By: Oberst Von Berauscht (A Toast) –
A story about triumph against the odds is painted against the often troubling background of obsession in Les Blank’s documentary portrait of the making of Fitzcarraldo. In the late 1970’s director Werner Herzog began work on what would prove to be his biggest and most mercilessly challenging film. The film involved the story of a turn of the century European with a plan to tow a large steam-ship over the top of a ridge to another river, in a get rich quick scheme, and with plans to use the money to build an Opera house in Iquitos, Peru. Herzog’s dream is for absolute realism, planning to essentially recreate the ship-moving using block and tackle. The film is plagued with problems from day one, battling the elements, and eventually has to start from scratch after Jason Robards Jr., the film’s star became ill, and costar Mick Jagger had to leave due to the delay.
Above: The film that might have been.
In addition many of the natives employed as extras and labor are called away due to a border war that has broken out in the area.
Director Les Blank captured all of the drama and desperation of a dramatic motion picture within the lens of a documentary. Even before Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog was well known for his willingness to put everything of himself into his films… and everything of is cast and crew. In this film however, the odds were tested even more, as a series of major setbacks and outright disasters combined into a storm of the century. In capturing these challenges, Blank shows the mindset that compels a man (director Herzog) to continue fighting the good fight, even when everything tells him to stop. Herzog brings in Klaus Kinski, an actor who he’d worked with before and whose calm composure would surely bring the film in on time…
Herzog (left) and Kinski (right) on the set of another film…
At times, these decisions make the audience question the sanity of Herzog, especially since he asks so much of people, forcing them into dangerous risks. Herzog is a true dictatorial director; however, like the best military commanders he never seems to force someone into a place where he himself doesn’t go.
Later in the film, Herzog is interviewed by Blank as he laments on the nature of the jungle, the trials and travails of which have begun to test his grasp on reality. It immediately recalls images of Marlow, the narrator and main character of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Coincidentally, Herzog’s previous film made in Peru, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, borrowed many elements of the aforementioned novel. Even more coincidentally, on the other side of the world, and only a few years prior, Francis Ford Coppola had emerged out of his own hellscape production Apocalypse Now, more or less directly based on the same novel. In a strange way, while Herzog came close to madness on the set of his epic film, his story was a story of success, as the film got made, and was well received by critics and audiences alike. Ultimately Herzog also came out of it in one piece, and has aptly earned a reputation for toughness. Now here’s a video of him being shot.
Chuck Norris checks under his bed at night, to make sure Herzog isn’t there
A fascinating story about a director whose ambition and defiance of the odds put him in conflict with sanity.
Take a Drink: when anything goes wrong (a small drink, you don’t want alcohol poisoning).
Take a Drink: when director Herzog muses on the Jungle.
Do a Shot: when war breaks out among the natives.