Thursday, July 09, 2009
Herzog Week: Fitzcarraldo
By Edward Copeland
Even though it's not officially a two-part film, Fitzcarraldo in many ways reminds me of Apocalypse Now. The films are good, stand-alone works but when you see the documentaries about what went into making them (Burden of Dreams will be along later today), they make the experience even more impressive.
The third collaboration of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski, Fitzcarraldo tells the story, loosely based on truth, of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, whose name has been garbled into Fitzcarraldo by the Spanish and Indian natives of the region of South America where one mad dream after another falls into ruin.
Fitzcarraldo already has lost a fortune trying to construct a railway across the continent, but now his overriding dream is to build a grand opera house in the jungle town of Iquitos. Unfortunately, he must first find a means of achieving the dream and bringing Caruso to the natives.
His first plan, building a fortune from making ice, goes nowhere, but he soon discovers that there are still some unclaimed regions of the jungle from which a fortune from rubber could be made. Unfortunately, it is in the most mythically dangerous part of the jungle, an isthmus divided by the densest of terrain.
After acquiring a huge boat from another rubber baron, Fitzcarraldo sets out for his mission, to venture into a land where reportedly no men have returned alive. While the film itself is a tad overlong, the imagery is so remarkable that it carries it along and Kinski is the main reason why. With his shock of blond hair and white suit, if you added spectacles, he'd bear a striking resemblance to the musician Thomas Dolby from the same era.
Claudia Cardinale also does well as Fitzcarraldo's lover, a high class brothel madam who finances most of her lover's mad ventures.
While Fitzcarraldo isn't as great as Aguirre, the Wrath of God or an indescribable marvel such as Stroszek, when you combine it with Burden of Dreams it truly is a remarkable experience on par with the pairing of Apocalypse Now and Hearts of Darkness.