The feared bandit Cobra Verde (Klaus Kinski) is hired by a plantation owner to supervise his slaves. After the owner suspects Cobra Verde of consorting with his young daughters, the owner ... See full summary »
In the 1950s, an adolescent Werner Herzog was transfixed by a film performance of the young Klaus Kinski. Years later, they would share an apartment where, in an unabated, forty-eight-hour ... See full summary »
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 »
Herzog's film is based upon the true and mysterious story of Kaspar Hauser, a young man who suddenly appeared in Nuremberg in 1828, barely able to speak or walk, and bearing a strange note;... See full summary »
Fitzcarraldo is an obsessed opera lover who wants to build an opera in the jungle. To accomplish this he first has to make a fortune in the rubber business, and his cunning plan involves hauling an enormous river boat across a small mountain with aid from the local Indians. Written by
Rune Sandnes <email@example.com>
The plot, and the necessary parallel in making the movie, is audacious, and the end is a quiet, satisfying thrill. That, and the intense performance by the lead, Klaus Kinski, is what keeps people watching this movie, which is utterly unique.
But Fitzcarraldo is not especially lyrical, original, well-written, or well-acted. It has not worn well. I first saw it sometime in the 1980s and it was somehow mesmerizing, if imperfect. The whole exotic flavor of Peru and these foreigners acting exceedingly foreign was based on a dreamy idea that high culture (opera) can and should rise above all else. It was a triumph of the spirit of the individual. Twenty years later that is tempered by the absolute imperialism, bombast, blindness, and idiocy of it all. No longer swayed by the aura of the plot, the flaws in the way the film was made jump out.
For starters, the language. To have some native Spanish speakers talking in German and others, with haphazardness, speaking Spanish or some indigenous language, is inconsistent. Not that they should speak English, no way, but either have them seem to be natives with a knowledge of German, or just use subtitles. Further worrisome are the stereotypes, the "types" of people cast as the cook, his lovers, the captain, the natives, and so on, many of whom do not really act so much as play out their cardboard expectations.
The camera-work is interesting because it is not notable--and maybe this is intentional, because too much lyricism would distract from the facts. But the facts, you notice, are not really convincing. We have a fictional movie no matter how painstaking the famous scenes with the boat toward the end. It falters too often into cliché and, actually, mediocrity (I see this even in the last scene, the crowd on the shore, there they are, nothing more is said).
Maybe I take it to literally, and I should blur out the details. Because as a metaphor of possibility, and of the huge price you have to pay to succeed, or to fail beautifully, it still holds up. In some weird way, because it dared to be different, the movie is still remarkable. But something different than I once thought.
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