When Film4 announced the Werner Herzog season later last year I must admit Fitzcarraldo (1982) was the main film that I wanted to see really. A film that is so ambitious and bombastic has to be seen for itself. Another Herzog character driven by an obsession that cannot be soon forgot. If it’s not Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald – ‘Fitzcarraldo’ (Klaus Kinski) love for opera with his lover Molly (Claudia Cardinale) it’s his determination to see things through. Meeting him coming in by the scruff of his neck to an opera recital almost at it’s end he persuades the usher to let them through, raging he has a right to be there. Imbuing his passion onto another, it’s infectious and I don’t even like opera. Kinski is the perfect actor for Herzog with the face of someone on the edge, the steely blue eyes that stare at you with a fierceness that you cannot deny. Yet at the same time he doesn’t lose sight of reality…too often.
Fitzcarraldo is supported and loved by Molly the only one that really understands and shares his passion for all things opera, Able to look beyond the weird exterior to see a great figure before her. Also acting as his only way to function in high-society, holding the purse string to him purchasing land and a steamboat that see him leave her to seek out his fortune to fulfil his ultimate dream, an opera in the Peruvian jungle. An admirable task that causes a lot of mockery from successful businessman Don Aquilino (José Lewgoy). Always at the mercy of others to facilitate his dreams. The hopeful dreamer always relies on the help of others to bring them to reality, this is no different, each with their own obstacles to overcome.
For me it was seeing the powerful visuals of the boat, it was all about the boat for me. The kid inside us all wants to see the impossible happen, this is one of those rare times, the poster is not enough really. We see it on the promotional material, not knowing fully how it gets there. I just couldn’t comprehend how it could be done. The engineering behind pulling off this feat, not just in front of the camera and for real. This happens before the film crew and the audience eyes, a boat fresh out of water, driven by natives who have their own motives.
The journey into Fitzcarraldo’s new land is not without its problems, a crew that he cannot fully trust, an engineer who he knows is there to spy on him and a captain (Paul Hittscher) who knows the dangers that lie within the trees, death and curses. Who can he really trust, acting by his wits to get them up stream. The added threat of the natives is the real gamble, hearing only dances, he retorts with opera music, the only music he know. It’s only a native superstition that saves the crew from certain death, turning their fortunes around.
The great feat to ensure his dream come to fruition needs him to secure his fortune from rubber trees, from other side of a mountain. Why doesn’t he just walk across or have gone up the other river you ask? He has though this all through we find. Before us we see acres of land chewed up not just for a films location and shoot, but for a boat to be pulled up metre at a time through a system of pulleys and turnstiles that lift up this small steamboat out of the water. It doesn’t seem possible, no models or camera trickery seem to be have been used during this. It’s an event film like you’ll never see again. The impossible brought to life in film and reality, you have to see it to believe it.
This was indeed worth the wait to see before we are brought back down to earth with a bump, as the boat is at the mercy of the rapids, determining the outcome of the films conclusion. A risky film to make and film, it could have all gone incredibly wrong for Herzog who puts everything on the line, much like Fitzcarraldo does himself, so much is at stake for both men, in front and behind the camera. Mirroring the film process, to have a big idea that has to be back by investors who either believe in your idea or not, wanting to see you succeed or fail. Leaving your family to bring an idea to life, whilst leaving your loved ones behind. Left vulnerable to the fate of the day at hand, nothing is certain, its how we turn that fate to our advantage.