'Fitzcarraldo' DVD Review **** 071805


The Work = ****
How strange it is that a totally unhinged man would be the grounding anchor in the film 'Fitzcarraldo'? Strange as it is, that is exactly what Klaus Kinski provides in the title role of the film ' Fitzcarraldo'. He helps give the movie importance and meaning with his wonderful performance. It keeps the movie from being what would almost be simply a film of spectacle.

There is not a false note in his work here and he proves to be the perfect compliment to Werner Herzog’s direction. Take the scene where he brings his gramophone to a socialite party so he can play opera for the rich attendees. Watch his face and his body language as he plays the music. He wants so dearly for the social elite to understand his love of the music and his visions of bringing opera to the middle of the jungle.

That is more or less what the film is about, a man pursuing his visions. He has faltered before. His attempts to make a railroad through the jungle resulted in tracks barley leaving the station, and now the titled character Fitzcarraldo wants to bring opera to the jungle. The man loves his music. He is so convincing he is able to talk his way into an opera.

It is his conviction that allows him to slowly get the funding for his scheme. His plan is to take a steam boat down river in the middle of the jungle. Then at a point in the river he will drag the giant steam ship through the jungle, over a mountain, and into a parallel river. Here’s where things get interesting. Fitzcarraldo gets his funding and makes his way down river where the natives bang their drums in hiding in the jungle.

Many have been killed by the natives when they entered their home turf. Fitzcarraldo’s response? He plays opera as loud as he can on his gramophone in response to the drums. The drums are temporarily silenced. Then the locals blockade the river with trees, board the ship, and wonder if Fitzcarraldo may be a god. Seeing an opportunity he uses the local’s hesitant worship to his advantage and he enlists them to clear jungle and drag the boat over the mountain using an elaborate set of ropes and pulleys.

'Fitzcarraldo', the movie, is often listed as one of the greatest movies ever made and one reason for that is the shear spectacle of the boat going over the mountain. Filmmaker Werner Herzog had a real boat dragged over the mountain and the footage of the boat creaking up the mountain and back down is a sight to see. Now, I am going to say something that will sound like blasphemy to many cineastes. I love the movie and I love Herzog but I think the movie is a little long.

It takes awhile to get going but once it does is thoroughly engaging. It is just the slow lead in to the boat climbing the mountain takes a long time. Still the fault is probably with me; itching to see the footage of the boat ascending.

'Fitzcarraldo' is a must see for all its spectacle and the wonderful performance of Kinski. As much trouble as it seems he was, the man could act when he was put to task. I find Fitzcarraldo to be a great film but a little long. That may just be me though.

DVD = ****

The Look
'Fitzcarraldo' is presented in anamorphic widescreen in the aspect ratio of 1.75:1. The transfer is pretty good. I suspect the film looks about as good as it is going to look. Some of the wide shots didn’t look as sharp to me as some of the tighter shots but that may just be the nature of the source material.

The Sound
The DVD has German Dolby Digital 5.1 track, the original mono German track, the original English mono track and a 5.1 English track. The film was actually shot in English mono track so that is the track I watched. The German 5.1 track did seem good to me but I did not watch the whole film in German. The DVD has English subtitles (which I used when watch the film with the German sound track) and they were different from the English dialogue. As I said, I did not watch the whole film in German, but what I did watch had sometimes additional meaning in some of the dialogue. From what I saw it was not a huge difference but it did add subtly to the content.

The Bonus
The DVD has a great commentary track by director Werner Herzog, the producer (and Herzog’s brother) Lucki Stipetic, and Norman Hill. Hill acts as the narrator and helps to carry the commentary track along. His contribution is pretty big because anytime there is a big gap in the talking he prods the brothers with another question. The three cover almost everything about the film film. Herzog says that he prefers the German language track and I suspect that dialogue is closer to what he intended. I still prefer the English track because it sinks up better with the performances.

They talk about some of the adventures that occurred during filming and some of the quirks of working with Kinski. Herzog attempts to tone down his image as a crazed filmmaker and insists some of the onscreen events were not as dangerous as they appear to have been. The only real shame is that this DVD really could have done with inclusion of 'Burden of Dreams'. (Thankfully that film has been released on DVD by Criterion.)

All together = ****
This is an easy one to recommend. The informative commentary track helps to make up for the DVD lacking the film 'Burden of Dreams', although that is now available separately. That is only such a notable loss because the making of 'Fitzcarraldo' is as impressive as the film itself. This is a legendary film and well worth checking out. I think if you are a fan of Herzog or Kinski this is a no brainer.’ If you are curious give it a rental.


'Fitzcarraldo' Links:


Review of 'My Best Friend' (A documentary made by Herzog on his friendship and work with Kinski.)

Review of 'Incident at Loch Ness' (A fun movie for fans of Herzog, that he stars in.)

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