FITZCARRALDO (1982) C widescreen 158m dir: Werner Herzog

w/Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale, José Lewgoy, Miguel Ángel Fuentes, Paul Hittscher, Huerequeque Enrique Bohorquez, Grande Otelo, Peter Berling, David Pérez Espinosa, Milton Nascimento, Ruy Polanah, Salvador Godinez, Dieter Milz, William Rose, Leoncio Bueno

From the Turner Classic Movies website (www.tcm.com), this article about the film by David Sterritt:

"Werner Herzog got the idea for his 1982 film Fitzcarraldo from a story he heard about a Peruvian entrepreneur named Carlos Fitzcarrald, who carted a steamship across inhospitable Amazonian terrain in order to transport his cargo (raw rubber) down a navigable river. Fitzcarrald did this by piloting the ship to an appropriate point on the first river, carrying it across an isthmus in pieces, then reassembling it on the second river. Deciding to do Fitzcarrald one better, Herzog took on the challenge of moving a much bigger ship across similar terrain without taking it apart. This became the basis for Fitzcarraldo, starring Klaus Kinski as Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, a businessman (called Fitzcarraldo by Spanish-speaking locals) who dreams of building an opera house in Peru with money earned by harvesting rubber in the Amazon Basin and transporting it to the Atlantic in his newly purchased ship, the Molly Aida, despite hazardous conditions on land and treacherous rapids in the river.

"Like the movie's title character, Herzog faced a slew of seemingly insurmountable hurdles. When the project initially took shape, Twentieth Century Fox was interested in backing it and Jack Nicholson was interested in the starring role, but both possibilities fell apart. Fox insisted that the arduous boat-moving scenes had to be filmed in the studio with miniatures and special effects --- a plan quickly rejected by Herzog, who was determined to make a wholly authentic film with an almost primitive look and feel --- and Nicholson decided he couldn't spend a long time away from Hollywood in the depths of the Amazon jungle.

"Acting as his own producer along with Lucki Stipetić, his brother, Herzog proceeded to cast Jason Robards as Fitzcarraldo and Mick Jagger as a slow-witted Englishman who becomes the hero's friend and sidekick. When almost half the picture had been shot, Robards contracted a serious illness, went away for treatment, and received strong medical advice not to return to the jungle. Soon after that, Jagger had to leave for a previously scheduled Rolling Stones tour. Forced to start shooting all over again, Herzog wrote Jagger's character out of the screenplay and offered the title role to Kinski, a notoriously hard person to work with, as Herzog knew all too well, having already made three pictures with him: the masterpiece Aguirre, the Wrath of God in 1972, the horror remake Nosferatu the Vampyre in 1979, and the small-scale melodrama Woyzeck also in 1979.

"Dealing with a difficult actor like Kinski in a difficult location like the Amazon Basin promised to be at least as hard as hauling a gigantic steamship over a perilous landscape, and Herzog was tempted to solve the problem by playing Fitzcarraldo himself. He went ahead with Kinski, however, and sure enough, Kinski's temper tantrums and fits of rage --- sparked by everything from unsatisfactory food to unwanted contact with an animal --- gave the director plenty to deal with throughout the shoot. He got along better with the great Italian actress Claudia Cardinale, who plays the story's one important female role, a brothel owner who loves Fitzcarraldo and provides financial backing for his scheme. The remaining characters are played by a mix of seasoned professionals (Peter Berling, Grande Othelo, Miguel Ángel Fuentes) and non-actors intensively coached by Herzog, who has always valued natural talent over formal training where acting is concerned. Since the cast members spoke multiple languages and dialects, Herzog shot the film in English and then dubbed it into German, which is the version he personally prefers. Dolby stereo was too expensive for the production, and Herzog was delighted when the soundtrack was digitized in stereo years later.

"Filming in the Amazon Basin proved so arduous and unpredictable that Les Blank's movie about the shoot, the 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams, is almost as celebrated as Fitzcarraldo itself. Herzog blamed Blank's movie, however, for exaggerating the amount of danger faced by the Fitzcarraldo cast and crew. Although some scenes appear to be extremely hazardous, Herzog did everything he could to ensure safety: no one was threatened when the Molly Aida unexpectedly slid backward down a hillside, for instance, and when enormous trees crash into a river directly behind natives in canoes, a telephoto lens makes the distance appear much shorter than it actually was. Still and all, Fitzcarraldo was an adventure as well as a production, and the sheer physicality of its events --- the weight of the steamship inching up the hill, the force of the hull hitting rocks in the rapids, the boom of dynamite used to turn a sixty-degree incline into a manageable forty-degree slope --- comes powerfully through with every viewing.

"Along with its realism and excitement, Fitzcarraldo is a triumph of artistic filmmaking. The gifted cinematographer Thomas Mauch had already worked on several Herzog films --- including Aguirre, the Wrath of God, also shot in the Amazon jungle --- and the lighting and camerawork of Fitzcarraldo have a painterly splendor that brilliantly sets off the tension and exoticism built into the story. The sound is also beautifully rendered, from the natural noises of the rainforest to the eclectic music track, which includes the mystical vibes of Popol Vuh and the voice of opera legend Enrico Caruso, which emits from Fitzcarraldo's beloved gramophone at regular intervals. The film begins and ends with opera scenes, the first of which was staged for Herzog by Werner Schroeter, a less-famous director with a distinctively flamboyant style.

"Fitzcarraldo ranks with the most ambitious and audacious ventures in modern film, and it's a testament to Herzog's perseverance that it ever reached the screen. At one point the entire production was shut down for a full five months because the water level on one side of the isthmus was too low for the Molly Aida to float in; one of the ships used for the river scenes stayed perched on the hillside until the tide rose again, and the other was stuck on a sandbar after running aground. Many directors would have retreated to the safety of a modest studio picture, but Herzog went on to projects in the Australian desert, the oil fields of Kuwait, and other far-flung locations. He also made the 1999 documentary My Best Fiend, about his love-hate relationship with Kinski over the years. Fitzcarraldo is a landmark achievement for both of them."