Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan



Klaus Kinski has something about him that can make Christopher Walken look as sane as Mister Rogers. Perhaps it really comes from within. I met Mr. Walken once and he was a nice, amiable, humorous guy, but if half the stories about Kinski are true he is a major maniac. Whatever, he’s perfect here as a man obsessed with the idea of bringing grand opera to the upper reaches of the Amazon. Fitzcarraldo does his hair in the morning by sticking his finger in a light socket, and always wears a white suit and hat. He is monomaniacal, obsessive, humorless, and pretty much everything I usually hate in a human being … but by the end of his ordeal I found I’d grown to like him. After all, what’s more important in life, great art, or rubber trees? I’ll go for art. He must transport a huge boat over a mountain. (Based on a real story, but the real guy took it apart first.) When his crew deserts him he recruits the local “bare-asses,” Jivaro Indians, who are also taken by his divine insanity. But they have a hidden agenda …

No more plot. It reminded me of two other great “river” movies: Apocalypse Now, and The African Queen. All three movies were made by directors obsessed with a vision, in frightening conditions, disaster always hanging over their heads. Werner Herzog has outdone Coppola and Huston, though. Everything you see in the film was actually done. There were no special effects, no huge electric motors out of camera range. They really did haul that honking big boat through the mud using only tree trucks hacked from the rain forest, and actual Indian laborers. It was such an epic ordeal that a separate film was made about the making of Fitzcarraldo … come to think of it, films were made about the other two films as well: Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, and White Hunter Black Heart.