on March 14, 2005
First, Anchor Bay gave rain to our parched Herzog-loving throats with the release of many of the eccentric German maestro's greatest feature films. And now, Criterion offers Les Blank's astonishingly beautiful and gloriously weird documentary on the desperate creation of one of those classic titles, Fitzcarraldo. A production that started off starring Jason Robards and Mick Jagger wound up with the director threatening to murder star Klaus Kinski if he walked off set! See Herzog obsessively orchestrating the movement of an entire steamboat over a treacherous mountain in Peru! No special effects for this master.
"Without dreams we would be cows in a field, and I don't want to live like that. I live my life or I end my life with this project." If every filmmaker thought this way, do you think we'd have to sit thru Son of the Mask?
As a five-star added bonus, we get "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe," a brilliant short doc by Blank which chronicles Herzog actually cooking and devouring his boot after promising Errol Morris to do so if Gates of Heaven was ever completed! Herzog also uses the opportunity to declare war on American television!
God bless Criterion - here's hoping they follow up this exciting release with some unavailable Herzog docs like La Souffiere, Dark Glow of the Mountain, or Wings of Hope, and some other Les Blank rarities like Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers and In Heaven There is No Beer...
on May 14, 2005
Prior to viewing "Burden of Dreams" I had this preconceived notion that this film was akin to "Hearts of Darkness", the documentary about the making of "Apocalypse Now" where the megalomaniacal director slowly goes mad after countless delays and on-set disasters. To the contrary, director Werner Herzog comes off as a rational artist who, despite the setbacks he encountered during the making of "Fitzcarraldo", soldiers on to see his vision come to fruition. Documentarian Les Blank gives a full-bodied account of the elements that Herzog had to contend with from the volatile nature of the film's setting in the Amazon to dealing with the indiginous tribes who were crucial to the film. Blank meticulously documents the production from it's shaky beginnings to it's end. You get the feeling that Herzog had probably entered this project with great enthusiasm but was relieved some five years later to be done with it. I haven't seen "Fitzcarraldo" in a number of years and it had slight resonance to me. You be the judge as to whether all the energy and resources expended in this endeavor was worth it. Not to be missed, Criterion includes a short subject from Blank, "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe" which demonstrates Herzog's integrity in keeping a bet with budding filmmaker Errol Morris. There is also a recent interview included with Herzog where he gives his account of events during the making of "Fitzcarraldo" but is at pains not to denigrate Blank's document.
on August 29, 2006
Les Blank's documentary is much more than just a making of Werner Herzog's FITZCARRALDO, which is what makes it important and interesting. Like Herzog's own documentaries which blur the boundaries between fact and fiction Burden of Dreams often slips into the realm of a feverish fantasy world. A world in which sanity is far less important than fulfilling dreams and which death and danger are accepted bedfellows. Often FITZCARRALDO becomes immaterial as Blank eye for local detail picks out strange images or centres on exotic looking birds or insects. It exists in a continuum of its own, precariously balanced within the bizarre politics that surrounded FITZCARRALDO'S production and also outside of this melting pot. In many ways it has outlived the film it is chronicling and instead of gratuitous shots of Klaus Kinksi raving we have shots of local customs and portentous doom laden interviews with Herzog. The film is secondary to Herzog, who comes across as driven and perhaps a little insane, affected by paranoia, he sees the jungle and creation itself as an enemy, something to be feared and loathed. He has become the apotheosis of his own movie world and myth making process, the marginalized loner, the outsider.
Unfortunately amid the excitement, we really only get Herzog's side of events and the documentary seems unduly biased in this direction. Nobody else is interviewed, which makes the film seem a little unbalanced. Despite this bias in Herzog's direction he still emerged from FITZCARRALDO and BURDEN OF DREAMS with his reputation in tatters. This is an outstanding piece of work, which shows the film-making process at its most extreme edges.
Criterion's DVD is one of their best. A superb 40 minute interview with Werner Herzog is the sets highlight, but also of note is Blank's brief documentary WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE, to have this included is a precious bonus
on July 31, 2010
"Burden of Dreams" is an electrifying documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo. Like the fictional character Fitzcarraldo who is driven to open an opera house in the Amazon rainforest, so is director Werner Herzog driven to make an epic in the rainforest. He faces tribal feuds, Jason Robards bowing out due to illness, and Mick Jagger leaving to make the album Tattoo You (Reis). Production is constantly delayed... and there's the matter of getting a steamer over a mountain.
"Burden of Dreams" takes you into the forests of Herzog's psyche. He feels a deep kinship with Nature and the natives. Unlike James Cameron in the "save the rainforest" Avatar, Herzog doesn't romanticize Nature. He goes into stream of consciousness over "fornication, obscenity, killing"--a very gloomy Teutonic sense. He has an immense amount of passion over his production. Production starts in 1979--and the whole movie production goes way over the usual allotted time. Watching the documentary, one is amazed that "Fitzcarraldo" made it to the screen at all. It's almost like a doomed Terry Gilliam production.
"Burden of Dreams" is a perfect companion to Herzog's other great movies--such as Grizzly Man,about Timothy Treadwell, who died in the Alaskan wilderness, or the mad Aguirre, the Wrath of God, again set in the rainforest, also starring Klaus Kinski. "Burdens of Dreams" shows that in the dream factory of the movies, there are sometimes haunting nightmares.
on November 18, 2006
Werner Herzog is one of the greatest directors in the history of moviemaking. This documents arguably his greatest achievement, Fitzcarraldo. So much went wrong on this film, it was absolutely amazing that Herzog not only finished the film, but that it was as brilliant and as enthralling as it was. He had to deal with Jason Robards getting sick and quitting, Mick Jagger dropping out, dealing with Klaus Kinski (make sure you watch the special features for a tantrum by Kinski, which Herzog describes as "rather mild", so one wonders what a full blown tantrum is like), filming in the Amazon jungle, dealing with the natives, enduring a drought, etc., etc.. Some have said that Herzog is/was an egomaniac. They're wrong. I don't think he was reckless at all. He's a great filmmaker in pursuit of his art. That's all, and that's enough. Herzog spent a lot of himself after this film. He didn't really regain his footing until the 1990's, when he concentrated on documentaries, some of which are amazing. The DVD features another Les Blank film called Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. It's hilarious, and Werner's comments on TV talk shows are prophetic. The man is a genius. One of the greatest filmmakers ever.
on June 2, 2005
Werner Herzog's film Fitzcarraldo depicts a man's grueling journey towards self-fulfillment and personal dreams. Burden of Dreams tells the story from behind the camera, as Herzog finds himself in an almost five-year long struggle to accomplish a dream that nearly broke him physically, psychologically, socially, and economically in the Peruvian jungle. Despite the many obstacles, Herzog eventually managed to create a brilliant cinematic experience, which now can impress present and future film aficionados. Yet, before viewing this documentary, the audience should consider two notions that support the idea of viewing Fitzcarraldo first. First, the final product raises the awareness of why Herzog pursues making the film, which also helps learning from the filmmaking journey. Second, this documentary would spoil Fitzcarraldo, as it depicts and explains several scenes from the film. It ultimately would reduce the element of surprise and drama.
An interesting retrospective notion that comes to mind after the film is the comparable similarities that Herzog has with Fitzcarraldo who is the character that Klaus Kinski portrays in the film. They both have the desire to fulfill a dream to the level of obsession where both seem willing to risk it all in their endeavor. Herzog even mentions in the documentary, "I live my life, or I end my life with this project." This also suggests why Herzog believes that the film had to be done, as it provides a strong reflection of Herzog's own persona and his existential philosophy.
Often the journey of reaching a dream drifts into oblivion when the aftermath surfaces. On the other hand, Burden of Dreams makes sure that the audience does remember the importance of the struggle for dreams through Herzog's numerous predicaments. For example, his initial problems include border wars, death threats, and the departure of leading role actors, which consequently makes investors nervous. After having been set back for over a year Herzog commences the shooting of Fitzcarraldo, as difficulty continues to haunt the filming with drought, tribal war, and a plane crash. He even believes that a curse rests over the film production. All of these delays begin to have their toll on him and the rest of the filmmaking crew, as he begins to drift into an angry gloominess blaming the ever so close jungle.
All of the negative impacts that the film crew and cast experience are intensified by the Amazon jungle that surrounds them for thousands of miles. Originally, Herzog believed that isolation from civilization would bring out qualities in both the cast and crew that would heighten the cinematic experience. This concept had more validity than Herzog would ever have anticipated, as boredom begins to affect both the crew from the modern world and the natives who live by ancient traditions. Steadily morale keeps on sinking. Fortunately, a cure to the low morale rests within down-to-earth solutions. Yet, through the problems and the solutions Herzog begins to see the dark nature of the unforgiving jungle that seems to come closer and closer.
The director Les Blank objectively captures the clash between ancient and modern traditions, as the natives and the film crew interact in the tropical rainforest. The audience gets to observe the making of the traditional masato, an alcoholic beverage made of yuca chewed and fermented with human saliva. There is a also a scene in Fitzcarradlo where Kinski is supposed to drink masato to seal an agreement between him and the natives, but in fear of infection, Kinski avoids it by drinking canned milk. Despite the troubles, the camera effortlessly flows with the fatigued crew of Europeans, Americans, and natives, as they all have to endure the burden of Herzog's dream - Fitzcarraldo.
Previous documentaries such as American Movie (1999) and Lost in La Mancha (2002) offer similar experiences, but they do not achieve the anxiety that Burden of Dreams reaches. The forcefulness of the story rests within the topic, which in this case is Herzog and his desire to fulfill his dream. In many aspects, this documentary seems outlandish such as Herzog's idea of pulling a steamboat over a mountain and the abundance of problems that surrounded the making of Fitzcarraldo. Yet, it is within this madness, if you will, where Blank captures the power of dreams in a similar way that the bird Phoenix raises from the ashes.
Following the astonishing trail of disasters Werner Herzog faced making 'Fitzcarraldo' on location in Peru - including tribal wars, a seriously ill Jason Robards' departure after 40% of the film had been shot, one ship running aground due to low rainfalls and another obstinately refusing to move up the mountain - Les Blank's famous and once groundbreaking documentary has dated badly.
It's an excellent portrait of Herzog's obsession and the growing madness surrounding the shoot, but it's more a catalogue of catastrophes rather than a candid view of the shoot: although unused footage was shot of Kinski's tantrums, the star and director's relationship is all but ignored and you tend to get the feel of a superior travelog giving the official version (a lot of the other real crises happen offscreen). There's plenty of absurdity on view, such as prostitutes being brought to the native workers camp on the advice of the local Catholic missionary, but 'Hearts of Darkness' it ain't. But you can't help but admire the way that, unlike Fitzcarraldo, who falls prey to the dreams of the natives he thinks are working for him, Herzog manages to cling on to his dreams and ultimately triumph, incorporating each new on-set disaster into his film.
No complaints about Criterion's DVD treatment - the extended theatrical version of the documentary in a beautiful print with commentary, a new 39-minute interview with Herzog, a couple of deleted scenes that were used in Herzog's own doc 'My Best Fiend,' trailer, copious stills gallery and a book with substantial extracts from production journals. An excellent companion piece to 'Fitzcarraldo,' but it probably has less appeal to those not so interested in the film.
on July 13, 2005
By any standards, "Burden of Dreams" is unforgettable. It's a documentary about director Werner Herzog's attempts to make his film "Fitzcarraldo." A difficult project, Herzog, filming in Peruvian jungles, actually had his native workers pull a steamship over a mountain (with a 70% chance of catastrophe), among other insanities. Also on display are scenes of Jason Robarbs and Mick Jagger in "Fitzcarraldo" before they had to quite (fascinating, and an indication of how different the movie might have been if Klaus Kinski hadn't starred). As mad as he is, Herzog somehow comes across as someone to root for, and "Burden of Dreams" actually winds up being a more interesting portrait of crazed determination than "Fitzcarraldo."
The DVD from the Criterion Collection lives up to their mighty standards. The 1.33:1 image looks surprisingly good for a documentary, with only a bit of grain and very few scratches. Of the many extras, the best is the short film "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe," a bizarre 20-minutes of clearly displeased Herzog doing just that (to fulfill a bet). It's quite funny, in an odd way, and it's use of the song "Ol' Whisky Shoes" is memorable. Also included is a commentary by director Les Blank, editor Maureen Gosling, and Herzog; a new interview with Herzog (he doesn't seem to have changed much); photo galleries; deleted scenes, which include Klaus Kinski going on a profane temper tantrum (perversely fascinating); and a trailer. Interestingly, a booklet of Gosling and Blank's diaries from the "Fitzcarraldo" set come with the package. It's almost enough to forgive the ludicrously high Criterion price tag.
on March 29, 2016
Background on a crazy man making a movie about another crazy man. Documentary and original film are both fascinating illuminations of the glories and perversities of the human will. Herzog eschewed using plastic models of the ship that was hauled over the mountain. That story would only be done today with digitally enhanced graphics. Today's viewer can't help but wince at the hazards to the environment (not to mention to human life and limb) they were committing, despite the ultimate gift of the huge tract of wilderness deeded to the indigenous peoples. Both movies represent a periscope into a beautiful world barely accessible at that time and probably no longer exists.
on February 13, 2014
After returning from Iquitos, Peru and a wonderful week on the Amazon and it's tributaries, we wanted to know more about Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald's efforts to build an opera house in this rainforest city which has (still) no roads connecting it with Lima, or anywhere else.
BURDEN OF DREAMS is a documentary about Werner Herzog's struggles to make this film. Losing the original star, Jason Robards, to dysentery more than half way through (never mind Mick Jagger's leaving due to the length of the production overlapping with his booked concert schedule) forced Herzog to start over with Klaus Kinski as Fitzgerald (Fitzcarraldo as pronounced by the indigenous tribes.) Apparently Claudia Cardinale's role remained intact, but we still have not seen the finished film, FITZCARRALDO!
If you are interested in filmmaking, BURDEN OF DREAMS is a requirement.