Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Burden of Dreams


Criterion Collection DVD. Recounts the epic tale of the making of the epic movie Fitzcarraldo. We don’t get to see Werner Herzog pulling a gun on Klaus Kinski (which he is rumored to have done), but just about everything else that could go wrong, does go wrong. It’s mostly because of Herzog’s obsession with filming a thousand miles up the river when he could have done it just outside of town, and with pulling a 320-ton boat intact over a mountain, when even the crazy guy whose story this is based on took his boat apart. But God seemed to have it in for Herzog, too. When he needed rain to float the boat they got the driest season in recorded history. When they needed dry weather, they got such deluges that the ground turned into knee-deep slop. There were wars between the Indian tribes, and … hell, you name it, it went wrong.
Fitzcarraldo was originally going to star Jason Robards and Mick Jagger, and we see a few shots from that early production, which was about halfway done when Robards got a bad case of the Brazilian Boogaloo, or the Peruvian Poops, and had to go back to New York, where his doctor forbid him to return to the jungle. Good career, move, Jason. Then The Mick had to drop out, too. By the end of the film Werner was muttering about evil in the jungle, crazier than Marlon Brando at the end of Apocalypse Now.
Two things. One, in my review of Fitzcarraldo I said they moved the boat with only human power. Not true. They had a huge bulldozer … but it was pretty much useless most of the time, unable to climb out of the muck. Two, Herzog took what were, in my opinion, unconscionable risks with the lives of his Indian extras. The original engineer hired to figure out how to do this insane thing threw up his hands in disgust and walked off. Herzog went ahead anyway, aware that at any moment the whole stupid cat’s cradle could snap and send cables flailing into the crowd, killing who knows how many. This is not right, this probably could not have happened in the US or Europe or Canada, where safety standards are pretty high. He has the right to risk his own life, but not the lives of people who are earning $3.50 a day … and view that as a fortune. Shame on you, Werner.
(People died in the making of this movie, and were badly injured, but that was in a plane crash and I don’t hold Herzog responsible for that, though he does. A plane crash can happen in any human enterprise, ditto a car crash. But people shouldn’t die just to produce an image on a movie screen.)
In spite of the above, I still like Werner Herzog, the crazy fuck. And I think he learned his lesson.