Fitzcarraldo (1982)

Fitzcarraldo (1982)

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The operation to replace his male sexual organs with a gramophone were a success.
The operation to replace his male sexual organs with a gramophone were a success.

Twitter Plot Summary: Opera obsessed Fitzcarraldo sets off on an expedition to tap the last unclaimed source of rubber in the Amazon rainforest.

Five Point Summary:

1. Kung Fu Parrot!
2. Umbrella!
3. That’s a lot of boats.
4. Getting a ship up a mountain. No easy task.
5. The natives are up to something…

In what is perhaps a spiritual companion to their earlier collaboration in Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski reunited again for this journey down the Amazon river. This time it’s in much more civilised times as Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, aka Fitzcarraldo (Kinski) plans to build an opera house in the middle of the jungle, but first he needs funds. The only way he can achieve this in a short space of time is to join the rubber industry and there’s only one patch of land in the jungle that hasn’t been claimed – one on a tributary that is surrounded by river rapids. Given a strict deadline by which to complete his project, Fitzcarraldo sets off on a steam boat with a crew of workers, the ship’s captain, cook and engineer. Matters are complicated, again in Aguirre style, by the presence of the indigenous people living in that section of the jungle.

Kinski is in typically unhinged territory, his hair an unkempt mess and once more looks liable to go completely off the rails at any moment. This should come as no surprise given that the natives featured in the film genuinely offered to kill Kinski for Herzog due to his abrasive behaviour whilst filming. Kinski is perfectly cast as Fitzcarraldo for exactly this reason – only somebody who isn’t all there would concoct such an audacious plan and not inform the crew as to his intentions. Roping the natives in to help, without asking them or making it absolutely clear what he intends to do, is also indicative of a legitimately mad plan.

"Now where did I leave my boat?"
“Now where did I leave my boat?”

The main sequence, and the most impressive, features the steam boat being hauled over the hill and down to the other side in order to start up his rubber business, all of which was purportedly completed with a bulldozer and no special effects. This was a task that was genuinely completed as part of the production, but gives the impression that Herzog would never be a director you would wish to work for if you wanted to come out of the filming schedule unscathed. The sequence on the rapids was also shot for real and it seems that three of the men who volunteered to be on the boat as it moved down the rapids were injured as a result. All things considered, you’d probably be better off politely refusing if Herzog ever offered you a part on his latest production. In circumstances such as this, it could be hard to determine who’s the most insane out of Herzog and Kinski, but however you look at it they often managed to get the best out of each other despite their antagonism.

Whilst the journey has its ups and downs, and it’s perhaps slightly too long, the narrative has a nice sense of coming full circle with the opera-obsessed Fitzcarraldo getting the last, triumphant word. Despite all the tensions on set and Kinski’s own behaviour, it is at least a fitting resolution for the character and a final joyous ending that seems to indicate that the journey down the Amazon was worth it after all.

Score: 4.5/5

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