Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Currently Watching: "Fitzcarraldo" (1982)


Klaus Kinski literally pulls industry against the forces of nature
in Werner Herzog's "Fitzcarraldo"

I know I haven't done one of these in a long time.  Chalk up to my boredom and lack of creativity more than anything.  I at least had to write a few words about Werner Herzog's "Fitzcarraldo," which I saw for the first time last night.

The film is about Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, a man so determined to bring an opera house to a rubber capital in South America that he literally drags a steamship over a mountain in order to get the money.

The delirious Klaus Kinski stars, and gives a performance I felt much richer than his other audacious work in "Aguirre: The Wrath of God."  Whereas Aguirre is staged so minimally and simplistically so as to afford a gradual build of dramatic constrictions, Fitzcarraldo is much more epic in scope, much freer with the camera and the music, and while not quite as meditative it feels more explosive.  Herzog, with each new film of his I see, is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers for the delicate ways he considers man's relationship with nature.

Fitzcarraldo may be one of the most magnanimous films I've seen on this little-developed conflict that rarely shows up in film (or if it does, it's always relegated to a subplot), and while the film is definitely about Fitzgerald and his eccentricities, it is also about his capitalist drive to conquer the nature in front of him.  As always in Herzog, the music plays a major role, and the uses of fog, trees, and water feel intimate and personal.  Characters are alternatively dwarfed and magnified by and against these natural environments.

It's also my understanding that most of the film was ACTUALLY recreated; very very little miniature work was actually done.  I haven't seen the supposedly great doc "Burden of Dreams," but knowing Herzog I'm willing to believe most of this.  Part of what makes him so great is that especially in this and Aguirre (I've only seen documentaries + Rescue Dawn outside of these, so I can't really comment deeper), he and the protagonist are almost interchangeable: both go through ridiculous means to accomplish their personal goals, and this passion is palpable.

Herzog is insane, but his insanity is infectious.  Fitzcarraldo reminds me of why I love epics, of how they work so well when man is pitched against his indomitable opponent.  Even at 2.5 hours, I was captivated wholly by the film and couldn't imagine it shorter.  A great, great piece of work I'm so glad I finally got to see.

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