20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Magnificent film, but a shame about the subtitling,
This review is from: Fitzcarraldo  [DVD] (DVD)
Nearly a quarter of a century on, Fitzcarraldo has lost none of its impact. One thing which makes it still stand out so much today is its reality - not the plot, which takes a small incident from forgotten history and exaggerates it into a grandiose epic on the reality of dreams, but the fact that, with the exception of what appears to be one superior model shot in the rapids sequence, everything you see is done for real. A real ship dragged over a real mountain by real extras in a real location. In the CGi era, it's almost like watching a documentary, with Herzog literally BECOMING Fitzcarraldo as he acts out his dreams for real.
For all the fireworks between Kinski and Herzog, they bring the best out of each other: Kinski is every inch the obsessed dreamer and you really believe he HAS to bring opera to the jungle in a way that you simply can't imagine Jason Robards pulling off (Robards left the film after falling ill: from the brief extracts of his scenes with Mick Jagger to appear in the documentary Burden of Dreams - not included on the single-disc version but available separately from Criterion or in the two-disc edition from Starz - it was a blessing in disguise for the film). What's more, by the end of the movie, you really feel that Fitzcarraldo has earned his small triumph, and the wondrous smiles on the faces of Kinski and Claudia Cardinale prove that cinema's greatest weapon is the human face.
It's just a shame that Anchor Bay's DVD misses several key lines in the subtitles from the superior German version, which meant skipping back the DVD to play it with the inferior English dub to catch the missing lines before switching back to German again, a sad blemish on an otherwise excellent disc that's repeated on the two-disc reissue from Starz that uses the same master.
Unlike the previous release from Anchor Bay (Starz is the company's new name rather than a new label), the two-disc edition does come with the infamous feature-length documentary about the making of the film, Burden of Dreams, although none of that film's copious extras to be found on the US Criterion DVD.
Following the astonishing trail of disasters Werner Herzog faced making Fitzcarraldo on location in Peru - including tribal wars, a seriously ill Jason Robards' departure after 40% of the film had been shot, one ship running aground due to low rainfalls and another obstinately refusing to move up the mountain - Les Blank's famous and once groundbreaking documentary has dated badly.
It's an excellent portrait of Herzog's obsession and the growing madness surrounding the shoot, but it's more a catalogue of catastrophes rather than a candid view of the shoot: although unused footage was shot of Kinski's tantrums (and can be seen in Herzog's documentary My Best Fiend, not included here), the star and director's relationship is all but ignored and you tend to get the feel of a superior travelog giving the official version (a lot of the other real crises happen offscreen). There's plenty of absurdity on view, such as prostitutes being brought to the native workers camp on the advice of the local Catholic missionary, but 'Hearts of Darkness' it ain't. But you can't help but admire the way that, unlike Fitzcarraldo, who falls prey to the dreams of the natives he thinks are working for him, Herzog manages to cling on to his dreams and ultimately triumph, incorporating each new on-set disaster into his film.
An excellent companion piece to 'Fitzcarraldo,' but it probably has less appeal to those not so interested in the film.