable to find backers for such a venture among Iquitos' wealthy rubber industry leaders, Fitzcarraldo hits upon a scheme for making a bundle of money, and which would eventually enable him to fund the opera house himself. Unfortunately, not all goes as planned.
Fitzcarraldo was a notoriously difficult film to make. Documentarian Les Blank even made his own film detailing some of the difficulties and apparent ironies, The Burden of Dreams (1982). Director Werner Herzog hauled his cast and crew to Amazonia for the shoot, where they ended up trapped in the rain forest for months. At one point the filmmakers' camp was set fire by Indians who objected to the production, there was an air crash in which some of the crew died, and a couple outrageous "stunts" in the film--including the main plot device of the climax--actually were outrageous, dangerous tasks rather than safe effects/model shots, as we'd expect them to be. Just the idea of pulling off the main stunt caused the Brazilian engineer initially associated with the project to abandon involvement. A number of cast members also backed out, including Mick Jagger and Jason Robards, who were both signed on at different points to play Kinski's role. Knowledge of these kinds of issues makes Fitzcarraldo even more fun to watch, and makes the fact that it was completed at all, not to mention that it is such an elegant masterpiece, more remarkable.
The tone of Fitzcarraldo overall closely matches Kinski's depiction of titular character. It is quirky and surreal, but very subtly yet satisfyingly so, with both an almost garish bizarreness (Kinski is quite odd looking in a way) balanced with a sublime beauty. Herzog imbues the film with a lot of gorgeous cinematography, enhanced by his unique sense of pacing. For example, he'll set the mood of a dawn/dusk scene with a lingering shot of a colorful sky, which then functions as symbolic of a night's events without directly showing them. Herzog matches this same technique in his action--he has an ability to say as much with what he doesn't show his actors doing (or saying) as with more conspicuous content.
Herzog also shows himself to be a master of selecting music to enhance mood and tell a story, as he balances an atmospheric Brian Eno-ish score from Popol Vuh, native jungle music, and vintage turn or the century recordings of Caruso singing Bellini, Verdi, Puccini and such. Of course opera is an important plot device that enters the film at various critical points. Even if you don't like opera, however, Herzog and Kinski make it (and the motivation for it) attractive in context, and you may just find this film beginning to turn around your feelings for that music.
It's interesting to note that even with Herzog's unusual pacing, the flow of the film always seems "natural". Fitzcarraldo also has an unusual plot structure, as it almost stream-of-consciously moves from opera in a formal European-seeming setting to a historical dramatic depiction of eccentrics in a native-filled Peruvian town, and then to an exciting adventure tale that is the heart of the film before it finally reaches an irony-filled, beautifully surreal dénouement. The constant throughout all of this is Fitzcarraldo, of course, who can't help being eccentric but charming, both to the film's audience and to other characters.
Fitzcarraldo is often interpreted as being somewhat critical of western encroachment on other cultures, such as Amazonia. Under this view, Herzog is usually seen as ironically "guilty" of the same actions that he's indicting. However, the film does not read as criticism to me. It's much more in line with what is usually considered to be a romantic tendency in Herzog. Fitzcarraldo is not at all a villain in the film, and neither are the European rubber barons. Instead, Fitzcarraldo is lovable and admirable if a bit crazy. The introduction of western culture doesn't end up being a negative. The natives in the film still retain their unique identities, and efforts are made to interact with them in their manner, not to adapt them to Eurocentrism. Cultural change may be inevitable with interaction, but the message of Fitzcarraldo is more that the interaction can produce unique, worthwhile cultures that are amalgamations of their precursors.
Another interesting subtext is that of Fitzcarraldo as Orpheus. Just as Orpheus enchanted wild beasts, trees and rocks on Mount Olympus with his lyre, causing them to "move from their places", Fitzcarraldo uses opera to enchant the natural world in which he is ensconced, eventually "moving mountains".
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