Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982) – Werner Herzog isn’t just a filmmaker; he’s a living legend. He’s a man for whom making movies isn’t merely about creating a remarkable end product; it’s about creating an adventure for himself and his crew. The man is possibly psychotic in his desire to push his productions to the limits of physical exhaustion and insanity, yet the results speak for themselves. Herzog’s finest achievements are unlike anything else, introspective grand epics in which you can practically see the blood, sweat, and tears shed by the crew splattered all over the screen. Fitzcarraldo is of course the great director’s most infamous achievement. It’s a tale of a man who moved a boat over a mountain and Herzog being Herzog, he decided to simply do it for real. The results led to two masterpieces, Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo as well as the extraordinary documentary about making the film Burden of Dreams. Today we only take a look at Herzog’s creation, which just slipped onto Blu-Ray thanks to the good folks at Shout Factory.
As usual, Klaus Kinski stars as the lovable madman at the center of Herzog’s mad vision. In this case, he plays the titular Fitzcarraldo, a fop of a man in a ridiculous white suit and a floppy hat who spends most of the story screaming like a nut in the jungle (as is the Kinski/Herzog way). Fitzcarraldo’s dream was to bring opera to the jungle and make his fortune in the process. It was a ludicrous ambition, but one that Herzog clearly admired for obvious reasons. After procuring 400 square miles of jungle property to build his dream, Fitzcarraldo sets about bringing it to fruition via a giant riverboat in an inhospitable jungle. The parallels between Fitzcarraldo’s wild quest to bring art to the jungle and Herzog’s own is quite obvious and while there is potential for this material to be transformed into some sort of physical thriller, the filmmaker never succumbs to such sensationalistic goals. He films the tale in his usual lingering style, with the grand set pieces playing out in a sense of poetic exhaustion as opposed to anything resembling visceral entertainment.
Fitzcarraldo is far from a perfect film. It’s a little too long, a little too shaggy, and a little too meandering for that. Yet, it’s such an extraordinary achievement in of filmmaking, ambition, and madness that these piddling concerns seem to disappear as it unfolds before your eyes. There’s a hypnotic magic to the movie that’s almost impossible to describe. It’s a film of wondrous images that never cease to amaze because of how real they always are. Kinski gives one of his most delightfully deranged performances, which is also cause for cockeyed excitement. And for cinephiles and cine-nerds the historic nature of the production is never far from the mind. It’s a movie that whether loved or loathed needs to be experience by everyone who loves film. If nothing else, it’s impossible to shake moments and images from your mind for the rest of your life once you’ve seen them. Thankfully Shout have made sure that anyone to watch Ftizcarraldo from now on will do so in the best possible circumstances.
The disc comes direct from the beautiful Herzog Blu-Ray box set that Shout released last year with no substantial changes beyond the new packaging. The transfer is stunning and that immeasurably enhances the viewing experience of such a visually astounding creation. Granted, the age of the negative and the challenging production ensures that the image is quite a bit softer than a modern blockbuster, but that’s the style of the movie and it’s replicated beautifully here. The special feature section is limited to two audio commentaries, both by Werner Herzog. One is in English and one is in German. In both cases, Herzog has a moderator/interviewer to keep him chatting and both are worth a listen even though there is quite a bit of repetition. If nothing else, Herzog’s commentary instantly transforms the movie into one of his oddball documentaries and that’s good fun in and of itself. Unfortunately the amazing doc about Fizcarraldo’s production Burden Of Dreams is not included on the disc. That’s a shame because it would be an ideal companion piece, but it’s such an important film on its own that Criterion are hanging on to the rights. Fair enough, at least those of us who didn’t want to fork over for the full Herzog box set last year finally have a chance to see Fizcarraldo in HD and it’s just as beautifully strange as you could possibly imagine.