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HALL OF FAMEon July 8, 2003
I can safely say I have rarely seen anything approaching Werner Herzog's 1982 masterpiece "Fitzcarraldo." This opulent cinematic oeuvre about an obsessive man with a dream to build an opera house in the wilds of Peru often challenges modern American conceptions of filmmaking, namely MTV style editing and grating special effects. Clocking in at an expansive 2 1/2 hours, "Fitzcarraldo" requires patience and an appreciation for imaginative subtlety on the part of the viewer. The film certainly required patience on the part of Herzog and the cast: the movie took three years to make, and the original leads dropped out of the project (Jason Robards was one of them, who might have made an effective Fitzcarraldo when one thinks about it). One imagines hauling an enormous boat over a mountain in the Amazon had much to do with this long filming schedule. But why not use a real boat? A movie about obsession ought to indulge in it behind the scenes as well. "Fitzcarraldo" is an epic film about an epic idea. I cannot imagine any American director pulling this off even half as well.
Klaus Kinski plays Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, called Fitzcarraldo by the natives in his home base of Iquitos, Peru. Fitzcarraldo is one of those archetype figures present wherever big money rears its head, the eternal dreamer who cannot quite pull of an idea. In this case, the locale is the rich rubber producing regions in Peru and Brazil in the early part of the twentieth century. When Enrico Caruso performs in Manaus, yet another grand plan strikes Fitzcarraldo's fancy. He will build an opera house in Iquitos and have the famous Caruso perform on opening night. There is only one problem with this scheme: he isn't rich and must rely on wealthy rubber barons to foot the bill, which they are unwilling to do. A small scheme to produce ice for the local people goes nowhere, so Fitzcarraldo must secure other means to realize his dream. The answer, and for our hero there is always an answer somewhere, comes when he discovers an area of untapped rubber reserves along a river that just happens to house a tribe of dangerous Indians with a penchant for attacking outsiders. Fitzcarraldo borrows money from his girlfriend (played by the charming and beautiful Claudia Cardinale) and buys a boat from a rubber baron in order to launch an excursion. The fact that this boat must be hauled over a mountain in order to bypass a dangerous set of rapids means nothing to Fitzcarraldo. The opera house will exist no matter what the cost.
I think that gives you a good introduction to the film, and I don't really want to give away much about the river trip, the monumental task of moving the ship over the mountain, and the subsequent results of these adventures. I will say the conclusion of the film had me misty eyed with a dopey grin on my face, as Fitzcarraldo triumphs (but not in the way you might think) and therefore wins for all of those hopefuls whose dreams seem impossible. This movie is really quite affecting, with an ending I never saw coming in a million years. It is beautiful, as is the entire film. If you are in no way moved body and soul by "Fitzcarraldo," you have probably watched to many trite American films and sitcoms.
Every scene is pure eye candy. The lush atmosphere of the Amazon River basin provides the perfect backdrop for Fitzcarraldo's rambling quest. Herzog managed to hire two warring tribes of headhunters to serve as extras for the film, and these natives add an authenticity to the film in many ways. I loved the wildly expressive contortions of Kinski's hair, his coif often reflecting the inner emotions of this driven figure. Further scenes of note involve Fitzcarraldo sailing down the river blasting Enrico Caruso from a record player while he scans the riverbank with maniacal fervor, Caruso again blaring from the deck of the ship as it grinds up the side of the mountain, and Kinski banging a bell in church belfry while roaring about his opera house. I could list dozens of equally effective scenes. Herzog often lets his camera simply rest on the scenery or characters for minutes at a time, a form of cinematography that takes some getting used to in this day of fast edits and ten second commercials. I should make special mention of the soundtrack by Popol Vuh, a musical group Herzog used in several other films. Their talents lend incredible depth to "Fitzcarraldo" through vistas of sweeping arrangements that wonderfully match the expansive backdrop of the Amazon rain forests. All of these elements come together to make Herzog's film a majestic experience.
The DVD includes a trailer for the movie, text background on Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog, and a commentary by Herzog and producer Lucki Stipetic (who is apparently Werner's brother). While these extras seem rather thin for a classic of this magnitude you don't want a bunch of lesser trailers for other films, although the addition of some trailers from other Herzog films might have been nice.
"Fitzcarraldo" definitely inspires me to watch other Herzog films. Even if his other projects are only half as good as this one, they will be well worth the effort. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the nihilistic mind frame so common in today's films without realizing there are truly beautiful and inspiring works of art sitting on the shelf at the local video store. "Fitzcarraldo" is an affirmation of the beauty of running after a dream no matter what the cost.
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on December 12, 1999
This was the last in the classic string of screen collaborations between director Werner Herzog and his longtime star, Kinski. Almost as if Herzog wanted to mark the tenth anniversary of his shooting of 'Aguirre: the Wrath of God' by doing something big, he takes Kinski and us back to the rainforests of South America on another mission piece. Only this time Kinski isn't portrayed as being the mad hunter in search of something massive....he's already travelling inside it! This is a cinematic story about one man's quest to take the naturally beautiful voice of tenor Enrico Caruso into the natural beauty of the jungle (Kinski, in essence, as an operatic Jesuit). As in 'Aguirre', Klaus Kinski is still cast as a nut, it's just that this time around he's not a sword-swiping megalomaniac, he's instead a lovable eccentric who wishes to cut through the undergrowth with art alone (all right..... art, that is, and the sweat of hundreds of Amazonian natives!). Herzog once again uses his camera to hypnotise, the darkness of the print and the dampered noises being quite capable of inducing a catatonic state right from the beginning when Kinski and Italian starlet Claudia Cardinale arrive by boat, late for the opera. All of Herzog's works need to watched at night to maximise the effect of the sombre tones and cascading wisps of drab hues on the eyes and spirit. 'Fitzcarraldo' ranks highly there because its trance-coaxing powers are greater than in many (but not all) of Herzog's films. And yet at the same time, this movie thrusts at the viewer's senses and sense of reason. Case in point: how do you haul a steel steamboat over a tree-blanketed mountainside? Answer: you do it the Herzog way and actually carry out the project using manpower and slavesque labour techniques, the like of which have not been seen since Pharaonic Egypt. There's so much in the two hour plus run of this film which challenges logic so unashamedly. Most of that lies in the fact that Werner Herzog's films have always been that way, anyhow, but it seems as if 'Fitzcarraldo' was his centerpiece in that department. Everything is magnificently unreal and disproportionate about this picture - the boat ride, the seemingly autonomous soundscape which comes from the river itself, the pygmy station operator and watching the construction of the winch system used to pull the steamboat up the hill. As a Herzog specialist, I could easily say that none of this had an ice cube's chance in hell of surprising me because I should have known he'd pull something like that in 'Fitzcarraldo'. However, having watched this picture again over a full decade after I'd first seen it, I have to declare that none of the images' hallucinigenic qualities have waned in their potency. 'Fitzcarraldo' is synaptic escapism from start to finish - essentially, an LSD trip dressed in classical garb. It's important to note that this endeavour wasn't just Herzog's swan song with Kinski; Herzog was also, in effect, bowing out from his award winner-oriented material by the time 'Fitzcarraldo' emerged in 1982. Although 'Nosferatu', 'Woyzeck' and 'Aguirre: the Wrath of God' are every bit as sacred to this reviewer, I'd have to weigh up the facts which underly the production of 'Fitzcarraldo' and say that Werner had saved his best until last. On the one hand, I'd have to say that this film has sunk into an undeserved obscurity and should be resurrected somehow. On the other hand, I'm quite glad that it's happened that way because it gives 'Fitzcarraldo' an elitist viewership. That is to say, you have to consciously go out for yourself and discover 'Fitzcarraldo'; now that you've come so far as to be reading this, you must surely realise that you wanted this film long before you got here.
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on January 19, 2004
Among the things that distinguish Werner Herzog as a film-maker are two qualities that he shares with William Shakespeare: he knows the human heart better than most dramatists, and he never lets the facts get in the way of telling a good story.
Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (called "Fitzcarraldo" by the natives) was a real guy, who really loved opera, and really did drag a ship over a piece of land to get it from one part of a South American river to another. He did it to bring opera to middle of the jungle. That's history. What drove this guy to do such a frankly outrageous thing in the name of art? What kind of fever siezes a visionary and brings him to the brink of insanity to attempt such a thing? That's the stuff of drama. Herzog knows the difference, and his choices in bringing the story to the screen were flawless.
Fitzcarraldo, like all of Herzong's films (even Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht), uses the theme of cultural clash as a macrocosm of the conflicted human mind. So what if the real boat was much smaller than the one in the film? Who cares if the real act of dragging it across land - though arduous - was not nearly so grand as the film depicts? The resultant images are what count, and they would not have the stunning effect Herzog pulls off in this film were it more "historically accurate".
All film directors do things for effect. What separates the good ones from the great is their reason. The once-great Frances Ford Coppola seems to be aiming for empty aesthetics with his last few films; Herzog wants nothing less than to illuminate the soul. It's a grand, quixotic goal; prone to failure - much like dragging a boat through the jungle. But he seems to pull it off time and time again. You remember the images, yes - they're hard to forget. But you also remember the passion of the characters - their desparate dreams, wild fantasies, great achievements, and devastating failures.
Klaus Kinski perfectly embodies the obsessive madness of the title character - albeit in a far less sinister way than in Aguirre: The Wrath of God. His performance is no less brilliant. Claudia Cardinale plays his love interest, the kind of woman whose heart every visionary dreams of winning.
In most treatments of this kind of story, one would expect things to end badly. They do for Fitz, but somehow it does not matter. He finds grace and dignity in the struggle, rather than the outcome. He is a brighter vision of Don Quixote, and the feeling of surviving his ordeal is, miraculously, more like that of triumph than defeat. Fitzcarraldo ends in exuberance rather than despair. How can a man lose everything and still raise his head so high, as Kinski does in the last scene?
Without a hint of sappy, artificial feel-good-ism, Herzog has pulled off one of the most authentically moving surprise happy endings in recent cinema.
Failure never looked so good!
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on September 1, 2000
If any film made by sheer force of willpower is brought to mind then Herzog's "FitzCarraldo" must surely come first. Set in large part quiet deep in the Amazonian jungle it proved to be both a physical and mental trying time for most involved. The story revolves around a man, one Brian Sweeny Fitzgerald ("Fitzcarraldo" to the locals), who is determined to build an opera house in heart of the jungle and have the great Enrico Caruso perform in it. To finance this project he comes up with an absurd plan to drag a steamship over a mountain to reach a river on the far side which will provide access to a plentiful supply of rubber trees, the only source of finance in the region is rubber since no synthetic alternative was available at the time.
The storyline thus requires Herzog to bring a steamship over a mountain and so proceeds to do this for real. There is no trickery involved and the mammoth task is performed before ours eyes with the help of native Indians from the region. Herzog recieved severe critisism from the both German and International press for his apparent expliotation of the indigenous culture.
This DVD however provides a "Directors commentary" feature with Herzog and producer Stipetic which tells their side of the story about the whole filming. Besides the film the DVD commentary is a real insight into the thoughts and inspiration which made Herzog pursue this very technically challenging film. Credit must also go to Stipetic who managed to keep the logistics together in a unfriendly environment and Thomas Mauch for his excellent photography.
Originally the fim was to star Jason Robarts and Mike Jagger believe it or not, however sickness on Robarts part and limited shooting time by Jagger meant their bowing out of the project. Herzog was prepared to play Fitzcarraldo if nobody to his satisfaction could be sought. He turned to his former lead role Klaus Kinski (Aguire Wrath Of God), though difficult and extremely tempermental Kinski gave an excellent performence.
Wth regard to this DVD watch and enjoy, it is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic and has a remastered 5.1(+Dolby Surround)soundtrack. The audio commemtary is the big bonus which features mostly Herzog who is a fluent english speaker and delivers it in a calm and coherent manner which is beguiling considering the actual scenes you are watching during it. A highly recommended purchase.
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on February 20, 2000
Werner Herzog has created an inspiring film about the human spirit. The film's central message seems to be that we can overcome immense obstacles based on our desire to succeed (like hauling a river boat over a hill or bringing Grand Opera to the middle of the Amazon jungle). What is remarkable is that the making of the film reflected this in that Herzog and company faced unbelievable challenges that could only be met by a tenacious will to succeed. Fortunately, in this excellent quality DVD, there is a second audio track where you can hear Herzog describe how they overcame these incredible difficulties to complete this film in the depths of the Amazon jungle.
There are so many aspects to this movie worth mentioning...breath taking scenery, beautiful musical score, and, of course, the superb acting by Klaus Kinski and others. The casting of the film was a stoke of genius with a bit of luck thrown in.
This film also depicts one of my favorite subjects...the collision of cultures, or in this case the naive indians of the Amazan on a collision course with the rapacious Europeans. If you liked "Walkabout", "Dead Heart", "Black Robe", "Heat and Dust", "The Chess Players", etc, you will love "Fitzcarraldo"!
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on March 18, 2006
It is unfashionable to be unequivocal.

How can one say that this or that is the best or better?

Nowadays one must always preface unequivocal statements

with phrases like "In my opinion..." or "Well, to me..."

or risk some form of social ostracization.

Everyone has their favorites certainly,

but how can one say something like "Beethoven is better than Bach"

or "Leonardo is better than Michelangelo"?

To make a statement like that would sound foolish and be absurd.

There is plenty of genius to go around in the arts,

and "in matters of taste there can be no argument".

But sometimes the passions of the artist are so great and deep,

the vision of the artist is so meaningful and profound,

and the techniques of the artist are so original and beautiful,

that the efforts of others working in the same medium

become dwarfed in significance by comparison.

It is then that one who is touched by that art

can be driven to disproportionate responses akin to ravings and manias.

Fitzcarraldo is the greatest and most significant cinematic masterpiece ever filmed.
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on November 29, 1999
A riveting film set in the surreal beauty of the Amazon. Fizcarraldo is about obsession, motivation, will, and the realities that block the realization of our dreams -- or is it the dreams that block the realization of our reality?
Fitzcarraldo (an amazing performance by Klaus Kinski) is obsessed with bringing Grand Opera to the jungle and having Caruso himself open the premiere of a new opera house. The only problem is he hasn't the money to do it. So he schemes up a plot to get rich by mining rubber trees in an untapped and dangerous region of the jungle. His contagious madness and determination are unflappable as he and his crew attempt the impossible.
Anchor Bay has been giving Werner Herzog the deluxe treatment for his DVD releases -- picture quality is excellent and the director's commentaries on this (and "Nosferatu") are manna to Herzog fans like myself.
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on June 3, 2000
Herzog, recalling the shooting of the movie said that the Indians were so scared of Kinski's hysterical bouts of anger they offered to kill him... They were dead serious about it. Nothing in this movie is fake, it 's over two hours of unnerving madness spiralling into cathartic self-destruction. Kinski wasn't supposed to hold the role, in fact the shooting started with another actor (and Mick Jagger!) who got sick and had to renounce. But of course the movie would not have been the same without him, maybe it wouldn't have been at all, for Herzog's madness had to be matched by the cast. This movie is not meant as light entertainment but its superhuman quality makes for a fascinating viewing. A super-production, if this word means anything.
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on September 1, 2013
Some dreams need obsessed individuals to make them a reality. Exhibit A - "Fitzcarraldo." It is the story of a failed entrepreneur who wants to build an opera house in his remote hometown. The title character unsuccessfully lobbies other businessmen to take on this project. So, Fitzcarraldo realizes the only way to acquire the funds needed is to abandon his unfinished railway line and try the rubber business. The stretch of land acquired for that venture is not accessible from his hometown due to the impassable rapids. This fact doesn't stop the movie's protagonist. His solution is to take his steamer down another river close by, then enlist the local natives to help carry the 320-ton boat across a portage to the river next to the property where he will harvest the rubber. As one would expect, none of his plans work like he envisioned. Now then, director Werner Herzog has shown throughout his career that he can be just as obsessed as the title character. He captures realism in a way no other filmmaker has. Also, no special effects or CGI here - the production had to haul a real steamer over a hill. Impressive in so many ways. Unquestionably, one of Herzog's finest works. Lest we forget - actor Klaus Kinski does a marvelous job as well playing the eccentric businessman with the wild golden hair. In summation, this is a unique epic of a man going to extreme lengths to make his dreams come true.
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on October 24, 2015
An unusual movie about an unusual man played with the flair that only Klaus Kinski can provide. The first time I saw this movie, I wanted to see it again just to comprehend what I was shown about humanity. Now I can watch it at will when I need to reconsider life.
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