[Film Review] Fitzcarraldo & Burden of Dreams (1982)

Fitzcarraldo poster

Title: Fitzcarraldo
Year: 1982
Country: West Germany, Peru
Language: English, German, Spanish
Genre: Adventure, Biography
Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: Werner Herzog
Cinematography: Thomas Mauch
Music: Popol Vuh
Cast:
Klaus Kinski
Claudia Cardinale
José Lewgoy
Miguel Ángel Fuentes
Paul Haitischer
Huerequeque Enrique Bohorquez
Grande Otelo
David Pérez Espinosa
Jean-Claude Dreyfus
Peter Berling
Milton Mascimento
Ruy Polanah
Salvador Godinez
Dieter Milz
William Rose
Leoncio Bueno
Rating: 7.0/10

Burden of Dreams poster

Title: Burden of Dreams
Year: 1982
Country: USA
Language: Spanish, English, German
Genre: Documentary
Director: Les Blank
Writer: Michael Goodwin
Cinematography: Les Blank
Cast:
Werner Herzog
Klaus Kinski
Claudia Cardinale
Jason Robards
Mick Jagger
José Lewgoy
Huerequeque Enrique Bohorquez
Paul Haitischer
Miguel Ángel Fuentes
Rating: 7.1/10

Fitzcarraldo 1

It is a bizarre case I enjoy the documentary about the film more than the film itself, especially it is Herzog’s FITZCARRALDO, an arduously passion project shot in Peruvian Amazon jungle with tremendous hardship (which took almost 5 years to complete), notoriously famous for its outlandish plot about hauling a gigantic steamboat through a small mountain, the egocentricity of its leading man Klaus, the strife between Klaus and rest of the team during the filming (which unfortunately bypassed in the accompanying documentary BURDEN OF DREAMS). 

At the turn of 20th century, Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald aka. Fitzcarraldo (Kinski), a British opportunist and a crazed opera enthusiast of Enrico Caruso, determined to bring opera to the jungle. With the financial aid of his brothel-running mistress Molly (Cardinale), he buys a steamboat to capitalize on the local rubber business in order to fund his dream after his bid for financing of no avail.  

Fitzcarraldo dares to daydream, he is outrageously determined, but he is not an advantageous doer, he has a crazy idea and the perseverance to achieve it, but his boat comes from the money of his mistress, and his adventure inclusively hinges on native Indians’ exploitative manpower, Herzog hatches a fictitious prophesy (encompasses a God-sent vessel steered by a white man) as a pretense to maneuver the scheme with only a chunk of ice reciprocated as a token for gratitude. 

The finished film is a mixed marvel to witness, wonderfully crafted scenic takes from DP Thomas Mauch, albeit its awe-inspiring endeavor has been meticulously documented on screen, one finds it is hard to swallow the story unbiasedly, just because of a single person’s perverse fervor, it doesn’t seem to be ethnically and ecologically correct to righteously re-enact the happenings on the precondition that cashes in on the native’s clueless-ness and disrupts their habitat, why waste all these energy to accentuate on the hubris and bigotry of one’s vanity project? 

In certain level, the film is Herzog’s own vanity project, palpably perceived from BURDEN OF DREAMS, it is a bold bravura for his young-at-heart ego, Herzog himself admitted that nothing would make him happy about this film, since the entire process is an over-ambitious fiasco and life-consumer, facing the fusillade of snags and setbacks, there is no alternative for him to go back, only to brace himself to wrap it up as soon as possible. 

Also, incessantly the camera zooms in too much on the native’s exotic countenances, and their aboriginal inscrutability. Sometimes the editing feels haphazard too, barely strings along the story-line with fragmentary indications, till the ending, Fitzcarraldo finally organizes a live operetta on the boat, nominally consummates his relentless pursuit, in fact, it also adheres to Herzog’s own karma, both are not sheer triumphs, at least it ends well.  

BURDEN OF DREAMS, shot by Les Blank during the extended shooting, carefully records this odyssey behind the scenes, turns out to be a more tantalizing study of artist’s obsession of perfection, which is a unwieldy double-edge sword, and Herzog’s ongoing frustration and ordeal in the progress. We get the chance to glimpse at footage of the original cast with Jason Robards as Fitz and Mick Jagger as his sidekick, how things meander into a succession of mishaps; meanwhile, a closer look into the local tribes brings back some kind of authenticity of cultural enlightenment which one finds wanting in the original film. Mostly the interview is Herzog, juggles with Spanish, English and German, conducts the laborious task with his own perception of jungle’s mysticism.

Alas, the succinct 90 minutes documentary doesn’t reveal more inside stories about Kinski, whose trademark glare pushes himself on the verge of insanity at any rate, such a unique screen presence and this is his first film I have ever seen, but I may balk at a second one, maybe Herzog’s own documentary MY BEST FIEND: KLAUS KINSKI (1999) is an appropriate resource to dig into their love/hate relations, seeing that Kinski looks pissed off ever since he has been bogged down in this jungle shit-hole, any current actor is brave enough to shoulder on a biography of him? I am definitely intrigued.

Fitzcarraldo 2

opera aficionados

rubber business probing, Kinski with Lewgoy

rubber business probing, Kinski with Lewgoy

the ship is up against gravity

the ship is up against gravity

the chief of the tribe

the chief of the tribe

opera on the boat

opera on the boat

Herzog and the arrow with the blood

Herzog and the arrow with the blood

DP: Thomas Mauch

DP: Thomas Mauch

location shooting is hard!

location shooting is hard!

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2 thoughts on “[Film Review] Fitzcarraldo & Burden of Dreams (1982)

  1. Pingback: [Last Film I Watched] Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) | Cinema Omnivore

  2. Pingback: [Last Film I Watched] The Lost City of Z (2016) | Cinema Omnivore

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