It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Herzog moved the mountain rather than the ship.
Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski reunite for the second last time, returning to the sort of Peruvian locations they had traversed when making Aguirre: The Wrath of God a decade earlier, but not reaching the same creative heights this time around. The bulk of the movie is spent on Fitzcarraldo’s crazy quest to transport, with the help of the local native tribe, a steamship over a mountain from one river to another. Beyond any inherent artistic value, the main point of watching and enjoying this stems from the knowledge that Herzog actually did it himself as part of the (troubled) production of the film; we’re watching Fitzcarraldo do something incredible and quixotic, and in doing so we’re watching Herzog do something equally incredible and quixotic, only he’s doing so to make this film rather than to succeed as a rubber baron and use his riches to build an opera house. The parallels between Fitzcarraldo and Herzog – both undertaking this venture for the sake of art – are pretty hard to miss. I wonder how cognisant Herzog was of all this? In any event, though watching the crazy quest has its attractions, it doesn’t, in my opinion, amount to a fulfilling narrative (despite the lovely ending), and therein lies the film’s key problem. As for the performances: Kinski is fine as usual (despite failing to put in any effort to play Fitzcarraldo as an Irishman) and Claudia Cardinale does well as his love interest, though of course she disappears throughout the steamship-over-hill section so what’s the point?
An image that promises to haunt my dreams just as it did the protagonist’s (and presumably Fellini’s).
Ambitious film from Fellini that works on several levels at once: it’s a self-referential movie about movie-making, an intensely personal glimpse into his psyche, a piece of philosophy about creativity and art, and a meditation on memory, life and happiness. It’s also often very entertaining, and though it’s uneven, it has moments of great clarity and a spectacular ending. What could so easily have failed or come across as pretentious wankery somehow comes together neatly and still holds up well today. Western fans will recognise Claudia Cardinale from Once Upon a Time in the West. Nino Rota’s score features one song very reminiscent of his theme for The Godfather a decade later. Sgulp!