The jungle invites madness, the heat, the inhospitability, the myths and secrets it contains. Wages of Fear, The African Queen and most famously Apocalypse Now (wreaking havok both infront and behind the camera) all understood the power of such an alien land. Fitzcarraldo understands and embraces that insanity, mining a seam that runs so deep as to be endless.
Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Fitzcarraldo to the locals) dreams, yearns, to bring opera to the heart of Peru. To acheive the money and notoriety such an endeavour requires he takes on the task of harvesting rubber from the deepest, darkest parts of the rainforest. Aquiring a steamboat and a crew he sets about his task with a kind of fevered ambition.
Klaus Kinski plays Fitzgerald with no shame, no fear and an air of charisma that could change worlds. His bug eyes, white teeth and electric hair hum and buzz with the passion of his goal which he pursues relentlessly. His is a performance that throws out the rule book and converts non believers.
Fitzgerald has no money to speak of, speculating in a failed railway and the delivery of ice to sustain a meagre (opera filled) existence. To fund his expedition he borrows money from the madam of a local brothel, the desire of men to fuck ceaselessly being directly channeled into man’s desire to create is a blackly comic hint at things to come.
Deep into the rainforest, with his crew having fled, Fitzgerald unveils his plan to his three remaining men. If they can only drag the steamboat over a mountain untold riches will be theirs. He enlists the help of savage natives by subdueing them with opera and his boat (“they know we are not gods but the ship has really impressed them….” is a memorable line) and together they clear a path and begin to undertake the impossible.
Directed with a command of the medium and a zeal that more than reflects his protagonist, Herzog has made a formidable film. A giant story that speaks to everyone with even a flicker of desire or passion to pass on to others. Religious without being so crass as to invoke god whilst simultaneously celebrating the creation of art and that same futility Fitzcarraldo has lasted this long and will continue for as long as we do.