Fitzcarraldo (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

A long and meandering, but ultimately powerful, fable about the power of our hopes and dreams. Written and directed by the legendary Werner Herzog.

Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) is a 19th century dreamer who has lost massive amounts of money on projects like trying to sell ice deep in the Amazon. A trip to the beautiful opera house in Manaus, itself deep in the jungle, convinces him that he needs to build an equally magnificent opera house in Iquitos, Peru, which is nothing more than a few shacks sinking into the mud.

Nobody will finance such a project, of course, except his wife, who is the madame of the local bordello, and her riches are insufficient for a plan of such grandeur. But she has enough money to finance another scheme. Fitz has found a massive forest of rubber trees which he can buy and claim as his own according to Peruvian law, provided that he can exploit the rubber. If he can make a fortune from the rubber, he can build his own opera house.

Only one problem. In order to get there, one must sail upstream through impassable rapids. But Fitz has a plan.

There is another river, a navigable one, which loops to within a short distance of the impassable one. They are separated only by a small mountain peak. Fitz plans to sail up the navigable river, drag his steamship over the hill, and drop it into the unnavigable one, above the impassable rapids. From there, he can work his operation. So the bordello earnings finance his steamship and his land claim, and he's off into the jungle.


none. except some fleeting native women
Fitz really has nothing but his crazy dream, and no specific logistics to make it work. How will he get past the local headhunters? Even if he gets there, how will his crew of twenty guys and a winch manage to drag a steamship over a mountain?

Amazingly enough, he pulls it off. He soothes the local headhunters with his recordings of Caruso, gets a local indian tribe to assist him with all their manpower, and together they drag the boat over the mountain and place it in the other river.

Of course, the achievement of the impossible calls for a celebration. The Europeans and the Indians dance and drink well into the night, and when Fitz wakes up, he finds that his boat has drifted back downstream into the deadly rapids. It turns out that the indians felt that the boat needed to be cast adrift in the deadly rapids to appease the evil water spirit. Amazingly, the boat and Fitz do survive and eventually drift back to Iquitos.

The dreamer did the impossible and lost everything the next day. Then he faced sure death and survived.

He still has his steamship, so he agrees to sell it to one of the rubber barons. With the profits, he rents the Manaus opera company for one night, and does manage to stage a grand opera in Iquitos - on the steamship as it sails. The film ends, as it began, with the presentation of an opera, but this one alfresco at full steam.

If that sounds to you like a great adventure, you are right. It is, in many ways, one of the greatest films ever made. The basic story is great, the images are spectacular, and the realism is incomparable. Why do I make a special note of the realism? Because Werner Herzog actually duplicated all of the actions portrayed in the movie. They didn't use any miniatures or camera tricks. They actually refurbished an old steamship and dragged it over a peak covered with tropical vegetation, and they actually used an old-fashioned winch and indigenous people to do most of the work. Then they took that steamship and floated it through some rapids for the next scene. The only false note was struck in the fact that the ship was obviously deserted when it was filmed shooting through the dangerous rapids, although it was not supposed to be. But that's a minor point. It looks like they were actually there doing all those things because they were! It took them three years, filming non-stop in the jungle, to make the film, even working around a border war between Peru and Ecuador.

To make the film more interesting, they never translated the natives' language, which left the viewers in the POV of Fitz and the crew, never quite sure what the natives wanted, always wondering if they were going to be killed in the night. In addition to those positives, the photography is beautiful, and the DVD transfer is excellent except for the first couple of minutes. (I guess there was some damage to the source media in that short opening stretch)

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, enhanced for 16x9 screens

  • The audio track is available in both German and English. It was originally filmed in English.

  • There is also a full-length commentary track from Werner Herzog.

Unfortunately, the film isn't easy to watch. My description probably makes it sound more exciting than it is. It is 157 minutes long, the dialogue is sparse, and the individual scenes sometimes go on way too long. But it's still a helluva movie.

By the way, noted nutball Klaus Kinski almost didn't make it through the movie. As you may know, Kinski was despised by pretty much everyone who ever met him. Herzog had worked with him before and didn't want him, but his first star (Warren Oates) died, and his replacement (Jason Robards) took ill. Fitz's sidekick (Mick Jagger) had to honor his other commitments. Kinski was available, so they wrote out the sidekick completely, made the dialogue suitable to Kinski, and moved on. At one point the natives, who hated Kinski as much as everyone else, came to Herzog and asked if they should kill him for real!

Quite a story. The film is good, but the story behind it is incredible.

The Critics Vote

Maltin 4/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.6,
My guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B, not an easy watch, but interesting, and a must-see for serious film buffs.

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