A documentary on the chaotic production of Werner Herzog's epic Fitzcarraldo (1982), showing how the film managed to get made despite problems that would have floored a less obsessively ... See full summary »
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David Lee Hoffman,
A documentary on the chaotic production of Werner Herzog's epic Fitzcarraldo (1982), showing how the film managed to get made despite problems that would have floored a less obsessively driven director. Not only does he have major casting problems, losing both Jason Robards (health) and Mick Jagger (other commitments) halfway through shooting, but the crew gets caught up in a war between Peru and Ecuador, there are problems with the weather and the morale of cast and crew is falling rapidly. Written by
Michael Brooke <email@example.com>
Herzog is stranded in the jungle with a 300 ton steam ship that won't move and time is running out. He needs money to move the ship but no one would invest unless the ship moves first.
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Such interest in Fitzcarraldo was sparked in my mind that I was compulsively forced to purchase the DVD version of it. It was fascinating, a near-masterpiece, I would say. And I desperately wished to see the documentary about its making, Burden of Dreams. Well, probably a year after I first saw Fitzcarraldo, I came home one night to find Burden of Dreams on the Sundance Channel (praise god for this station!). I had missed about 8 minutes, but, oh well, I sat down to watch the rest.
Unfortunately, it did not reveal much about Fitzcarraldo. I had read about the problems Herzog had during the filming, and this is basically what Burden's focus is. The documentary does not go deep enough, though. I would say about a quarter of it (its running length is just over 90 minutes) is made up of actual scenes from Fitzcarraldo with maybe a short paragraph to describe the setting and maybe some small bit of behind-the-scene narrative.
Another section of the film is made up of interviews with the cast and crew. This should have been the lifeblood of this documentary, but it was not. Herzog's own interviews were interesting, but it is more or less him complaining because things are not going his way (which he has a right to complain about, but it isn't all that interesting to watch). He has this very silly monologue where he complains about how the jungle symbolizes the death of the world, when really the only thing symbolizing death is his dying film. Very disappointing is the documentarians' inability to get interviews with the cast. I was seriously hoping for some of Klaus Kinski's patented insanity and also at least one interview with the great Claudia Cardinale. There was one tiny interview with Kinski where he complained about having cabin fever for being stuck in the cast camps for weeks at a time, completely justifiable, I would say, and there are no interviews with Cardinale (although she may have been interviewed before I started watching). It made me feel a little disappointed that no documentarians had been there to film Aguirre, the Wrath of God, where Kinski absolutely flipped out!
Never fear, though. There is one very good part of this film: it serves as an ethnographic document for the Indians of South America. Herzog rightly claims that their parts in Fitzcarraldo itself were not sufficiently ethnographic, since they were just doing what he was asking of them. But in the documentary, we see the Indians making masato, an alcoholic drink made of yucca and saliva, we see them playing games such as arrow catching, we even see an attack from a different tribe that believes that the Indians who are working on the film have come to attack them. All of this is extremely interesting. 7/10
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