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Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo Paperback – June 29, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Originally published in the noted director's native Germany in 2004, Herzog's diary, more prose poetry than journal entries, will appeal even to those unfamiliar with the extravagant 1982 film. From June 1979 to November 1981, Herzog recounted not only the particulars of shooting the difficult film about a fictional rubber baron—which included the famous sequence of a steamer ship being maneuvered over a hill from one river to another—but also the dreamlike quality of life in the Amazon. Famous faces swim in and out of focus, notably Mick Jagger, in a part that ended up on the cutting room floor, and the eccentric actor Klaus Kinski, who constantly berated the director after stepping into the title role that Jason Robards had quit. Fascinated by the wildlife that surrounded him in the isolated Peruvian jungle, Herzog details everything from the omnipresent insect life to piranhas that could bite off a man's toe. Those who haven't encountered Herzog on screen will undoubtedly be drawn in by the director's lyricism, while cinephiles will relish the opportunity to retrace the steps of one of the medium's masters. (July)
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Review

“Hypnotic...Any book by Mr. Herzog...turns his devotees into cryptographers. It is ever tempting to try to fathom his restless spirit and his determination to challenge fate.” (Janet Maslin, New York Times)

“Reveals Herzog to be witty, compassionate, microscopically observant and—your call—either maniacally determined or admirably persevering.” (Los Angeles Times)

“Stands alone as a compellingly gonzo piece of reportage. . . . As a read, Conquest flies along—but not because it’s especially plotty. Rather, it gathers its kick from the spectacle of a celebrity director escaping the late–’70s famescape into his own obsessions.” (Time Out New York)

“Those who haven’t encountered Herzog on screen will undoubtedly be drawn in by the director’s lyricism, while cinephiles will relish the opportunity to retrace the steps of one on the medium’s masters.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Urgent and compelling. . . . A valuable historical record and a strangely stylish, hypnotic literary work.” (Kirkus Reviews)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (June 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061575542
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061575549
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #162,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. Gutermuth on August 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Herzog is a masterful film director and his films are based on his own, rich, screenplays. This extremely dedicated artist is also a wonderful writer. I could not put this book down. Herzog captures the intensity of the jungle and the personalities of the actors as they fray in the humidity and heat. He captures the raw opportunism of almost all the locals, hoping to cash in on a real "Hollywood film crew", who instead encounter a film maker who is a crazy genius, filled with visions. Intellectual entertainment.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm not even a huge fan of Herzog but this book is amazing. I have been reading it while in my first semester in grad school, especially when I need to read something beautiful. Herzog's descriptions are so lush and illustrative, both the lovely and terrible. This is a book I will return to again and again. Poetry for those who don't like poetry.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Herzog is a unique geniuse who produced this unique work. These are almost hallucinatory notes reflecting his thoughts as he made Fitzcarraldo. Dreams enter into rich descriptions. Some sections may make little sense but the book as a whole reveals how his force of will and vision created the movie. For anyone interested in the making of movies, a creative mind under very difficult circumstances, or the life in a jungle or on a movie shot in location, this book is a must.
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Much as I love Herzog's films I did not expect his observations made while making even a movie as outrageous as Fitzcarraldo to be all THAT interesting. Perhaps I feared the opposite, that they would be too interesting - the weird factor infusing his ruminations with a delirium that would irritate me. As it turns out, the way Herzog documents what he sees and experiences is pitch perfect, avoiding a self-indulgence that generally pervades these things. He cannot avoid himself, his idiosyncrasies and imagination, nor can he ignore the bizarre circumstances. But I never feel that Herzog is demonstrating what a unique genius observes and how it expresses itself. His fodder is inherently fantastic and he has the sense to keep it simple. His notes are engrossing, visual, and yes, at times magically real but everything is somehow grounded. I should have known Herzog's exquisite sense of things would enable him to express the outrageous and fantastic without sacrificing, how Gauguin put it, "The flat sound of my wooden clogs on the cobblestones, deep, hollow and powerful..." Herzog's objective observations of suffering at times added a painful edge to the book. Not that the observations are devoid of compassion, but and good, melodrama is avoided. I fear I'd have been driven mad by all those pleading eyes and desperate creatures: live chickens tied by their legs, dangling off the back of a motorcycle, being choked by dust as their heads bounce on the road; dogs tied up, stranded, thirsty, starving and covered in sores; helpless children - the relentless Amazon. Conquest Of The Useless is one of the most engrossing books I've ever read. For some reason I kept caring.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is only peripherally about the film Fitzcarraldo. Yes, it talks about the production, the actors, the budget and more, but the book itself is really more of a look inside Herzog's mind as he works on the film. It is fascinating, very funny, and ultimately very enjoyable. I recommend it for all readers, not just students of film.
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Format: Hardcover
Conquest of the Useless is Werner Herzog's journal while he was in the Amazon, planning and filming Fitzcarraldo. If you are a fan of Fitzcarraldo, this book, along with Les Blank's documentary on the filming (Burden of Dreams), give a real feel for Herzog's experience of the Amazon and the challenges in making the movie. He doesn't dwell very much on the best-known aspect of the story, his determination to haul a steamboat uphill and downhill from one tributary of the Amazon to another. This was very much Herzog's determination -- in the historical events that Fitzcarraldo is based on, the ship was disassembled and moved, not pulled over intact.

What he does dwell on is the Amazon itself. Herzog seems to enjoy love-hate relationships -- his relationship with the Amazon is much like his relationship with Klaus Kinski. At times he is repelled and rants against the jungle:

"The jungle is obscene. Everything about it is sinful, for which reason the sin does not stand out as sin. The voices in the jungle are silent; nothing is stirring, and a languid, immobile anger hovers over everything."

"Tumors form on the trees. Roots writhe in the air. The jungle revels in debauched lewdness."

Kinski appears, with his own rants, irrational behavior, just plain annoying, irritating behavior. He keeps insisting to Herzog that the jungle is erotic:

". . . Kinski amorously leaned his cheek against a tree trunk and then began to copulate with the tree. He thinks this is immensely erotic: the child of nature and the wild jungle. . . . . To me it was not erotic at all. I spat, only obscene."

Mick Jagger and Jason Robards also appear -- they were cast in Herzog's first attempt to film the movie, cut short by Robards' illness.
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