Director: Werner Herzog Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale
BAFTA Award: Best Foreign Language Film
Golden Globe Award Best Foreign Language Film
Cannes Film Festival: Best Director
This became a controversial film relating to whether Herzog exploited the indigenous people of the Amazon during the making of it. Filming was originally supposed to take three months and star Jason Robards and Mick Jagger. But 40% into filming, Robards got sick, delays conflicted with Jagger’s schedule, so the film was scrapped and re-written for Herzog’s “Best Fiend” (no, not a typo), Klaus Kinski. If you aren’t familiar with Kinski, he was a talented but extremely volatile actor. He and Herzog had one of the strangest bromances of all time, they loved each other, respected each other, but often contemplated killing one another or dying together. I should add here that Kinski was willing to stay on the boat to film it going through ridiculously dangerous rapids and said something to Herzog to the effect that if you go down, I will go down with you. Eleven months in the jungle making a monumentally difficult film would test anyone. Doing it with Kinski… Herzog was approached by one of the indigenous extras who asked if Herzog would like him to kill Kinski. Herzog’s reputation wasn’t exactly magnanimous either–he could be quite the task master. But clashing egos was just one side of this daunting, complicated, hubris-packed project.
This wildly ambitious project was plagued with tragedies and setbacks. A plane crash. The boat ran aground on a sand bar and delayed filming. Heavy rains stopped filming. There were accidents, deaths and major injuries including arrow wounds inflicted by an irate tribe. A cameraman’s hand was ripped open and there was no anesthesia left for the 2.5 hour surgery to put his hand back together (it had already been used up in a prior accident). (Link to article below)
The plot is simple and straightforward: a crazy Irishman, mad about opera, has a chance to get rich in the rubber industry, but to do so, he must get his newly acquired land and show signs of productivity in a given amount of time. (I think it was a year, but I may be mistaken.) He hatches a wild idea about getting the boat over the mountain and approaching the land from an otherwise not accessible river.
The story is loosely based on a true story of an Irishman in the rubber industry who got the idea to move a boat from one river to a nearby river by hauling the boat parts over a mountain and constructing it on the other side. In the film however, he hauls the finished boat over the mountain. Not wanting to rely on computer graphics, Herzog determined to haul a real boat up the mountain. (An environmental issue, there were three boats used during the film and the one that got up the mountain is still there. It was left. Not sure how it is being used currently–is it a gift shop or a rusting wreck? I don’t know.) But speaking strictly about the final product, the film itself, epic, magnificent, gorgeous, and to borrow from Ebert, “grandiose” only begin to describe this masterpiece. It could not have been made without Kinski; he is sublime. He sells it in every frame.
Thought the plot is simple, the beauty of the film and sheer magnificence of accomplishment are staggering. The underlying message and symbolism are about not letting dreams die. In the commentary, Herzog says that there were many times he thought to give up, but he knew that if he gave up on this film, he was giving up on dreaming itself. Seeing Kinski standing tall on the deck of the boat at the end, he says, “That’s me. I am Fitzcarraldo.” And even while talking of how Kinski’s behavior on set to the last was physically violent, he says with love, that it doesn’t matter. He lives in film. Yes he certainly does. He gave this film every bit of himself and was willing to go down with the ship. The ship did not sink; this film soars.
Looking for something new? Need some inspiration? Get the popcorn and set yourself down in front of this outstanding film.
Link to article about the epic problems during the making of Fitzcarraldo: https://www.factinate.com/editorial/making-of-fitzcarraldo/