Fitzcarraldo, Blu-ray (1982/2015)

by | Feb 9, 2015 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Fitzcarraldo, Blu-ray (1982/2015)

Director: Werner Herzog
Actors: Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale
Cinematographer: Thomas Mauch
Studio: Werner Herzog Film/ Shout Factory SF 15578 [1/13/15]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 1080p color HD
Audio: German DTS-HD MA 2.0 or English DTS-HD MA 5.1 or 2.0
Subtitles: English
Music: Popul Vuh
Extras: Audio commentary by Herzog and producer Lucki Stipetic, Audio commentary by Herzog in German, Theatrical trailer
Length: 158 minutes
Rating: *****

One of Herzog’s greatest films was called by Roger Ebert “a quest film in which the hero’s quest is scarely more mad than the filmmaker’s.” Rubber baron Fitzcarraldo dreams of having a great celebration of grand opera in his isolated Peruvian Amazonian town of Iquitos. To finance the dream he exploits a huge group of rubber trees in an impassable area, and depends on the work of a strange tribe of near-primitive indians who are bewitched by the sound of Caruso 78s Fitzcarraldo plays on board his steamship.

But there is a barrier to getting from one branch of the river to the other, and the only way is to have his huge steamboat lifted with winches up over a mountain to a different river. They fight fever, mosquitos and terribly suffocating heat in the process, bt this is about the only Herzog-Kinzi movie in which the crazed star actually smiles sometimes and seems to be having a fairly good time. He also makes a fine partner to the beautiful Cardinale, despite his reputation for crazily hating everyone, especially women. At one point the Indian chief wants to kill Kinzki, and it is easy to see why.

The many problems with the filming – which took years – brought about, are no less than the problems Fitzcarraldo might have had originally. Les Blank, a filmmaker friend of Herzog’s, shot a magnificent documentary called Burden of Dreams on the making of Fitzcarraldo, and I used to think it was even better than Herzog’s film. But seeing this lovely reissue in Blu-ray again I think they are about equal as masterpieces, though Herzog said that Blank only spent about five month on the shoot and missed some real crises. Herzog destroys the rumour that some of the indians were killed during the attempt to pull the steamboat up over the mountain. He said those scenes were written into the script and were only dramatic for the film. But then he also poo-pooed the killing of thousands of lab rats in making Nosferatu because he wanted to paint the white rats grey.

Of course Herzog prefers the German language track with the film, and his English audio track is fascinating to hear, but the English 5.1 soundtrack is also excellent. What an experience!

—John Sunier

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