Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo is a beautiful constructed masterpiece of gigantic epic proportions and is one of the boldest and bravest films in the history of the cinema. A film project like this could never be made today, because the film-making process that Herzog and his cast and crew endured was grueling, risky and at times life threatening, filming on location in the jungles of South America. The film tells the story about a madman, his love for the opera and who is greatly obsessed with the idea in building an opera house in the middle of the Amazon jungle. To achieve this he is determined to drag a large boat over a mountain so he is able to cross from one end of the river to another. To achieve this effect Herzog could have used special effects for the scenes of the 360-ton boat being hauled up a steep and dangerous 40-degree slope in the jungle, but he wanted the audience to witness something that was real and authentic; and for them to know that what they were watching was not special effects and the boat was not a fake.
The tortured production history of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (ably recorded in Les Blank's documentary Burden of Dreams) tends to take the spotlight away from this deeply mesmerizing film. And that's unfortunate, because the film itself is even more fascinating than the trials and tribulations, amazing though they might be, that led to its being made. Part of the problem is the film's deliberate, some might say ponderous, pace, which invites the viewer to experience the slow immersion into the jungle that Fitzcarraldo and company experience. Herzog did something similar in Aguirre, the Wrath of God, sometimes aiming his camera at the river rapids for extended periods of time, with hypnotic results. This could never happen in a Hollywood film, and it should be treasured. --Jim Gay
The making ofFitzcarraldo was made into a documentary which was titled Burden of Dreams directed by Les Blank and Maureen Gosling. They spent time in the jungle with Herzog, Klaus Kinski, and the cast and crew during the making of Fitzcarraldo and after you watch the documentary you come to realize that everyone that had something to do with the making of Fitzcarraldo was clearly scarred and damaged by the experience. You learn about all the struggles that Herzog had to endure during the making of the film including the steamboat slipping back down the hill, a crew member being bitten by a deadly snake but saving his life by cutting off his foot with a chainsaw, and even having Herzog's Brazilian engineer resigning and walking away from the film after telling Herzog there was a 70 percent chance that the cables would snap and dozens of lives could be lost trying to get the ship over the mountain. Klaus Kinski was a major source of tension on the set, as he fought virulently with Herzog and other members of the crew. In My Best Fiend, Herzog states that one of the native chiefs offered, in all seriousness, to murder Kinski for him, but that he declined because he needed Kinski to complete filming.