The creative process can sometimes seem like moving a 320-ton ship uphill. Sometimes, you actually have to do that.
If you follow any of us Raindancers on Twitter, you may have seen our April Fool’s joke about the WernAcular plug-in. bit.ly/WernAcular The gag is that this plug-in will change the voice in all your dialog to that of filmmaker extraordinaire Werner Herzog.
But who is this Werner Herzog and why should you care?
Next up, in our list of 1852 Films You Have to Watch, the movie that is said to be one of the most difficult movies ever made, Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” and Les Blank’s documentary on its making, “Burden of Dreams”.
There are some films in which the production itself was so unbelievable that they spawned a separate film documenting the process. For some films, to truly understand it, you really need to know the backstory (a.k.a. the horseshit) that went into its production.
1982’s “Fitzcarraldo” is about Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski) is a (very German looking) Irishman who wants to bring opera, specifically Enrico Caruso, to the Peruvian Amazon in the early Twentieth Century. To do that, he needs to build an opera house.
To get the large sum of money he needs to build the opera house, he decides to harvest rubber from a swath of land that is almost impossible to reach by boat due to a long section of rapids and, of course, the indigenous people who want nothing to do with outsiders.
To get to the land, he has to portage (which means “carry” – didn’t know the word before this article), well, he got the locals to portage, a 320-ton boat over a steep, 40-degree hill.
Werner Herzog is, to say the least, a stickler for authenticity.
He shot the film on location in the Amazon AND actually moved a real 320-ton riverboat up and over the hill; no special effects were used at all! He actually moved a huge motherfucking riverboat up and over hill!
I should note that there was a Peruvian rubber baron by the name of Carlos Fitzcarrald from whom Herzog drew inspiration for this film. Fitzcarrald actually executed natives if they didn’t help dismantle and carry a boat over the mountain.
However, according to Herzog, the original was only a 30-ton vessel broken up into fourteen or fifteen parts or, 2-tons per part.
Herzog did not break his boat up. The whole damn boat went up and over the hill.
Just to see that, would be reason enough to watch Fitzcarraldo.
However, we have to discuss the 1983 BAFTA winner for Best Documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo, Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams”.
If Burden didn’t exist, I don’t know if Fitzcarraldo would be as legendary as it is because no one would have believed it.
Now, we have the 320-ton boat, three of them actually, and one of them has to get up the hill. In Burden, we actually see how that was done and it is AMAZING.
But what happened before the moving of the boat is even more amazing.
Jason Robards and Mick Jagger were originally cast as Fitzcarraldo and his assistant, respectively. After they shot about forty percent of the film, Robards contracts dysentery, has to fly back to NYC and his doctor orders him not to go back – he’s out. Jagger has a Stones tour to do, so, he’s out too.
Herzog now has to recast and get more money and oh yeah, the leaders of one of the local tribes are pissed that Herzog didn’t pay them off obtain their permission so they burned down their camp and all the sets.
These are only some of the highlights but there are so many more problems.
On its own “Fitzcarraldo” is an amazing piece of work. However, since we are talking about a film that was made over thirty-five years ago, historical context to fully appreciate it may be missing. I’m of the opinion that, to help you understand “Fitzcarraldo” better, watch “Burden of Dreams” first.
Werner Herzog is a true giant of independent film. There is really no one quite like him. His vision and dedication to authenticity, particularly as evidenced in Fitzcarraldo, is something to which more filmmakers should aspire.
I encourage you to do the same.
To find where these pictures are streaming in your neck of the woods, head over to https://www.justwatch.com/, the streaming search engine that shows where any movie is streaming in 32 different countries.