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Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo Hardcover – 15 Jun 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1 edition (15 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061575534
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061575532
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.7 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 651,955 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“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

One of the most revered filmmakers of our time, Werner Herzog wrote this diary during the making of Fitzcarraldo, the lavish 1982 film that tells the story of a would-be rubber baron who pulls a steamship over a hill in order to access a rich rubber territory. Later, Herzog spoke of his difficulties when making the film, including casting problems, reshoots, language barriers, epic clashes with the star, and the logistics of moving a 320-ton steamship over a hill without the use of special effects.

Hailed by critics around the globe, the film went on to win Herzog the 1982 Outstanding Director Prize at Cannes. Conquest of the Useless, Werner Herzog's diary on his fever dream in the Amazon jungle, is an extraordinary glimpse into the mind of a genius during the making of one of his greatest achievements.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"...in 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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Format: Paperback
Oh, how I enjoyed this: the filth, the misery, the degradation, the hopelessness.
Don't read this expecting to learn anything about moviemaking, but you will learn a lot about determination (or stubbornness). Herzog has a wonderful eye for detail and an almost poetic turn of phrase, especially when describing the overwhelming, pitiless jungle. Based on this I would never in a million years visit the Peruvian jungle, but I'm glad Herzog did.
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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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