Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Werner Herzog
German

“It’s only the dreamers who ever move mountains”

 

FitzcarraldoIf 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.

Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola
English

“The Horror, The Horror.”

 

Apocalypse Now

The name Francis Ford Coppola has become synonymous with The Godfather (1972). The Coppola-Puzo-Brando-Rota quartet had indeed pulled off what many could not even have dreamt of. But a film released a few years after the lionization of Don Vito Corleone, Apocalypse Now (1979), may arguably be Coppola’s real masterpiece. Fraught with stars such as Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne and Dennis Hopper, Apocalypse Now has the raw power to top the list of best (anti-)war movies.

Captain Willard (Sheen) lies on his bed in the interiors of Vietnam. He is fed up by the war yet is unable to detach himself from it. He tries to vent out his frustration physically. Note that many things here were completely improvised including the mirror shattering. He is called for action by his superiors and learns that he has to go in search of a man called Colonel Kurtz (Brando), who has deserted the army and had taken a course of action on his own somewhere in the neighbouring country. Willard is asked to “exterminate him with extreme prejudice”. Here begins Willard’s journey of discovering Kurtz and hence himself.

Coppola’s masterful use of imagery is at its peak in Apocalypse Now. The film starts with bright light and sparse locales. As the film progresses and as Willard ventures into his own dark psyche, the lights dim and the surroundings descend into thick impenetrable jungles and raging streams. By the end of the film, nothing but silhouettes is visible and Willard has discovered that he and Kurtz are one and the same by now. Though visibly inspired by Werner Herzog‘s astounding Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) in the use of landscapes, Coppola’s work has enough horsepower to be considered a standalone classic. Herzog’s film had a very fantastic setting and contemporary themes whereas Coppola’s is a more Americanized and hostile version rooted in reality.

The film’s relationship with Aguirre does not stop there. Very much like the trouble between the lead and the director in Aguirre (Herzog had made Kinski act at gunpoint!), Apocalypse Now, too, marked the souring of relationship between Brando and Coppola. First off, Brando refused to read Joseph Conrad‘s book as was needed by Coppola. Furthermore, Brando had accumulated lots of flak from the industry for supporting the cause of the natives and hence the Oscar refusal. He had become apathetic towards Hollywood and had become quite irritable by now. The epic documentary Brando (2007) provides some nice insights to the making of the film. Interestingly, Brando refused to share the screen space with Hopper stating that the latter hadn’t had a bath for days.

Primarily, Apocalypse Now depicts the variegated impact of war and violence on the minds of men and how a small perturbation can increase alarmingly into madness. Kurtz went awry, the photographer succumbed to it and Willard breaks away. If it was the mellifluous and grand waltz of Nino Rota, it is the aggressive and unmitigated freedom of The Doors. Right from the first minute with “This is the end”, their soundtrack embodies what could be called the zeitgeist of the 70’s. Master DOP Vittorio Storaro captures the escalating fright and savagery of the protagonist and the environment with equal vigour and provides an unparalleled showdown for this unparalleled war movie.

Aguirre, Der Zorn Gottes (1972) (aka Aguirre: The Wrath Of God)
Werner Herzog
German

“I, the wrath of God, will marry my own daughter and with her I’ll found the purest dynasty the earth has ever seen.”

 

AguirreAt the time when Rainer Werner Fassbinder was churning out a film in every two or three months, his contemporaries had to struggle to make a mark on the international arena. Things weren’t any better for Werner Herzog, a budding director just two films old… Read More