Barry Fitzgerald, who goes by Fitzcarraldo, is a would be rubber baron determined to bring high culture to Peru by building an opera house in the middle of the jungle, even if it means the potentially suicidal task of hauling a massive steamship over a mountain. Despite the danger, he will not stop, as his obsession is something that seemingly cannot be sated. What really makes the film captivating is how Herzog's determination to make the film using real people, no models, and a full scale real ship mirrors that of the character. This just might be the most amazing portrait of ambition ever.
This is not a flawless or perfect film though. It is maybe just too long, too meandering at times, but even then, there is no denying that this film exists on a plane all its own. There are no directors that can be compared to Herzog. Terrence Malick, maybe. But even then, Herzog is truly one of a kind. Kinski is brilliant- a little more restrained than I anticipated, but still very driven and determined to make his dreams come true nonetheless.
It's a pity films are not, and will not ever be made like this again, but one could only hope that, even if they can't reach the same level as Herzog, they could still try.
All in all this is one of those epic movies made by visionaries that come only once in a blue moon.
Brian Sweeny Fitzgerald is a railroad builder in Iquitos, a Peruvian town of multimillionaire rubber producers. His dream is to build a majestic Opera House there, and for Caruso and Sarah Bernhardt to sing on the opening night. Unfortunately, the railroad business is not too prosperous and since he cannot find any investors he must find an unoccupied portion of nearby jungle to start producing his own rubber and collect some funds for his dream.
The task is not as easy as it seems... there's a reason why those lands remain unexploited, but i won't give the whole thing away :) just keep in mind it all involves dragging a ship up a hill from one river to another.
Everything about Fitzcarraldo is grandieuse and mad. Werner Herzog actually built 3 real ships to shoot the movie, and actually dragged one of them over the hills. So who's madder, Fitzcarraldo or Herzog?
There's something empowering and exciting about this determined man playing Rigoletto into the Amazonian jungle, and conducting the work of more than a hundred Indians ever impeccable in his white suit and hat. Klaus Kinski is as usual incredible as Fitzcarraldo. He goes from being gentle and meditative into obsessive frenzies with a single change of his facial expression. Claudia Cardinale is also very good although she doesn't have a lot of screen time. I loved the rest of the supporting cast as much as ever in Herzog's movies... people who seemed like they could have actually been the crew of this insane voyage. Herzog also relied on real Indians, not people dressed up with feathers in their hair. It feels like a documentary when it doesn't display scenes of odd and pure cinematic beauty.
Fitzcarraldo is one of those movies that puts stuff like the remake of the Poseidon or Titanic to shame. It's audacious, bizarre, and skillfully made. It alternates between the hilarious and the pathetic with taste. Annd although I prefer "Aguirre" in the category of movies made by Werner Herzog in the Amazon Rain Forest (Kinski's performance is just plain frightening - and I like to be frightened in a healthy way), it shouldn't be missed. A breath of fresh air -courage, authenticity, and bullshit-free eccentricity.
Obviously the highlight of the film is the passage of Fitzcarraldo's steamboat, Molly-Aida, over the mountain, during which Herzog fascinatingly blurs the line between documentary and narrative filmmaking, to the extent where, as one who hasn't seen it, I begin to wonder whether he hasn't effectively rendered Les Blank's companion documentary, loftily entitled Burden of Dreams, at least partly redundant.
Did Herzog have Once Upon a Time in the West in mind when casting Fitzcarraldo? There are certainly echoes of Jill McBain in Molly, the character Claudia Cardinale plays in the film: the prostitute lover of a visionary Irish dreamer. Interesting, too, that Jason Robards, Cardinale's OUATITW co-star, was originally cast as the lead here. Coincidence?
I think what is most impressive is the fact that (with the exception of one model shot) most of this film was made in the traditional way, by using actual props, locations, etc.
While it wasn't as good as I had hoped, it was still an impressive engossing film with a strong cast. And NO ONE does "crazed eccentric" like Klaus Kinski.
I've heard many people say that the film is "too long" and my first response might be to agree. But then when I think about it, I believe the length of some of the scenes are essential in helping to establish the essence of this grueling, dangerous and passionate undertaking.
I'm intrigued to know more about the real story now and to see the documentary (Burden Of Dreams) about the making of this film.
Kinski's performance is great as usual, and even quite relaxed, which is a bit ironic considering his behaviour off-screen at that time was the total opposite.
The ammount of anecdotic material surrounding this film is so big it almost eclipses the movie itself, and yet Herzog manages to pull it. Just like the main character of the film, Herzog went on to pursuit his dream of making the film the way he wanted.
Because of that, Fitzcarraldo is a unique cinematic experience. Even for pure filming curiosity anyone with a certain interest in cinema should watch this.
Some people can't make their wildest dreams come true simply because they don't try hard enough. Laziness is an essential part of human nature, yes, but who are we to say that we cannot overcome it? Werner Herzog understood this and was inspired by an Irishman who went by the name of Fitzcarraldo; a resident of Peru, but not necessarily a native. It was this inspiration that led to the making of one of his biggest and most deeply-felt motion pictures yet; "Fitzcarraldo", named after the underappreciated man who was a rare dreamer who sought to make his romanticized visions of heroism and fame reality. I've not seen many films where a dreamer had to endure quite as much as the titular Fitzcarraldo - or Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, if you prefer the name he was born to, or Fitz, as his adoring mistress called him -. But then again, that's the magic of a Herzog film; he can take you to places you've never been to or seen before, for prolonged periods of time, and immerse you in the people that find themselves there. Herzog is a dreamer; this is his grand spectacle.
As the film opens, a man dressed rather fancily in white hat and coat approaches an Opera House with a woman that he has brought along with him. He is Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski), and the woman is Molly (Claudia Cardinale); and they have just come a long ways to see a single show. They are allowed into the House, and we finally understand why Fitzcarraldo was so desperate to attend the performance. After the show, he confronts wealthy individuals who he anticipates might be potential investors or curious parties in regards to his dream - to build a giant opera house in Iquitos, where he is living at the moment. Fitzcarraldo loves the opera, and he allows the music to enter his body at will and circulate right through it; it wouldn't be too hard to believe that he might just have what it takes to turn his passion into something more, something bigger, and something of far greater importance than a mere obsession.
The rich scoff at his dreams, spit in his face, socially; and say he will never succeed in achieving his goals. Fitzcarraldo isn't ready to believe this, but he accepts the reality of the situation; you need money, and you need a lot of business partners. Those are two things that he lacks, and so he cannot build the opera house quite yet. But, he is determined; and so he seeks out resources in the way of Peru's most profitable industry, rubber. Sadly, rubber trees are limited, and he must seek them out for himself if he wishes to make any money off his findings; he will need transportation, and plenty of members within a work force. That is where the iconic steamboat comes in; an impressive vessel that Fitzcarraldo purchases and renovates so that he can make the trip into dangerous territories (and rapids) in order to access the rubber trees. He rounds up a crew, and in no time, he's on his way.
But the waters that he treads are deep and apprehensive. The area is infamous for the primitive tribes that inhabit the shores; perhaps because they haven't let a single soul pass yet. But maybe Fitzcarraldo and his interest in the grand Opera will work a sort of magic on these underdeveloped beings; and so it does. He plays the music once they have invaded the steamer, and almost instantaneously, they sink into a deep, hypnotic trance. Now, they work for Fitzcarraldo and company. But the question still remains: will the boat and the crew be able to survive the unrelenting rapids of the region? Will the rumored spiritual and more diabolical forces be at work, thus preventing the vessel from completing its journey? I don't have all the answers, or at least I don't have a good deal of them for you now, but that's mostly due to my desire to spoil at little about the film as possible. It's the kind that has to be experienced; the same goes for most of Herzog's earlier (and even later) works. He's an incredible man, and this is an incredible movie; it surpasses the level of mere movie magic. It is inspiring, but all too real to resonate with the mainstreamers that typically fall head over heels in love with its kind.
The production was reportedly tense; and it tested the heart and soul of both Herzog and Kinski, who was said to be an unpleasant person to work with, at times. It is said that Kinski would overreact about silly matters off-stage, and that his rage upset the extras that were playing the Indian tribesmen-and-women of the film. But you know what they say: some of the best movies are not easily made, and such is the case here. Though the production and filming were both apparently heart-wrenching in their own little ways, the movie was completed, and so was the steamboat's journey. By the end, we feel both happiness and sadness; happiness, because we have just experienced an honest and down-to-earth portrayal of a mad dreamer, and sadness, because he almost returns home empty-handed. Although then, Herzog makes a bold move and adds on to that conclusion with a few absurd but uplifting images; in which a much happier and more uplifting ending is supplied.
The quality of the film doesn't necessarily matter; as you probably already know it even if you haven't yet seen the actual movie in its entirety. Kinski is, as always, riveting; and Herzog's direction is typically fearless, and his images genuinely moving. Being a film that spans two hours and a half in length, this is a sprawling epic that makes use of one location and many provocative, resonant sights. It's a very scenic sort of movie; not unusual for Herzog, who loves nature and just about everything about it, and I loved how he made use of the wildlife of Peru, such as pigs and fish that will eat large wads of cash. There are also horses that drink beer; although it's a known fact that the creatures love that stuff. Nevertheless, my point is this: Herzog is in touch with all his inner feelings here, and this is one of my all-time favorites, not only from him, but from cinema in a whole. It's a definitive masterpiece that should just about sum up what I love best about the movies; all in due time. There is a documentary on the making of the film titled "Burden of Dreams"; the title defining the message of "Fitzcarraldo". I will see that documentary; because I could use a better understanding of a film that comes with such divine and impeccable whimsy.
It's a slow burn to watch, but the beauty of the landscape and the sheer magnitude of the quest is impressive. Klaus Kinski plays yet another slightly mad Don Quixote figure tilting at the nearly impossible windmill of bringing opera to a small frontier town in Peru, via the treacherous Amazon River.
You'll be amazed at what the filmmakers did with the story (which is fact-based). They literally re-created the attempt that the real mad Irishman tried. There's no CGI fakery here, it's all really happening as you watch. If you have an evening to see what dreamers can do when they put their minds to it, watch Fitzcarraldo.
In his autobiographical film Portrait Werner Herzog, Herzog has stated that the film's spectacular production was partly inspired by the engineering feats of ancient standing stones. The film production was an incredible ordeal, and famously involved moving a 320-ton steamship over a hill without the use of special effects. Herzog believed that no one had ever performed a similar feat in history, and likely never will again, calling himself "Conquistador of the Useless".Three similar-looking ships were bought for the production and used in different scenes and locations, including scenes that were shot aboard the ship while it crashed through rapids, injuring three of the six people involved in the filming.This movie is a perfect vehicle to the stormed performance by the genius Klaus Kinski, the almost documental Herzog's style and the hypnotic music of the progressive band Popol Vuh, plus the stunning cinematography.