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An eccentric visionary brings opera to the jungle
Brandt Sponseller24 April 2005
Based on a historic figure, this is the story of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski), known as "Fitzcarraldo", an eccentric visionary living in Amazonia. He first tried building a Trans-Andean Railroad, but went bankrupt. When we meet him, he's trying to make a living by selling ice to Amazonia natives, although we first see him on a small boat with his sometimes significant other, Molly (Claudia Cardinale). They've traveled 1200 miles down the Amazon to an opera house to hear Enrico Caruso sing, because Fitzcarraldo is an opera fanatic who especially loves Caruso. He loves opera so much that he dreams of building an opera house in the relatively remote outpost of Iquitos, Peru, where he's been living. Understandably unable to find backers for such a venture among Iquitos' wealthy rubber industry leaders, Fitzcarraldo hits upon a scheme for making a bundle of money, and which would eventually enable him to fund the opera house himself. Unfortunately, not all goes as planned.

Fitzcarraldo was a notoriously difficult film to make. Documentarian Les Blank even made his own film detailing some of the difficulties and apparent ironies, The Burden of Dreams (1982). Director Werner Herzog hauled his cast and crew to Amazonia for the shoot, where they ended up trapped in the rain forest for months. At one point the filmmakers' camp was set fire by Indians who objected to the production, there was an air crash in which some of the crew died, and a couple outrageous "stunts" in the film--including the main plot device of the climax--actually were outrageous, dangerous tasks rather than safe effects/model shots, as we'd expect them to be. Just the idea of pulling off the main stunt caused the Brazilian engineer initially associated with the project to abandon involvement. A number of cast members also backed out, including Mick Jagger and Jason Robards, who were both signed on at different points to play Kinski's role. Knowledge of these kinds of issues makes Fitzcarraldo even more fun to watch, and makes the fact that it was completed at all, not to mention that it is such an elegant masterpiece, more remarkable.

The tone of Fitzcarraldo overall closely matches Kinski's depiction of titular character. It is quirky and surreal, but very subtly yet satisfyingly so, with both an almost garish bizarreness (Kinski is quite odd looking in a way) balanced with a sublime beauty. Herzog imbues the film with a lot of gorgeous cinematography, enhanced by his unique sense of pacing. For example, he'll set the mood of a dawn/dusk scene with a lingering shot of a colorful sky, which then functions as symbolic of a night's events without directly showing them. Herzog matches this same technique in his action--he has an ability to say as much with what he doesn't show his actors doing (or saying) as with more conspicuous content.

Herzog also shows himself to be a master of selecting music to enhance mood and tell a story, as he balances an atmospheric Brian Eno-ish score from Popol Vuh, native jungle music, and vintage turn or the century recordings of Caruso singing Bellini, Verdi, Puccini and such. Of course opera is an important plot device that enters the film at various critical points. Even if you don't like opera, however, Herzog and Kinski make it (and the motivation for it) attractive in context, and you may just find this film beginning to turn around your feelings for that music.

It's interesting to note that even with Herzog's unusual pacing, the flow of the film always seems "natural". Fitzcarraldo also has an unusual plot structure, as it almost stream-of-consciously moves from opera in a formal European-seeming setting to a historical dramatic depiction of eccentrics in a native-filled Peruvian town, and then to an exciting adventure tale that is the heart of the film before it finally reaches an irony-filled, beautifully surreal dénouement. The constant throughout all of this is Fitzcarraldo, of course, who can't help being eccentric but charming, both to the film's audience and to other characters.

Fitzcarraldo is often interpreted as being somewhat critical of western encroachment on other cultures, such as Amazonia. Under this view, Herzog is usually seen as ironically "guilty" of the same actions that he's indicting. However, the film does not read as criticism to me. It's much more in line with what is usually considered to be a romantic tendency in Herzog. Fitzcarraldo is not at all a villain in the film, and neither are the European rubber barons. Instead, Fitzcarraldo is lovable and admirable if a bit crazy. The introduction of western culture doesn't end up being a negative. The natives in the film still retain their unique identities, and efforts are made to interact with them in their manner, not to adapt them to Eurocentrism. Cultural change may be inevitable with interaction, but the message of Fitzcarraldo is more that the interaction can produce unique, worthwhile cultures that are amalgamations of their precursors.

Another interesting subtext is that of Fitzcarraldo as Orpheus. Just as Orpheus enchanted wild beasts, trees and rocks on Mount Olympus with his lyre, causing them to "move from their places", Fitzcarraldo uses opera to enchant the natural world in which he is ensconced, eventually "moving mountains".
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Herzog's films are deeply personal, visually exciting and uncompromising…
Nazi_Fighter_David9 December 2008
His films are perfect examples of the European tradition of the 'auteur' film, in which the director is seen as the originating and creative force behind the work… But there is also a sense that Herzog's visionary monomaniacs function as the director's alter ego, embodying the heroic status of the auteur, always struggling against recalcitrant reality to fulfill his dream…

This seems especially true of "Fitzcarraldo," which, sets a hundred years ago, begins with an Irish colonist who had a passion for opera rowing 1,200 miles down a South American river, accompanied by the madam of a brothel, in order to hear the great Caruso perform…

Inspired by this experience, Fitzcarraldo embarks on a grandiose plan to open up the Amazonian jungle to river transport, providing access to new rubber plantations and thereby making enough money to build an opera house…

Herzog's favorite actor, Klaus Kinski, is as appropriately manic as Fitzcarraldo, eyes glittering madly as he pursues his vision… In the central sequence he organizes a tribe of Indians to help him pull a steamboat across a mountain in order to by-pass dangerous rapids…

"Fitcarraldo" seems by turns admiring of its hero's megalomania and mocking of his hubris, with no illusions about the cynical exploitation of the region's riches by the rubber barons whom Fitzcarraldo tries to defeat by cleverness… Ultimately though, it is the sheer spectacle which we remember…
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Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad...
Roger Burke27 January 2007
This is a work of fiction, although the idea for the story and the name came from a real person who actually lived at Iquitos, Peru, and who was a rubber (not robber) baron in the eighteen-nineties.

Arguably, Klaus Kinski (as Fitzcarraldo) was born to play the main role – although Werner Herzog considered taking up the role himself. But, no one can play an eccentric the way Kinski did in this film. It's not Nosferatu (1979), but the wide, staring eyes are looking at you, all the time, in the same spooky way.

And, only an eccentric of the most magnificent kind would dare to take a 340-ton ship up the Amazon and carry it over a mountain down to another river! Isn't that just one of the craziest things you've ever heard of? Well, the truth is Herzog actually did do that and simply used Kinski as his surrogate to prance around the mud and clay, with the local Indians, and generally taking the praise for a job well done. There were no special effects – the production team actually pushed and pulled that hulk up a slope of hundreds of meters and then down to another river.

So, who was really crazy: Herzog or Fitzcarraldo?

Never mind that: just see this movie for the lush, primeval jungles of South America; for the rich tones of various opera singers, including Caruso (on a phonograph); for the stunning photography aboard the ill-fated Molly; for the antics of Kinski, as he thrashes around, pushing himself and others to the limits; for the army of local Indians, pulling the ship over the mountain; for the haunting sound-track provided by Popul Vuh, Herzog's perennial musical team of choice; and, of course, for the lovely Claudia Cardinale – past her prime but still remarkable...

I love this movie and I hope you do also. And, when you have seen it, then see Burden of Dreams (1982), the film that tells the story of the making of Fitzcarraldo. It's maybe better than the fiction...
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Of Opera And Headhunters
Lechuguilla23 August 2009
One of the strangest films I have seen in some time tells the story of a South American rubber baron named Brian Fitzgerald, better known as Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski), a man who dreams of building an opera house in the jungles of the Amazon.

With his white coat, white hat, and his bleached blonde hair, Fitz is quite an eccentric. In a social context, he's an outsider. But he has a bold vision. His romantic sidekick is a woman named Molly (Claudia Cardinale). As a compliment to Fitz, she speaks the film's theme: "It's only the dreamers who move mountains".

After some preparation early in the film, Fitz and crew set sail up the Amazon on a huge boat, to stake out a claim for their business that will bring in the money to advance Fitzcarraldo's dream. The boat is equipped with all the necessities, which include, naturally, a gramophone to play the operatic music of Enrico Caruso. And the best sequences of the film are those set in the remote jungle, as the boat moves through a large tributary of the Amazon, into headhunter territory. With the gramophone blaring out opera amid the sound of Indian war drums, it's the unusual contrast between the primitive and the cultural that makes this film interesting.

Filmed entirely in South America, the story is set in the early years of the twentieth century, long before the advent of television or automobiles.

Color cinematography is quite good. This is a very physical story. Most scenes take place outdoors. And the remoteness of the setting conveys a sense of doom, a sense of unknown terror and foreboding.

While the visuals are stunning, some aspects of the story I'm just not sure about. I never did figure out the significance of the ice. Is that a reward for Indian cooperation? If so, how can ice be preserved in a land without electricity? And without electricity, isn't the whole idea of an opera house in the wilderness a tad ludicrous? Maybe these questions are all answered and I just missed them. Even so, these issues could have been better addressed in the script.

Not as deeply thematic as "Aguirre: The Wrath Of God" (1972), Werner Herzog's "Fitzcarraldo" nevertheless is an unusual film, one that is worth watching for its stunning visuals and thematic contrasts, its physicality, and the eccentric character of Fitzcarraldo, the dreamer who can move mountains.
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the most operatic documentary-style epic ever made- fearlessly unique
MisterWhiplash8 January 2007
The story of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, aka Fitzcarraldo, is as much the story of his magnanimous pie in the sky ideal to push a boat over a mountain as it is Werner Herzog's own mission to film it. More than a mission- as anyone who saw Burden of Dreams can report- an obsession that might cost a few lives, a good deal of money, and bring a lot of strange first-hand looks at the lives and mind-sets of the natives, but will still bring the greatest of wonders if it gets pulled off. The boat over the mountain is part metaphor, anyway, though not one that's easily pegged into a corner. Achieving something against the odds is something that has been covered in many great films, a quest through man's indelible need to make the impossible possible, be it in a David Lean picture ala Lawrence of Arabia, or in one of Cecil B. DeMille's pictures (and, at times, I wondered if the spirit of one of those old time epic filmmakers came into his mind, if only in bits).

All the while as Herzog is out to map the course of this man who just wants the purity of opera in the jungle, but through a style that is completely all his own, which means that it's not just about one man, but also about the ones around him, the methods to following such delusions of grandeur. Like Aguirre, there's a God complex working in Fitzcarraldo, only this time it's not in the total shroud of madness. There's room for irony, spouts of wild humor (sometimes from Kinski, like when he tries to play an opera record for disinterested party-goers early on in the film), and an overwhelming fascination with what's all around Fitzcarraldo, the jungle, nature, the natives that dwell there and always stick to their indeterminable ways. Watching how Herzog maneuvers through his bulky story is ceaselessly compelling, even in the moments where he just lets the camera take everything in: the waves crashing all around, the boat set against the jungle-scape with the opera singer Caruso in the background, the many faces and poses of the natives and their moments of pure calm versus their unpredictable nature (why do they put on face paint like they're about to go to war, and then nothing happens, don't ask me).

And like in many of his best films, Herzog manages to get much more out of his actors/non-actors and his locations than it might have seemed on paper. Poetry gets set into motion with seemingly the greatest of ease, like a scene where a few natives on a small canoe look on, and Fitzcarraldo thinks about stopping, but they just go on as it's not even worth it, or when he and his first-mate and couple other regulars on the ship try to eat, only surrounded by the natives. Or the shocking moments when after victory seems to be achieved, all is in peril as the boat flaps about on the river and the recording still goes on and on, haunting as anything the jungle can compare to. Indeed, the jungle itself becomes another key part of Herzog's metaphor, even more so than in Aguirre, and it's perfectly exploited (or rendered, depending on point of view) for Herzog's own feelings about the jungle. It's an environment dangerous, alluring, and with the capacity to fear its awesome mass as well as beauty (or, as Herzog said in 'Burden', it's lovable against better judgment), so it's not all taken in at a distance- there isn't so much a real sense of escapism via the hand-held shots unlike in the epics of the directors previously mentioned. Fitcarraldo's own quest then is against nature's own ways- nature is objective and always the same- as the simple notion of moving the boat, and then doing it, goes against nature's true nature, if that makes sense.

In this sense it's a great film of the objective, to which Herzog goes to lengths to capture, *and* the fantastical and subjective, which comes through the operatic portions, and not be bound by nature's usual ways and common sense. Thus it makes perfect sense as well to have Kinski along for the ride, even if it's not his greatest achievement with his most frequent director. It's all in the eyes, practically every step of the way, that one believes this man even through all of the follies and naive flights of fancy, and it's the closest Kinski probably ever came to playing the romantic lead of an adventure picture. Some of the usual scenes of 'damn he's nuts' come up, like his ringing of the town bell. It's another in the line of outcasts he played in Herzog's films, tormented and always in craving for something more, though this time not in a bleak manner. There is the problem that Kinski's presence would be undermined by the many "adequate" images Herzog loves to achieve. Luckily, he stands his ground, and even contributes to the poetry in times of just listening to the Caruso, and gazing on at his dream coming true on the mountainside.

Fitzcarraldo isn't perfect by any means, as it ends up by way of the nature of Herzog's storytelling to almost tell of too much in his scenes. And the English language track I heard sometimes dilutes a few of the performances by feeling too dubbed and a little ridiculous in some instances. But these are just tiny mentions that get overlooked when looking at the success of what is done. Only a director as intelligently deranged and confident as Herzog could have dreamed up this film (based on a true character) and make it as real and alive as the greatest of epic adventures.
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Magical masterpiece of film technique
funkyfry10 October 2002
Amazingly beautiful, well-acted jungle drama details entrepreneur Fitzcarraldo's attempts to mine rubber in order to raise money to accomplish his dream -- to bring grand opera to his tiny town in Peru. Girlfriend Cardinale buys him a boat (to help with the mining), but unfortunately can't go on the journey, which ends up with Fitz and hundreds of indians physically dragging the huge riverboat over a mountain. Kinski's performance is top of the line, very good direction, some very memorable scenes -- Fitzcarraldo on top of his boat playing Caruso records into the jungle, the huge boat cresting the wave of the mountain, and even the triumphant ending rings true. The best film by Werner Herzog that I have seen.
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Beautiful Obsessions...
Galina7 July 2005
Full of bravura and inspiring sequences the bizarre epic "Fitzcarraldo" won Werner Herzog the best director award at Cannes Festival in 1982. This is the film that keeps reminding us the words of Oscar Wilde, "We are all in the gutter but some of us look at the stars". Even fewer try to reach the stars and Werner Herzog and his longtime collaborator and frequent adversary Klaus Kinski were certainly the men who have reached them. Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (or Fitzcaralado – the local Indians' name for Fitzgerald) was a visionary, a man with a beautiful obsession who dreamed of a building an opera house in the Peruvian rain forests and bringing the great singer Enrico Caruso there. Fitzcaralado's plan involved dragging a huge steamship over a small mountain to avoid traveling upstream through rapids. This plan was duplicated by Herzog during the production and involved the real Indians actually hauling the boat over the mountain. The image of the boat floating in the clouds and the small figure of Fitzcarraldo dressed in the white suit looking with his crazy wild eyes at the boat is one of the most beautiful and breathtaking visions at the screen ever. This film is not as perfect as Herzog's and Kinski's previous project, the stunning "Aguirre, The Wrath of God" but it is a magnificent and fascinating tale that could only be told by its matchless team of creators.
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Spectacular Achievement
RobertF877 July 2003
This film was a real labour of love for Werner Herzog (he said at the time of making it: "I live my life or end my life with this film"). The movie tells the story of an entrepreneaur (Klaus Kinski) who is obssessed with the idea of building a Grand Opera house in the Peruvian jungle. To get the money to do this however, he has to set off on a long and dangerous journey to open up new trade routes for a previously inaccessible part of the jungle, rich in valuable rubber trees.

The most famous image in the film is the hauling of a large steam-boat up the side of a mountain (a feat which was achieved by the film-makers without the aid of special effects). Visually, the film is spectacular and everything is beautifully photographed. Kinski is superb as the crazed adventurer.

On the minus side, however, some viewers might be put off by the slow pace of the film.

This film stands as one of Herzog's best, and most accessible works, and is a must-see for anyone.
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Framescourer12 July 2008
An operatic film, in keeping with it's content. Herzog's film is simple. It is made without recourse to any effects. Consequently it remains an act of film-making chutzpah that will never be repeated and one cannot take one's eyes from the screen. Amazingly Herzog manages to make some sort of narrative and visual variation from this situation. Rather like this seemingly unattainable task of moving a huge vessel overland between two proximate but apparently unbridgeable tributaries, so Fitzcaraldo's ambition is to bring the pinnacle of Western art to one of the world's least civilised outposts. The outcome - the closing sequence of the film - may be classed a success or failure depending how one's perception of what constitutes either is reassigned by the experience of the journey that is the body of the film.

Kinski is a wonderful force of nature, at once dilletante madman and visionary. That we are kept guessing is the centre of the drama. The casting of Cardinale as his faithful lover seems like an odd gilding exercise until the exuberant finale - by which time Herzog has performed some sort of alchemy. An extraordinary achievement, and all the more so given the disastrous living-memory precedents of Apocalypse Now and Heaven's Gate. 7.5/10
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The dreamer
jotix1003 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"Fitzcarraldo" is an ode to men who dare to have dreams and make them come true. This epic speaks volumes about a man who happens to be obsessed with the opera, which is his passion. He is a foreigner in a hostile land at the beginning of the last century where enormous fortunes were made in different parts of the world. For Fitzcarraldo, it is Peru, the land where he is now living.

As he is introduced in the story, he is seen arriving at the Manaus opera house, to catch the Great Caruso sing. Since he has no ticket, and the performance is sold out, he impresses on one of the attendants, who lets him, and Molly, his companion, stay at the back of the house. Fitzcarraldo, who returns with Molly back to Iquitos, a desolate locale, figures he will bring opera, and Caruso to the city.

Fitzcarraldo, who has no means to support his dream, decides to go into the rubber business. For that, he must go to a remote spot, away from where the other, and wealthier rubber barons, have established claims to the land. It will take only a resolute, and mad person to undertake such a gigantic enterprise.

With the help of Molly, he buys a dilapidated boat and modernizes it. He takes along an experienced captain, a great mechanic, Cholo, and the best cook money can buy into a trip down the river to his property. The only thing is he soon realizes how if he continues along the river route, he will be in danger because of the rapids at one particular spot. His decision, to hoist the ship across a mountain to the other side, where another river is more navigable.

Fitzcarraldo made a lasting impression on the local Indian population, who saw in this adventurer, somebody larger than life. His inter action with them was instrumental in doing the insurmountable task that had to be done to get to his ultimate goal.

This film could only have been done by Werner Herzog, a director who was not afraid to go into an inhospitable part of South America to photograph this magnificent picture. Helped by his cinematographer, Thomas Mauch, he was able to conquer a great obstacle in order to make the film. Popol Vuh's film score mingles with some great music by Bellini, Puccini, Verdi and Strauss that does wonder in the background.

No one but Klaus Kinski was born to play Fitzcarraldo, in what might be considered his best screen role. Mr. Kinski was an obsessed actor who bares his soul in getting under the skin of his characters. As Fitzcarraldo, he goes through the whole gamut of emotions to show what this man was really like. We can't take our eyes from him throughout the picture because of his intensity and his honesty in portraying this mad man with a vision for beauty.

Claudia Cardinale makes a tremendous contribution to the film as Molly, the woman who loved, understood, and saw the genius of her man. Jose Lewgoy is perfect as Don Aquilino, Fitzcarraldo's rival and mentor. Miguel Angel Fuentes is also excellent as Cholo. Huerequeque Bohorquez plays the cook and Paul Hittscher appears as the captain.

The last sequence of the film shows Mr. Herzog's greatness as Mr. Kinski rides with the opera company in a small ship. They sing an aria from "I Puritani", an opera that delights his soul as Fitzcarraldo feasts himself into Iquitos in their company.
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Great Great Film
RARubin10 May 2005
This is a quest plot line; the golden chalice is to be found in the interior of the Amazon, a performance by Caruso and his opera company in the early 1900's. Klaus Kinski, of the disheveled blond hair, plays the obsessive opera lover. The town's folks believe him to me loco and well they should since his Trans-Andes railroad bankrupted the dreamer. His ice making operation makes no sense. His dream of Peruvian opera is a laughingstock, but he has an ace up his sleeve, his devoted lover, Claudia Cardinale, the local madam of distinction forks over the front money so Klaus can buy a boat to get to the rubber trees in a remote steamy jungle inhabited by headhunters. Oh, there's another problem. Rapids block access to the rubber trees, so Klaus must take another river parallel to the rapids, and then at a narrow point of land, must drag a steamship over a mountain. Unbelievable, the film crew took three years in the jungle to duplicate the feat, a engineering marvel, or a stunning duplication. My hat is off to Werner Herzog. This is what great adventure and acting is all about.
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Highly Original But Unexciting World Cinema Classic Of South-American Opera Lover
ShootingShark19 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald is an Irish industrialist who lives in Iquitos in north-east Peru in the early twentieth-century and is passionate about one thing - opera. He has a crazy dream to build an opera-house in one of the most remote places in the world, and embarks on a dangerous voyage up the Pachitea River to raise the necessary funds ...

Confession time here - I like Fitzcarraldo a lot, but I actually like Les Blank's Burden Of Dreams, a documentary about the making of the movie, quite a bit more. The reason for this is that whilst it is a truly original and fascinating film, the knowledge that none of it was faked - Herzog really did hire the indigenous Machiguenga tribe to pull the 320-ton steamship over a hill, with no model-shots or special effects - makes it more amazing as a physical accomplishment than a cinematic experience. This forty-five minute sequence is astonishing but then so is the whole movie, a visually arresting fable of folly for the sake of it. Kinski is terrific here; iconic in his white suit and panama hat against the greens and browns of the jungle, and it's great to see him for once playing a nice guy, ably supported by the gorgeous Cardinale, who adds glamour and humour to the piece. Where it falls down in my view is that it's a tough movie to get animated about - very languid, with a protagonist who is almost impossible to identify with and a plot which seems to derive directly from Herzog's ambition rather than any kind of storytelling style. Made by many of the same crew as the superior Aguirre, Zorn Des Gottes (cameraman Thomas Mauch, composers Popol Vuh, editor Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus) and even shot in some of the same Peruvian locations, this is Herzog's most famous and acclaimed film - he won Best Director at Cannes - though for my money not his best one. If nothing else however, it is a remarkable achievement and a truly original piece of film craft.
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post-war Germany's great romantic
J. Harlan6 May 2001
Like Fitzcarraldo, Herzog has a well-known passion for opera--he's been known to conduct on occasion and refers to music as the territory of "ecstatic truth." Film, too, has that potential, if it's released from the literal and the director concentrates on the importance of "great images." It's no surprise, then, that Herzog made Fitzcarraldo without a well-defined narrative goal. He just wanted to see if he could do it.

Filmmaking is a personal and social process for him, not a finished product. It's an extreme version of method acting. Like Fitzcarraldo's lifting of the boat, grand gestures go far for Herzog, if only to show the world that you're great and visionary enough to try. Most of his characters are done in by their obsessive drive (Fitzcarraldo's boat crashing into the rapids, Aguirre madly pacing about on his raft), but leave behind something beautiful. Like a boat being dragged up a mountain in Peru with ropes and pulleys or a gun depot going up like the 4th of July.

You can't give Herzog too much credit--he's been more careful not to be done in by his hubris than any of his characters were. In fact, he's capitalized on it, much the same way Cappola did after Apocalypse Now or Hopper did after Easy Rider. No doubt, the tales of his misadventures contribute as much to his films' popularity as the stories and images themselves, and he's been quick to market his persona with books, talks, and films about himself, the mad director.

But still, Herzog is a great romantic that was born of a time and place (Munich, 1942) with few romantics, which is its own great feat. See Fitzcarraldo for a little bit of that.
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Audacious and imperfect, unique and disappointing
secondtake22 December 2009
Fitzcarraldo (1982)

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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Herzog goes Cecil B. DeMille
vwild17 May 2015
Warning: Spoilers
In Fitzcarraldo the eponymous hero dreams of bringing opera to an Amazonian backwater. To raise the money he must drag a huge river steamer from one river to another over a hill in the depths of the jungle thereby avoiding dangerous rapids and giving him access to untapped rubber trees. The Important Fact about this film is that Herzog (the director), his crew and a few hundred Amazonian tribespeople (apparently hunter gatherers with a traditional way of life) actually dragged that boat across the jungle for real. They really did it and this changes how the viewer feels about the film.

For much of its running time Fitzcarraldo comes across as an old colonial spectacular in the mould of Hollywood of the 1950s, with the merest sprinkling of Heart of Darkness, but not so you can really taste it. Fitzgerald (Kinski improbable as the likable dreamer) is thrilled by opera and he realises that if he can only get a transport ship to a remote part of the jungle cut off by dangerous rapids and collect the rubber there he can make a killing and build an opera house. He buys a ship, hires a crew and heads off into uncharted waters. Soon they encounter Amazonian "headhunters" and, terrified, most of the crew desert, leaving Fitzgerald to persuade the native people to aid him in his grand scheme. Up to this point the film seems clumsy. It's badly put together and acted, not particularly good to look at, even dull. But, then they begin to drag this huge ship out of the water and over a jungle covered hill, and it is immediately obvious that they are doing this for real. It's jaw dropping stuff.

Trees are hacked down to whoops from the native people, cuttings are blasted and they recoil in terror, stones are passed from hand to hand, winding equipment is built from great trees, an immense pulley is carried by people gasping under its weight, and then miraculously the ship begins to inch its way out of the water in scenes reminiscent of Salgado's photographs of silver miners. The cast (professional and amateur) swarm around the ship covered head to foot in red mud. The physical strain and exhilaration are all real. Kinski, suddenly perfect with his grubby linen suit and shock of blond hair, is almost dwarfed by a spectacle equal to his mad persona. It's akin to seeing Buster Keaton at play with a steam locomotive. It's amazing and entertaining - but surely someone is going to get hurt? Once the ship hits the water again sadly the power of these scenes begins to dissipate and the film floats on bumpily to its ridiculous conclusion.

The role of the Amazonian tribespeople in Fitzcarraldo is troubling. They are heralded in the time honoured fashion of safari movies. Before we meet them we hear tales of murdered missionaries and shrunken heads. We hear strange drumming and chanting from the forest. Ominous figures stand in wooden canoes. Finally we see dozens of little boats and mysterious visitors fill the ship. They are baffled by Fitzgerald's extreme blond, whiteness. None of these characters have a name, none get to utter dialogue comprehensible to the audience, and none are differentiated individuals except one apparent leader. They are just a conglomeration, a collective entity, an alien otherness. This is a shame because they bring some much needed gravity and screen presence to the film. Herzog makes ineffectual attempts to counter this colonial taint through the script. The native people have their own agenda for engaging in this task (appeasement of river gods) and the film concludes happily for them having sent the ship over the rapids Fitzgerald has been at such pains to avoid. For once colonialism has been co-opted to someone else's ends and thwarted in the process. This is not enough to restore the film's balance.

In Fitzcarraldo we are offered a rather tired colonial yarn that seems thrown together, but which culminates in a spectacle worthy of Cecil B. DeMille. The film does flip from clumsy fiction to electrifying reality and back again, but the sight of this huge ship being dragged over the red mud using ropes and muscle power makes compelling viewing. However the viewer is left to question the film's attitude to colonialism and whether doing it for real really turns this mostly leaden film into gold?
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There is no denying the visual and technical magnificence of Herzog's achievement.
G K27 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
In Peru in the early 20th century, an eccentric Irishman (Klaus Kinski), who is a fervent Caruso fan, resolves to accomplish an extraordinary feat against all odds: establishing an opera house in the jungle.

Fitzcarraldo is a strange, brilliant, unforgettable film centering on the hero's successful attempt to drag his massive boat from one river to another; clearly in director Werner Herzog's mind, a Herculean task comparable to getting a film made that reflects a director's artistic vision. For this film Herzog won the award for Best Director at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.
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Wonderful dream like film
fred-houpt23 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I think that it is always going to be a mistake to analyze this film using the known chaos of the actual making of the project. It is well known and written about but in my view is equally a distraction to the strengths of the art. If you did not know a thing about this movie, what would be your impressions? Given that innocent point of view, my impressions were that it was like watching the dream of an obsessed madman come to life. According to the Herzog story is very loosely based on a true story. Disregarding this, the film has great merits on its own. Kinski, a man renowned for being a living volcano, when he IS on camera is perfectly poised and generally calm. His madcap dream does not come across as mentally deranged but rather as a romantic extravagance that hearkens more to the 19'th century than to the 20'th. That he had the means to indulge his passion is all the story needs: the spark and fuel of the combustion evolve as the story unfolds.

What does this film look like? I was drawn to compare the film to Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line" and "The New World". Herzog's film had many of those qualities: many moments when there is no dialog, the boat drifts down the river and the piercing chirp of strange sounding birds is all you hear. The focus on the natives who again are often shot with them gathered around, looking still and meditative but both hypnotic and strange The efforts to lift the boat are so outrageous, suggested as they were in the film by a drunken cook, that when we see it occur all you can do is gasp out-loud and laugh.

The movie is much discussed (I'm sure) in film schools. For me it was simply a delightful and totally crazy dream, a journey not through the heart of darkness, but into the unknown veins of natures backwoods; the anxiety of the journey offset by the phenomenal beauty of the rain forest and the wild encounter with savage natives. That Fitzcaraldo was able to pursue his goals in peace reminded me again of Captain John Smith making arrangements with the Powhattan. I loved it.
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A rare, towering masterpiece!
toolate826 February 2006
Saying that a film is deserving of an eleven, on a scale of ten, is usually an exaggeration; Fitzcarraldo is a rare and wonderful exception; this film truly does deserve that sort of praise! Fitzcarraldo is an astonishing story-- masterfully written and combined with some of the most breathtakingly beautiful cinematography ever seen. All of this would have been lost, however, without the extraordinary acting genius and expressiveness of Klaus Kinski. Mr. Kinski has the remarkable ability to communicate, emotion and feeling, through facial expression and body movement, more effectively than any other actor I have seen, including Charlie Chaplin.

After seeing the documentary film "Burden of Dreams", which concerns itself with the making of the film and the endless, crushing difficulties that plagued the cast and crew, I have come to appreciate this film doubly. I heartily recommend seeing it, possibly before seeing the film itself.
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Kinski's greatest role
csjlong4 September 2002
Perhaps Aguirre is the better film but Brian Fitzgerald (Fitzcarraldo) is an even better character. We love dreamers and Fitz may be the greatest dreamer ever created on film. Kinski in his white suit with his "Hair by Charlie Manson" manning the turret atop the Molly Aida, firing volleys of Caruso at the native tribesman. Ah, unforgettable. Herzog is a truly unique voice and has never been afraid to experiment. Fitzcarraldo is one of the experiments that succeeds.
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Herzog's madness
Polaris_DiB21 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I have to admit I'm ten times more interested in Werner Herzog himself than in the movies he's made. This is rare for me because I pretty much don't concern myself with creator's lives unless something that happens affects their work, which is oftentimes difficult to ascertain. Herzog, though, is a madman, a likable and engaging madman, who makes movies about madmen that make me think about what a madman Herzog is, not what madmen the people Herzog portrays are.

For instance, this movie. Fitzcarraldo, as represented by Herzog, is insane. He's not even falling into insanity or slowly going insane, he just starts from the beginning completely out of his mind. His obsession with opera and his imposing, frazzled-haired quality make great iconographic representations of people driven too much by their impulses and not enough by reason. And the fact that he ultimately succeeds gives this movie more of a surprise ending than you'd expect.

However, Herzog isn't content to merely say, "He was insane," and leave it at that, he has to take it to the next level. He not only actually goes through all the trouble of showing how Fitzcarraldo managed to pull a steamboat over the mountain, he one-ups the character by increasing its circumstances: higher grade slope, not pulling the ship over in pieces, using only natural materials of the time, etc. (See Burden of Dreams. It's a good documentary and very revealing). Herzog did this "to make it more dramatic", you know, in a movie about a dramatically insane person obsessed with melodrama (the opera, the type of drama of which we compare to soap operas or really really melodramatic drama). So what does that say about Herzog? This movie also is a companion piece of sorts to Aguirre, the Wrath of God. It's sort of like the Kurtz perspective, the initial investor who penetrates further into the jungle than ever before and manages to maneuver himself into the favor of the local population as a god-like or at least spiritual figure (somehow). But then again, as a token to the perseverance, the opera house the historical figure built still exists. So not all madness is tragic, and it's certainly kept one peculiar filmmaker going for several years.

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Follow your dreams
drgordon-caldwell28 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Fitcarraldo has a dream to have Grand Opera performed in the Amazon Jungle and goes to enormous lengths and overcomes innumerable obstacles and set backs to see his dream come to life. He even has a whole steam ship winched up a hill by Amazonian Indians, but their shared effort is to fulfil a different dream, which scuppers Fitzcarraldo's plans. Undeterred he sells the ship, and uses the proceeds to hire the Opera Company, who perform from the decks. Beautiful filming, wonderful Caruso singing, manic acting, and a powerful message to keep on if you believe in a dream and want to see your dream come true. So good I did not even notice the dubbing!
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A Mad Vision, A Haunting Dream, An Inimitable Journey
museumofdave18 April 2013
There is no other film quite like the frenzied dream that is Fitzcarraldo.

The antithesis of generic milkshake movies which crowd todays multiplexes, Fitzcarraldo is a challenging and fascinating film, similar in spirit to some of Coppola's best or an attempt at the best of Orson Welles. Like both of those visionaries, Herzog dreams large, and although there are sometimes gaps in logic or narrative flow, the mad scope of the vision is inimitable.

In telling the tale of a man obsessed with bringing European culture to the dark mud of South America, director Herzog challenges himself to do the impossible--and, perhaps at the cost of human lives and daily sanity, lets himself and his lead, Klaus Kinski, succeed. The mysterious and spectacular images captured by photographer Thomas Mauch will linger in your brain, and the weird obsession that drives wild-eyed Kinski will, if you're willing to flow with him in that creaky steamer down the Amazon, take you on a trip you will long recall
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A top drawer achievement for both Herzog and Kinski
you'llneverbe20 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"Fitzcarraldo" (1982) Dir: Werner Herzog

I suppose I should have researched "Fitzcarraldo" more closely before I delved into it. This is only the second Herzog film I've ever seen, and my impressions of the first ("Aguirre...") definitely coloured my expectations for this, the penultimate Herzog/Kinski collaboration. I was wondering when the crew of the Molly Aida would start succumbing to dysentery and hallucinating, when the captain would catch a spear to the chest and when the drunkard cook would unceremoniously drown. Nothing like this happens. Ultimately, when the steamboat returns to great fanfare, triumphant and battered, to the point of its launch, I realised that "Fitzcarraldo" is the better film for this positivity.

That Klaus Kinski is wonderful in this film cannot be overstated. He is constantly the centrepiece, and when he is off screen (which is rarely), the viewer is always anticipating his arrival in shot. His character, Brian Fitzgerald, is one of the most charismatic leads I've ever seen. His supreme confidence and authority never wavers, despite the warmth and fragility we see in the earlier scenes. He is always played with a strong, sympathetic humanity that never boils over into madness, despite the madness of the task itself - to hoist a steamboat over the Amazonian hillside and back down into a parallel river.

Herzog assembled a film with many emblematic visual features, presumably for the purposes of enhancing the aesthetics. It works wonders, frankly, as I'm sitting here struggling to think of a gramophone, a white suit or a steamboat in any other context than in "Fitzcarraldo". It is set in the tropical heart of Brazil, and the crux of the plot is a daring and rather reckless plan to harvest the natural rubber from a region considered completely inaccessible. The profits from this would then go towards building a venue in the Amazon for the performance of Fitzgerald's favourite music - opera. Bizarre concept for a movie, right?

Despite some clunky dubbing and a few supporting performances that look about fifteen years behind (stopping me from awarding it a 9), this strange premise is very successfully realised by Herzog's full-scale immersion into the daunting, endless and unreal rainforest. As soon as the boat sets off, the film kicks into gear. We are treated to a long succession of very beautifully composed shots as Fitzgerald and company plunge through the jungle in their majestic white 19th Century vessel.

I don't want to reveal too much to those who have not yet seen this film, so I'll spare this review any further plot points. "Fitzcarraldo" should be seen for Kinski's defining performance, the superb visual touches that colour its best scenes, and for the sheer spectacle. It is undoubtedly a fine, grand movie in which all events orbit around, and gravitate towards, the central character himself.
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RainDogJr15 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is a long and wonderful journey full of eccentricities, full of dreams and of acts that one could never imagine. The film introduce to us a man in love with something, with the opera, since always he had one clear goal, one clear dream, something that will make him look like a complete insane man, like a visionary and always like a dreamer. Again we have the encounter of different worlds. Here is clear that the people from the old continent are having all the success however Brian "Fitzcarraldo" Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski) is still looking out for that road to the success. He is in the ice business, he left incomplete another visionary project and basically at one point he is seen as a complete madman when he tries to share what the opera makes with him. He is an eccentric character, he is a businessman and a visionary who will do what nobody ever imagine if there is a hope to get what he wants to get what he needs for that dream, for that opera house. On that way his dream will stay intact but the way to get what he needs will change until the mission is clear, not clear in ways of how successful it will be but clear in the mind of Fitzcarraldo. Everything seems great for the team that will join our main character in his journey however not a long time after they began to have questions, actually the first questions began right after the steamer took its way. The fear is the only thing Fitzcarraldo can represent to his team and not because he is an evil man or something but because he is doing something that nobody has done. He will be alone at one point with only three men from the original crew. The fear was always there thanks to the natives but they were something different. The opera was a reason to see Fitzcarraldo as a different man for those successful men but maybe it was one of the reasons of why Fitzcarraldo and his team were still alive. Is hard to know how the natives were thinking, for sure they wanted to find a place of peace. Is fascinating because at one point Fitzcarraldo's plan became something that, even if it was just something almost impossible and without a clear conclusion if they succeed, was a real mission not only for Fitzcarraldo but now for his team too, it became something for what they were really fighting and when the success looked at least possible the happiness was there, at least for a couple of minutes. Now they were a true team not only men carrying out with their jobs for other man who's real intentions were basically unknown. Fitzcarraldo felt the glory just to see how his plan was failing but another man, now "infected" with the dream, came with the final plan, the one that delivered a moment of true happiness. Fitzcarraldo and his team could return, they did something impossible with the help of who knows what and the film ends with a moment of true happiness for the dreamer, the visionary, the madman…

Kinski created another complex character, now based on the real life Peruvian Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald. He is great as the film (the film-making values of it are impressive) however this is not my favourite performance of Kinski and not my favourite film of Herzog, of course from the ones I have seen that are: For A Few Dollars More (Kinski), Aguirre, the Wrath of God (both), Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (both), Woyzeck (both), Les Fruits de la Passion (Kinski), Grizzly Man (Herzog) and Rescue Dawn (Herzog). For the record, I saw this film after midnight so in the first minutes of this day (15 September 2008) not knowing for sure if I was going to stay awake. It was amazingly interesting and fascinating that I do stay awake even that its runtime is 158 minutes or so. Still is not an accessible film or at least not as accessible as others of Herzog, in my opinion the clearest example of an accessible film of Herzog is Rescue Dawn. Absolutely worth watching and I feel that I will be watching it again soon, not extremely soon but soon.
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