Fitzcarraldo (1982)
September 10, 2015 6:40 PM - Subscribe

The story of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an extremely determined man who intends to build an opera house in the middle of a jungle.

Roger Ebert's review as part of his 'Great Movies' series (2005):
"Werner Herzog's 'Fitzcarraldo' is one of the great visions of the cinema, and one of the great follies. One would not have been possible without the other. This is a movie about an opera-loving madman who is determined to drag a boat overland from one river system to another. In making the film, Herzog was determined to actually do that, which is more than can be said for Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, the Irishman whose story inspired him.

"'Fitzcarraldo' (1982) is one of those brave and epic films, like 'Apocalypse Now' or '2001,' where we are always aware both of the film, and of the making of the film. Herzog could have used special effects for his scenes of the 360-ton boat being hauled up a muddy 40-degree slope in the jungle, but he believed we could tell the difference: 'This is not a plastic boat.' Watching the film, watching Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) raving in the jungle in his white suit and floppy panama hat, watching Indians operating a block-and-tackle system to drag the boat out of the muck, we're struck by the fact that this is actually happening, that this huge boat is inching its way onto land — as Fitzcarraldo (who got his name because the locals could not pronounce 'Fitzgerald') serenades the jungle with his scratchy old Caruso recordings."
Roger Ebert concludes his 1982 film review: "…as a document of a quest and a dream, and as the record of man's audacity and foolish, visionary heroism, there has never been another movie like it."

Trivia (from IMdb)

Background
  • "Based on a true story. Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald was a Peruvian rubber baron, the son of an Irish-American father and a Peruvian mother, who developed the Madre de Dios basin by portaging a ship overland. It was disassembled, however, not moved intact. The rivers connected by the Isthmus of Fitzcarrald are the Rio Mishagua and Rio Manu; the Ucayali was part of the downstream shipping route. Fitzcarrald died at age 35 when his ship sank."
Klaus Kinski
  • "Werner Herzog didn't cast Klaus Kinski initially because he thought Kinski would go 'totally bonkers' if trapped on location in the Amazon during the production's lengthy shooting schedule. His fears proved to be well founded."
  • "Klaus Kinski was a major source of tension on set, as he fought virulently with the crew and raged over trivial matters. The natives where very upset about his behaviour. Werner Herzog has claimed that it went so far that one of the chieftains offered, in all seriousness, to murder Kinski for Herzog."
Production
  • "A real 340-ton steamship was moved over the mountain with a bulldozer, without the use of special effects."
  • "In one of the region's driest summers on record, scavenging Amahuaca tribespeople launched a scavenging hit-and-run raid on the film camp. One man was lucky to survive an arrow through his throat, while 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, because he believed it would be bad for international relations."
  • "Cinematographer Thomas Mauch's hand was split open trying to film the climax He underwent a 2½ hour operation to put his hand back together again--and no anaesthesia was available. As he screamed and thrashed in agony, one of the two camp prostitutes calmed him by pressing his head between her breasts. (According to Werner Herzog, a Catholic priest urged him to include prostitutes as part of the movie's production crew or the men would go crazy in the jungle.)"
  • "A Peruvian logger bitten by a deadly snake made the dramatic decision to cut off his own foot with a chainsaw to prevent the spread of the venom. Werner Herzog commented, 'It was a good decision - he lived'."
  • "Klaus Kinski almost drowned when the ship went through the rapids."
  • "Werner Herzog has been accused of exploiting indigenous people in the making of the film, with some drawing similarities between Herzog and Fitzcarraldo. Michael F. Brown, a professor of anthropology at Williams College, notes that initially Herzog was on good terms with the Aguaruna people, some of whom were hired as extras for the film and for construction. Relations deteriorated, however, when Herzog began to build a village on Aguaruna land, failed to consult the tribal council, and tried to obtain protection from a local militia. In December 1979, Aguaruna men burned down the film set."
Music
"The soundtrack album (released in 1982) contains music by Popol Vuh, taken from the albums Die Nacht der Seele (1979) and Sei still, wisse ich bin (1981),[6][7] performances by Enrico Caruso, and others. The film uses excerpts from the operas: Verdi's Ernani, Leoncavallo's Pagliacci ("Ridi, Pagliaccio"), Puccini's La bohème, Bellini's I puritani, and from Richard Strauss' orchestral work Death and Transfiguration" (Wikipedia)
YouTube links
Film trailer
An interview with Klaus Kinsky (English subtitles); shows his quick temper.
Klaus Kinski - Fitzcarraldo fight (English subtitles)
Mein liebster Feind - My Best Fiend - Klaus Kinski - "excerpts of the turbulent relationship of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski..."

Related: Burden of Dreams (IMDb, FanFare post) - a documentary by Les Blank about the making of Fitzcarraldo.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (3 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fantastic post for a fantastic movie. I wouldn't mind seeing this on the Blue, actually.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:47 AM on September 11, 2015


It's an incredible film and has the best DVD commentary I've ever heard, but then I could listen to Herzog talk about any topic for any period of time. It's weird because I think the worldview he seems to be showing here is one that I find pretty misanthropic. But his artistic vision is so powerful and beautiful - it's quite moving. I guess on a basic level there's a metaphor for the futility of any human endeavor that perhaps we can all relate to.

Great, thorough post!
posted by latkes at 10:12 AM on September 11, 2015


Herzog thought Kinski would be a disaster in the jungle because it had happened before. And then they went back and did it again. I don't even.

Also, this anecdote from the IMDB trivia page is blowing my mind:
In one of the region's driest summers on record, scavenging Amahuaca tribespeople launched a scavenging hit-and-run raid on the film camp. One man was lucky to survive an arrow through his throat, while 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, because he believed it would be bad for international relations.
You don't see shit like that in Variety.
posted by zjacreman at 10:45 AM on September 12, 2015


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