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Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo [Paperback]

Werner Herzog
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 July 2010

“Hypnotic….It is ever tempting to try to fathom his restless spirit and his determination to challenge fate.”

—Janet Maslin, New York Times


Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) is one of the most revered and enigmatic filmmakers of our time, and Fitzcarraldo is one of his most honored and admired films. More than just Herzog’s journal of the making of the monumental, problematical motion picture, which involved, among other things, major cast changes and reshoots, and the hauling (without the use of special effects) of a 360-ton steamship over a mountain Conquest of the Useless is  a work of art unto itself, an Amazonian fever dream that emerged from the delirium of the jungle. With fascinating observations about crew and players—including Herzog’s lead, the somewhat demented internationally renowned star Klaus Kinski—and breathtaking insights into the filmmaking process that are uniquely Werner Herzog, Conquest of the Useless is an eye-opening look into the mind of a cinematic master.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (1 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061575542
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061575549
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 7.9 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 93,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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“Hypnotic...Any book by Mr. Herzog...turns his devotees into cryptographers. It is ever tempting to try to fathom his restless spirit and his determination to challenge fate.” (Janet Maslin, New York Times)

“Reveals Herzog to be witty, compassionate, microscopically observant and—your call—either maniacally determined or admirably persevering.” (Los Angeles Times)

“Stands alone as a compellingly gonzo piece of reportage. . . . As a read, Conquest flies along—but not because it’s especially plotty. Rather, it gathers its kick from the spectacle of a celebrity director escaping the late–’70s famescape into his own obsessions.” (Time Out New York)

“Those who haven’t encountered Herzog on screen will undoubtedly be drawn in by the director’s lyricism, while cinephiles will relish the opportunity to retrace the steps of one on the medium’s masters.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Urgent and compelling. . . . A valuable historical record and a strangely stylish, hypnotic literary work.” (Kirkus Reviews)

From the Back Cover

Werner Herzog is one of our most revered contemporary filmmakers, a visionary director who ceaselessly tests the boundaries of art. Fitzcarraldo, his lavish 1982 film about a would-be rubber baron who pulls a steamship over a hill to access a rich rubber territory, was hailed by critics around the globe and won Herzog the 1982 Outstanding Director Prize at Cannes.

The text of Conquest of the Useless emerged as if out of an Amazonian fever dream: the crew's camp in the heart of the jungle was attacked and burned to the ground; the production clashed with a border war; two planes crashed during filming; and Herzog had to unravel the logistics of moving a 320-ton steamship over a hill without the use of special effects.

More than just a journal or diary of the shooting of Fitzcarraldo, Conquest of the Useless is a work of art unto itself, which charts the inner landscapes born of the delirium of the jungle and offers an extraordinary glimpse into the mind of a genius during the making of one of his greatest achievements.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refer madness 16 Jan 2010
By holdall
Because Herzog is Herzog,he dreams dreams, and precious little stops their painful realisation. In the dank, stinking, all consuming jungle, Herzog drags himself and a team of disciples through angry vegetation, to create a movie about a man who brings opera to the savage, entangled, heart of darkness. The pages of this extraordinary book will rot between your fingers, reclaimed to an organic mass, as the all consuming jungle covers, devours, and breaks everything down... equipment, lodgings, creatures, bodies, and finally the minds of the people cast in this astonishing and at times, terrifying tale.
A steamboat is pulled over a mountain, from one river to another. People are injured, people are poisoned, people will die. Throughout, Werner H, slipping and sliding into the quagmire, screaming with despair, writhing with toxic bile, insisting it must go on; and all of it will continue, relentlessly, through total destruction, through barbaric climate, amazingly, miraculously, finding a way, with its cast of hundreds, in the worst environment on god's wicked earth in which to make a motion bloody picture; onto the celluloid that becomes the movie, 'Fitzcarraldo'.
And as if the toxic jungle itself, the raging storms, the civil wars, the lack of money and organisation -as if this is not enough to halt the dreams that plague his mind, he finally realises he will not succeed unless he brings the craziest, most unstable bug-eyed monster he knows in there with him; the only man who could possibly share such weight of mental torment, the only man who could rant and rave in an alien landscape to such degree as to terrify the terrifying natives themselves, and the scattering wildlife that surrounds them - his best 'fiend', Klaus Kinski.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible book from an incredible director 22 Jun 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
" this setting, left unfinished and abandoned by God in wrath, the birds do not sing; they shriek in pain, and confused trees tangle with one another like battling Titans, from horizon to horizon, in a steaming creation still being formed. Fog-panting and exhausted they stand in this unreal world, in unreal misery -and I, like a stanza in a poem written in an unknown foreign tongue, am shaken to the core."

Me too dude, me too.

Perhaps it's because I'm a city girl, but Herzog's vision of nature - obscene, cruel, wrathful, chaotic, and filled with a beauty that is terrible - rings far more true to me than any amount of nature-boy ramblings on harmony and being at one with the earth. If you're a fan of Herzog (as I am) then you'll find as much to enjoy here as in any of his films. This is not just a film diary - it's nothing near as banal as that - but a collection of images, feelings, waking dreams and visions (both delirious and otherwise) borne from the chaos of attempting the Herculean feat of hauling a steamboat over a mountain in the rainforest (and simultaneously wrangling the colossal ego of the maniacal Klaus Kinski), while making an astounding film.

Hypnotic, compelling, poetic and hilarious, this is filled with so much material that I could easily re-read it a thousand times without once getting bored, and in fact already look forward to doing so. Whether I was being seduced by passages such as the one at the top of this review, cackling over his responses to the latest outburst from Kinski (I really, really enjoy their relationship, and never more so than when they're really NOT enjoying it) or wondering at the descriptions of his latest vision, I was never anything less than fully engaged and awed.

Wonderful, and highly recommended.
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8 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Little bit of Herzog on the side 7 April 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was hoping that this would be a detailed history of the making of the film "Fitzcarraldo", on location in the jungles of Peru - I've long been an admirer of Herzog's work and looked forward to reading about the nitty-gritty of the making of this particular film. Unfortunately, there is very little nitty and precious little gritty in this book. It is largely a disorganised ramble about what he DIDN'T do for the nearly five years it took to get the film from location to screen.
The word "Reflections" in the title should have alerted me. The book is organised - and I use the term loosely - into passages headed by the date that they are supposed to have been written, or written about. I presume that the intention is, as with Spike Milligan's diaries, to give a feeling of contemporaneity, as if the reflections were jotted down on the same day in the white-heat of the moment. However, I got the strong impression, as with Milligan's "diaries", that they were written long after the event, and with more of an eye for publication than as a real aide-memoire. There is a sense of pretention about much of the work, as if Herzog is saying "Oh look, aren't I charmingly eccentric? Don't you just LOVE me?" - e.g., the following passage, describing his return from a script conference in the US to the primitive jungle setting of the film ("Iquitos-Miami, 26 March 1984")-
"I stepped into a hole...full of putrid water. I felt utterly out of place...because I was still wearing the black pin-striped suit and black oxfords I had put on for meeting with lawyers in New York..." Oh, Bless...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Burden to create 29 Aug 2009
By S. Gutermuth - Published on
Herzog is a masterful film director and his films are based on his own, rich, screenplays. This extremely dedicated artist is also a wonderful writer. I could not put this book down. Herzog captures the intensity of the jungle and the personalities of the actors as they fray in the humidity and heat. He captures the raw opportunism of almost all the locals, hoping to cash in on a real "Hollywood film crew", who instead encounter a film maker who is a crazy genius, filled with visions. Intellectual entertainment.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful text 3 Oct 2009
By S. Levine - Published on
I'm not even a huge fan of Herzog but this book is amazing. I have been reading it while in my first semester in grad school, especially when I need to read something beautiful. Herzog's descriptions are so lush and illustrative, both the lovely and terrible. This is a book I will return to again and again. Poetry for those who don't like poetry.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius at work 27 Oct 2009
By Jonathan A. Weiss - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Herzog is a unique geniuse who produced this unique work. These are almost hallucinatory notes reflecting his thoughts as he made Fitzcarraldo. Dreams enter into rich descriptions. Some sections may make little sense but the book as a whole reveals how his force of will and vision created the movie. For anyone interested in the making of movies, a creative mind under very difficult circumstances, or the life in a jungle or on a movie shot in location, this book is a must.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Jungle Revels in Debauched Lewdness 30 May 2010
By Doctor Moss - Published on
Conquest of the Useless is Werner Herzog's journal while he was in the Amazon, planning and filming Fitzcarraldo. If you are a fan of Fitzcarraldo, this book, along with Les Blank's documentary on the filming (Burden of Dreams), give a real feel for Herzog's experience of the Amazon and the challenges in making the movie. He doesn't dwell very much on the best-known aspect of the story, his determination to haul a steamboat uphill and downhill from one tributary of the Amazon to another. This was very much Herzog's determination -- in the historical events that Fitzcarraldo is based on, the ship was disassembled and moved, not pulled over intact.

What he does dwell on is the Amazon itself. Herzog seems to enjoy love-hate relationships -- his relationship with the Amazon is much like his relationship with Klaus Kinski. At times he is repelled and rants against the jungle:

"The jungle is obscene. Everything about it is sinful, for which reason the sin does not stand out as sin. The voices in the jungle are silent; nothing is stirring, and a languid, immobile anger hovers over everything."

"Tumors form on the trees. Roots writhe in the air. The jungle revels in debauched lewdness."

Kinski appears, with his own rants, irrational behavior, just plain annoying, irritating behavior. He keeps insisting to Herzog that the jungle is erotic:

". . . Kinski amorously leaned his cheek against a tree trunk and then began to copulate with the tree. He thinks this is immensely erotic: the child of nature and the wild jungle. . . . . To me it was not erotic at all. I spat, only obscene."

Mick Jagger and Jason Robards also appear -- they were cast in Herzog's first attempt to film the movie, cut short by Robards' illness. Jagger comes off pretty well, seeming to enjoy the craziness of the whole thing. There are scenes of Robards and Jagger in Blanks' documentary, with Jagger playing Fitzcarraldo's assistant, Wilber. Claudia Cardinale also comes off very well, a kind of calming, graceful influence on everyone around her, even Kinski. Her character in the movie does the same.

If you aren't a fan of Fitzcarraldo, I don't think the book would really stand by itself. So watch the movie. Then read the book. Then watch Les Blanks' Burden of Dreams.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biutiful 10 Sep 2013
By Marķa Del Carmen R - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is like a Journey to Herzog's soul, very recommendable for those who want to be filmmakers or know a master in making films.
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