For nearly five years, acclaimed German filmmaker Werner Herzog desperately tried to complete the most ambitious and difficult film of his career-Fitzcarraldo, the story of one man's attempt to build an opera house deep in... more » the Amazon jungle. Documentary filmmaker Les Blank captured the unfolding of this production, made all the more perilous by Herzog's determination to shoot the most daunting scenes without models or special effects, including a sequence requiring hundreds of natives to pull a full-sized, 320-ton steamship over a small mountain. The result is an extraordinary document of the filmmaking process and a unique look into the single-minded passion of one of cinema#s most fearless directors.« less
"Or maybe it will sink its teeth into you. The most compelling dreams are not neat and tidy and are not easy to understand, not even by the person who has and fulfills the dream. That's the case with Werner Herzog's dream of filming the story of Fitzcarraldo. If you liked that movie, this documentary is a must-see, a fascinating look at all the problems Herzog had during the making of the movie. The film is not just about the obvious difficulty of moving the steamship over a mountain in the middle of a jungle. First, there are problems with local Indians that cannot be resolved and so the first location must be abandoned. At the new location, with 40% of filming complete, the star of the movie Jason Robarbs becomes sick and goes home to recover. His doctor forbids him to return. Then Mick Jagger drops out because he can't stay the extra months needed to reshoot the film. (I was disappointed that there was only a minute or two of footage showing Robarbs and Jagger). Back in Germany, Herzog's investors ask him, Do you have the strength or the will or the enthusiasm to continue? He replies, "How can you ask this question? If I abandon this project, I would be a man without dreams. And I don't want to live like that." Filming continues and there is one more delay and problem after another. Herzog has three ships so he can shoot at different locations and two of them run aground, due to low river levels and the driest season in years. The film does a good job of showing both Herzog's reactions to these problems and his determination to continue in spite of huge financial and personal costs. Most of my criticisms have to do with the limitation of films generally, namely that I wanted to know alot more about this story. I wanted to understand more of Herzog's complex relationship to the jungle, I wanted to understand why he continued to try moving the ship after his engineer walked away and predicted that people might be killed. I wanted to see more of Herzog in action and have a more intimate glimpse of his creative process. But for a ninety minute documentary, I basically can't complain, it did the job of telling the story of the making of Fitzcarraldo."
Classic behind the scenes film
Philip Brubaker | 01/14/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Fans of Apocalypse Now or Hearts of Darkness should check this out. It is a documentary detailing the madness Werner Herzog went through in making his film Fitzcarraldo in the jungle. This movie is great because it shows how Herzog's struggles in making his movie parallel those endured by the main character in Fitzcarraldo. Both figures attempt to drag a huge riverboat literally over a mountain in the middle of the Amazon. If you enjoy behind the scenes documentaries or believe in man's obsessive nature, you should see this."
Herzog fans REJOICE!
Kippered Herring | NYC | 03/15/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First, Anchor Bay gave rain to our parched Herzog-loving throats with the release of many of the eccentric German maestro's greatest feature films. And now, Criterion offers Les Blank's astonishingly beautiful and gloriously weird documentary on the desperate creation of one of those classic titles, Fitzcarraldo. A production that started off starring Jason Robards and Mick Jagger wound up with the director threatening to murder star Klaus Kinski if he walked off set! See Herzog obsessively orchestrating the movement of an entire steamboat over a treacherous mountain in Peru! No special effects for this master.
"Without dreams we would be cows in a field, and I don't want to live like that. I live my life or I end my life with this project." If every filmmaker thought this way, do you think we'd have to sit thru Son of the Mask?
As a five-star added bonus, we get "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe," a brilliant short doc by Blank which chronicles Herzog actually cooking and devouring his boot after promising Errol Morris to do so if Gates of Heaven was ever completed! Herzog also uses the opportunity to declare war on American television!
God bless Criterion - here's hoping they follow up this exciting release with some unavailable Herzog docs like La Souffiere, Dark Glow of the Mountain, or Wings of Hope, and some other Les Blank rarities like Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers and In Heaven There is No Beer..."
Mesmerizing Account of the Filmmaking Process
David Baldwin | Philadelphia,PA USA | 05/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Prior to viewing "Burden of Dreams" I had this preconceived notion that this film was akin to "Hearts of Darkness", the documentary about the making of "Apocalypse Now" where the megalomaniacal director slowly goes mad after countless delays and on-set disasters. To the contrary, director Werner Herzog comes off as a rational artist who, despite the setbacks he encountered during the making of "Fitzcarraldo", soldiers on to see his vision come to fruition. Documentarian Les Blank gives a full-bodied account of the elements that Herzog had to contend with from the volatile nature of the film's setting in the Amazon to dealing with the indiginous tribes who were crucial to the film. Blank meticulously documents the production from it's shaky beginnings to it's end. You get the feeling that Herzog had probably entered this project with great enthusiasm but was relieved some five years later to be done with it. I haven't seen "Fitzcarraldo" in a number of years and it had slight resonance to me. You be the judge as to whether all the energy and resources expended in this endeavor was worth it. Not to be missed, Criterion includes a short subject from Blank, "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe" which demonstrates Herzog's integrity in keeping a bet with budding filmmaker Errol Morris. There is also a recent interview included with Herzog where he gives his account of events during the making of "Fitzcarraldo" but is at pains not to denigrate Blank's document."
Interesting, but not as impressive as it once seemed
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 07/20/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Following the astonishing trail of disasters Werner Herzog faced making 'Fitzcarraldo' on location in Peru - including tribal wars, a seriously ill Jason Robards' departure after 40% of the film had been shot, one ship running aground due to low rainfalls and another obstinately refusing to move up the mountain - Les Blank's famous and once groundbreaking documentary has dated badly.
It's an excellent portrait of Herzog's obsession and the growing madness surrounding the shoot, but it's more a catalogue of catastrophes rather than a candid view of the shoot: although unused footage was shot of Kinski's tantrums, the star and director's relationship is all but ignored and you tend to get the feel of a superior travelog giving the official version (a lot of the other real crises happen offscreen). There's plenty of absurdity on view, such as prostitutes being brought to the native workers camp on the advice of the local Catholic missionary, but 'Hearts of Darkness' it ain't. But you can't help but admire the way that, unlike Fitzcarraldo, who falls prey to the dreams of the natives he thinks are working for him, Herzog manages to cling on to his dreams and ultimately triumph, incorporating each new on-set disaster into his film.
No complaints about Criterion's DVD treatment - the extended theatrical version of the documentary in a beautiful print with commentary, a new 39-minute interview with Herzog, a couple of deleted scenes that were used in Herzog's own doc 'My Best Fiend,' trailer, copious stills gallery and a book with substantial extracts from production journals. An excellent companion piece to 'Fitzcarraldo,' but it probably has less appeal to those not so interested in the film."