“It’s only the dreamers who ever move mountains”
If the judgment criteria for a film included the way it was made and the circumstances under which it was pulled off, Fitzcarraldo (1982) perhaps would rate as the best movie ever made. The Reason? Take a look at the outstanding documentary on the making of Fitzcarraldo – Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (1982) – and see if you can believe it. Watching the making of Fitzcarraldo is like watching Picasso paint in Clouzot’s The Mystery of Picasso (1956) as we practically witness the work of art take shape through an array of improvisations and brainwaves and burst out into its moment of glory. One begins to wonder if the final product alone is sufficient while assessing an artist or if the tools and means of its creation should be considered too.
I may sound like appreciating the making of the film more than the film itself. But that in no way takes the credit away from Fitzcarraldo as a standalone piece. Some consider it as Herzog’s best film. Clearly, it is up there with the likes of Stroszek (1977), Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972) and a few others. Fitzcarraldo follows the titular character’s larger-than-life quest to harvest rubber from a practically isolated plantation in order to make money to build an opera house. The central activity involves the towing of a gigantic ship from one Amazonian tributary onto another with the help of the supposedly savage natives. The story and the one behind it are legends by themselves and I would like to just add whatever we see on-screen is indubitably autobiographical – not in the physical sense, but the emotions underneath.
Fitzcarraldo is clear evidence that Herzog has this natural inclination to stage operas. Even though he would argue against bringing ideas of opera into cinema and vice-versa, Fitzcarraldo comes out as a grandly staged opera with its own exhilarating crescendos and chilling decrescendos. Herzog direction percolates into as far as his locales that seem to have taken a demonic life of their own. The ever-shocking Kinski in tandem with that element of Herzogian mystery are sure to haunt you long after the film has ended.