Sunday, January 29, 2012
Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #10
10. Fitzcarraldo, 1982
Director: Werner Herzog
Every aspiring filmmaker should see Fitzcarraldo. Of course, everyone in general should see Fitzcarraldo, but what Herzog accomplishes with this film is so amazing that it should be inspiring to anyone who wants to make a film, or better yet, wants to make something great whether it's a film or something else. Fitzcarraldo is Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, he currently lives in a small city in Peru and has been looking into becoming a rubber baron. He ultimately finds out about an area in Peru that is very rich in rubber and could make Fitzgerald a fortune. This area is practically inaccessible due to the dangerous rapids from the Amazon. But Fitzgerald discovers that if they somehow manage to take their ship upstream and then try to cut across an island, it would bypass the rapids and grant him access to the rubber. Basically what this all boils down to is a man, obsessed with gaining access to a territory filled with rubber, is willing to take his large steamship and pull it up a long, steep hill. It's a job that only an insane man would be willing to see through to the end as it is about to be extremely troublesome and life threatening to many men.
But I'm not talking about Brian Fitzgerald, the character in the film, he's not the insane man although he's portrayed as such. No. I'm talking about the film's writer and director, Werner Herzog. One thing you will come to realize as you're watching these people haul up this steamship over a steep hill is that... it is ACTUALLY happening. There are no effects, there are no camera tricks. Herzog literally had his crew haul this ship up the hill in order to properly portray this event. It's enough to drive anyone insane and it drove his crew and cast incredibly insane. He had his bouts with actor Klaus Kinski that now live in infamy. It's been said that the native extras actually offered to kill Klaus Kinski for Herzog, that's how messed up things were.
The making of the film was actually turned into a feature-length documentary entitled Burden of Dreams which documented the crew's struggle with the film. They actually shot part of the film somewhere else but had to reshoot due to inclement weather, they originally were making the film with lead actor Jason Robards but he eventually became sick with dysentery. So, they had to reshoot all of his scenes with Klaus Kinski.
While all the stories of the filming of Fitzcarraldo is fascinating in itself, the film is also fascinating to watch. Even before they wind up hauling the ship over the hill, there's the scenes before that when they encounter the natives and it gets pretty intense. Werner Herzog was already an accomplished director at this point, but with this film, he went from accomplished director to complete madman. I mean that in a complimentary way, of course. Fitzcarraldo is a work of visionary genius and an extraordinary accomplishment.