Fitzcarraldo

 

Werner Herzog wrote and directed and completed the movie Fitzcarraldo in 1982.  It is roughly based on a real character.  It runs 157 minutes.  Herzog won the award for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival.

 

The story is about a man of vision.  A man of culture deeply in love with one of the greatest of art forms---the opera.  A man of brilliance---who could build a railroad or make ice in the Amazon jungle or move a ship over a mountain to become a rich rubber baron in order to have the funds to build an opera house.  A fanatic with a cause!

 

But, he used the natives without knowing their motivation---which was spiritual, not cultural, not monetary---and the natives both make his success possible and undermine it at the same time.

 

Does he become embittered?

 

Not in the least---in the end he hires an opera company to perform on board and brings them to his home town---it is not what he envisioned, it is far from it---but he is gloriously happy and will most likely start all over again.

 

Fitzcarraldo is played by Klaus Kinski who the director Werner Herzog describes as follows: "He is totally mad and unpredictable.  You can see something raging in this man.  We liked each other, we hated each other and we respected each other, even though we hatched serious plots to murder each other."  (I have felt this way before.  Have you?  It seems outrageous to think and behave this way, but it is not as rare as we would like to think.)  Kinski would have a fit of anger for hours every day!  Why would Herzog put up with Kinski?  Remember, they made four movies together!  Because Kinski can mesmerize!  Kinski has such a presence and such an intensity that it is worth putting up with his lunacy.  Although Herzog sees Kinski as an unstable genius that made his life miserable, he has nothing but the highest praise for Claudia Cardinale who played the female lead.  She often had a stabilizing influence on Kinski.

 

The movie started out starring Jason Robards in the Fitzcarraldo lead role and also starred Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones in a role as Fitzcarraldo's sidekick.  Robards became ill after 40% of the movie was shot and he left the project and Jagger left also, as he could not continue due to concert commitments.  The Jagger part was then dropped from the script.  Instead of giving up the project, Herzog called in Kinski and continued.  (Herzog had, before Robards took the role, considered Warren Oates and Jack Nicholson for the lead role.  At the beginning he didn't want to use Kinski as he feared he would go berserk in the middle of the film.)  Remember that the movie took almost four years to complete!  At no time did Herzog ever give serious thought to abandoning his movie.  This was a dream he would not let go of and even all of the disasters and having to put up with Kinski was worthwhile at the end.  The camp they created to work on the film was burned down in a border war and they had almost endless physical and financial setbacks.  Herzog understands that: "Money is stupid and cowardly."  It is very difficult getting money for such a movie as this where the risk for disaster is so high.  Preproduction and clever organization made them able to succeed given the limited funds.  Herzog got the film started with limited money and faith that money would come when the project got rolling.

 

They built more than one of the boats that you see in the movie and the boats really went down the rapids.  One time the boat goes with no crew, another time it has a crew and cameramen on board.  The film crew were all bashed badly (concussion, ribs and hands damaged, etc.).  But that was only a small part of the long list of disasters related to the making of the movie.  One lumberman they were using was bitten by a highly poisonous snake and the camp doctor was 20 minutes away---he knew he would die before he got to the doctor.  So the lumberman took his chainsaw and cut his leg off!  Some of the natives he used were from areas where they only had creeks and no canoes and they couldn't swim---one of the natives drowned when he stole a canoe.  One cameraman had a toe bit off by a piranha fish.  Two plane crashes with very serious injuries also occurred but not directly a part of the filming process.  One party was actually attacked by "savages" and seriously injured.  Remember, this movie took years and was being shot in the middle of nowhere with a thousand people involved; therefore, it is reasonable for Herzog to contend, as he does, that the film was not plagued by disasters.

 

Also, remember that NONE of what you see are special effects!  Everything you see actually occurred during filming.

 

Herzog paid the natives well by their standards but more importantly they gave them help with land claims.  The natives didn't like Kinski because of his rantings and ravings and offered to kill Kinski for Herzog.  The scene from the movie where the natives were crushed under the ship was so real looking that when the movie was released Herzog was criticized for killing them when it was all staged!

 

Also, they were constantly fighting nature.  Sometimes the rain came down like a solid mass with the river rising 30 feet in hours---but at other times the river was so low the boat would get hung up on a sandbar for weeks waiting for more rain to come.  When they finally got the boat moving it took 10 days to get to the top of the mountain---but then they had to wait seven months before they could put it in the other river as the water was too low.

 

Besides movies, Herzog directs operas and does documentaries.  He did one documentary as a tribute to Klaus Kinski with a title of My Best Fiend (1999).  No that is not a typo, "fiend" is what Kinski was.

 

The film was originally shot in English as it was the most common language of the various actors and dubbed into German.  That dubbed German version works better than the English version.  Most scenes took 4 or 5 filmings before Herzog got what he wanted.  If the scene didn't seem to be working, it would be re-written on the spot.  Herzog, in general, does not believe in the use of storyboarding.  He prefers a more creative process, one that allows for everyone to be more imaginative during the filming.  Some of the shots were hand-held with only one chance to get it right as it was really happening at that moment.  The few seconds of the scene where the fish eats the money required getting up at 5am for 11 mornings trying to get the fish to eat the money.  The native drums that you hear are actually African, not Amazonian drums beating and were put in for their effect of heightening the fear and tension.  With over a thousand members of the movie camp living over a thousand kilometers into the jungle complete with camp prostitutes it most have been an almost unimaginable scene just as parts of the movie are unimaginably grandiose. 

 

So, what does the movie all add up to?  It is a beautiful story of human creativity at work.  Fitzcarraldo was willing to give anything for his greatest passion in life---the opera.  The same is true for Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog and the others who made this fabulous film.  They were dedicated to the creation of this epic and were able to give 110%---no, 210%--- to make it happen.  That is what it sometimes takes to realize your dreams.  Dedication!  Dedication to such a degree that others may label you as a crazy fanatic!  Remember, the greatest moment is not one of success, it is one of compromise.  He does not succeed, but he finds joy with a compromise.  He finds another way of accomplishing at least a part of his dream.  And, perhaps most importantly, at least he tried!  It is the effort that counts more than the accomplishment.

 

Are you willing to dedicate your life to some important effort such as this?  If yes, what?  If not, why not?  What is pushing you forward?  Are you aware of what is motivating you?  Are their solid values underpinning that motivation?  What is holding you back?  How can you overcome whatever it is that is holding you back?  Remember, fear of failure should not hold you back.  Success should not be your goal, so failure will not be your fear.