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,
Documentary that chronicles how Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) was plagued by extraordinary script, shooting, budget, and casting problems--nearly destroying the life and career of the celebrated director.
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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If I'm not mistaken Roger Corman once told to Francis Ford Coppola before making his mandatory tour-de-force "Apocalypse Now" to not go to the jungle film this movie. He went through countless troubles and challenges, almost thought of committing suicide and three years later he released his masterpiece to the world, winning lots of praise, money and awards and mentions in lists of best films ever made. After him, other directors went to do the same trying to make their dreams come true: Ruggero Deodato, Roland Joffé and Werner Herzog, the latter having one great similarity with Coppola: both films they made were also followed by a documentary revealing the troubles of the production from beginning to end; "Apocalypse Now" is followed by "Hearts of Darkness" while "Fitzcarraldo" is followed by "Burden of Dreams", an documentary directed by Les Blank pointing the semi-disastrous filmmaking of one of the greatest films ever made.
We are guided by Herzog and a female voice over that tell us the unfortunate series of events that surrounded the filming of "Fitzcarraldo" during four years in Peru (I was disappointed by the fact they didn't show what happened in Brazil, where they filmed some scenes too but I guess the major problem was in Peru). From possible attacks of Indians who disliked the film's production in their territory to the point of threatening the crew, then moving to another location; the day-by-day of shooting in complicated locations and with many different cultures; the forced departure of two of the main actors (Jason Robards and Mick Jagger) which caused a delay in production since they had to film all over again; an aerial accident that left some serious victims (this wasn't well explained) these and more are among the several problems encountered by everybody involved in "Fitzcarraldo".
But the problem that gets honorable mention is the one that concerns putting a 300 ton steamship over a hill, pushed by a bulldozer. That was really complicated to make, people got injured with that and after failing in the first attempt, the movie was delayed for one year until they finally made it right. And also sailing with the same boat over rapids that damaged parts of it and injured members of the crew as well. Here's a dream that almost became a nightmare and a heavy burden to carry...literally! Just reading my words in here is not enough, you gotta see with your own eyes how painful and exhaustive was to shoot "Fitzcarraldo". But when you see Herzog's film you are rewarded with one of the most beautiful and poetic masterpieces of all time. And to think that he said that after that film he would never direct any film again...but he went on and made many other works.
Now the criticism: the difference between these documentaries lies in the fact that the one related with Coppola's film was something with beginning, middle and ending, very well structured which is something that this film failed at some parts, and the reason why this happened is simply because the director didn't wait one essential advantage that "Apocalypse Now" had: the test of time if a work will be relevant in the years that passed and in years to come. When the movie ends we keep asking ourselves if it worth all the while to go through enormous difficulties. They couldn't say if the movie was well received by public, the money spent vs. the money earned, those things. "Burden" was released practically simultaneously with "Fitzcarraldo"; "Hearts of Darkness" was released 11 years later, so that they could look back and have some proud over their work. The language barrier wasn't respected in terms of presenting everything to viewers, at least in the version I watched, where German, Spanish, Portuguese and other dialects are spoken throughout the film but there's no caption to translate what people are saying.
I liked the insights made by Herzog about the jungle, and about taking chances in order to make dreams into reality means to him. Everything is well presented, the fascinating behind the scenes of "Fitzcarraldo" was very cool to watch but more interviews with actors should be included (the one with José Lewgoy is the most interesting when he tells about acting makes him feel an complete person, and the instruction he gets of Herzog in how to act in a certain scene). And "Burden of Dreams" is not only about problems, it's about not giving up of a dream even if takes forever to be made real, fighting the most dangerous adversities. Sounds like an Hollywood film but that was very real just like the real Fitzcarraldo at one time placed a steamboat over a hill. Only after seeing this you'll understand the power "Fitzcarraldo" has over its viewers. 10/10
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