Culture Your Ass: Herzog Trilogy: “Fitzcarraldo”

Written by Barfoot August 27, 2011

This Culture Your Ass is a little different. I am not recommending one particular film, but rather three — the Herzog Trilogy. Those of you who know even a little of Herzog and his career can quickly point out that there is no such thing as the “Herzog Trilogy”. You are of course right. I made that term up to denominate three movies — one of which Herzog never actually directed — which surround the relationship between Werner Herzog, the director, and Klaus Kinski, the actor. Therefore, this is the first of three articles on that subject. I will start with Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo“.

“Fitzcarraldo” was the fourth feature film Herzog and Klaus Kinski worked on together.  They had both established their career together 10 years earlier with Herzog’s full-featured debut, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God“. Kinski as an actor was known for his animalistic rage, often screaming in tantrums onset for hours. Herzog reportly would always let Kinski have these harries, waiting until Kinski was completely exhausted and then he would continue to direct him. The relationship of both these men is peculiarly dramatic and chaotic, but more about them in the next two articles.

The Actor Klaus Kinski

“Fitzcarraldo,” if directed by anyone that wasn’t Herzog, won’t have been made. Filmed on the Amazon, its production encountered tribal warfare, guerrilla skirmishes, disease, lack of funding and a directorial mutiny led by non other than the actor Kinski. The film follows Fitzcarraldo an autobiographically eccentric visionary who wishes to shorten rubber transportation on the Amazon by dragging his ship up a hill.  All this is for the purpose of finding wealth to build an opera-house where the world famous Enrico Caruso can perform. Fitzcarraldo, which is just the Irish surname Fitzgerald said in Spanish, attempts this feat  using nothing but a couple hundred Amazon aboriginals, a few pulleys and a small bit of engineering.  The real obstacle of the films itself was that Herzog wanted to authentically  film a boat being pulled up a large hill in the middle of the Amazon rain forest just as his protagonist. In essence Herzog not only wanted to make a film about a feat of ingenuity and sheer will, but he also wanted to attempt it for himself.

The Director Werner Herzog

Well, it goes without saying that Herzog got the boat up the hill and with that finished “Fitzcarraldo”. When it was released in 1982 it won the Palm d’Or, the highest prize at Cannes.

Watch this film. I think you’ll really enjoy the animalistic acting of Klaus Kinski, the simple yet striking El moméntos de la verdád (moments of truth) given to you by Herzog, and the sheer magnitude of the Don Quixote-esque task of pushing a large boat up a hillside.

 

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