Cast & Crew
Miguel Angel Fuentes
The story of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an extremely determined man who intends to build an opera house in the middle of a jungle.
Miguel Angel Fuentes
David Perez Espinosa
Miguel Camaiteri Fernandez
Nicolas Camaiteri Fernandez
Pascual Camaiteri Fernandez
Isabel Jimenez Decisneros
Manuel Cuadros Barr
Pedro Natorce Ahuanari
Walter Pinedo Alvarez
Gustavo Cerff Arbulu
Eglington Ayarza Boulloza
Pedro Padilla Chota
Guardamino Benigno Paucar
Rene Baneo Vazquez
Hans Peter Vogt
Henning Von Gierke
Like the movie's title character, Herzog faced a slew of seemingly insurmountable hurdles. When the project initially took shape, Twentieth Century Fox was interested in backing it and Jack Nicholson was interested in the starring role, but both possibilities fell apart. Fox insisted that the arduous boat-moving scenes had to be filmed in the studio with miniatures and special effects - a plan quickly rejected by Herzog, who was determined to make a wholly authentic film with an almost primitive look and feel - and Nicholson decided he couldn't spend a long time away from Hollywood in the depths of the Amazon jungle.
Acting as his own producer along with Lucki Stipetić, his brother, Herzog proceeded to cast Jason Robards as Fitzcarraldo and Mick Jagger as a slow-witted Englishman who becomes the hero's friend and sidekick. When almost half the picture had been shot, Robards contracted a serious illness, went away for treatment, and received strong medical advice not to return to the jungle. Soon after that, Jagger had to leave for a previously scheduled Rolling Stones tour. Forced to start shooting all over again, Herzog wrote Jagger's character out of the screenplay and offered the title role to Kinski, a notoriously hard person to work with, as Herzog knew all too well, having already made three pictures with him: the masterpiece Aguirre, the Wrath of God in 1972, the horror remake Nosferatu the Vampyre in 1979, and the small-scale melodrama Woyzeck also in 1979.
Dealing with a difficult actor like Kinski in a difficult location like the Amazon Basin promised to be at least as hard as hauling a gigantic steamship over a perilous landscape, and Herzog was tempted to solve the problem by playing Fitzcarraldo himself. He went ahead with Kinski, however, and sure enough, Kinski's temper tantrums and fits of rage - sparked by everything from unsatisfactory food to unwanted contact with an animal - gave the director plenty to deal with throughout the shoot. He got along better with the great Italian actress Claudia Cardinale, who plays the story's one important female role, a brothel owner who loves Fitzcarraldo and provides financial backing for his scheme. The remaining characters are played by a mix of seasoned professionals (Peter Berling, Grande Othelo, Miguel Ángel Fuentes) and non-actors intensively coached by Herzog, who has always valued natural talent over formal training where acting is concerned. Since the cast members spoke multiple languages and dialects, Herzog shot the film in English and then dubbed it into German, which is the version he personally prefers. Dolby stereo was too expensive for the production, and Herzog was delighted when the soundtrack was digitized in stereo years later.
Filming in the Amazon Basin proved so arduous and unpredictable that Les Blank's movie about the shoot, the 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams, is almost as celebrated as Fitzcarraldo itself. Herzog blamed Blank's movie, however, for exaggerating the amount of danger faced by the Fitzcarraldo cast and crew. Although some scenes appear to be extremely hazardous, Herzog did everything he could to ensure safety: no one was threatened when the Molly Aida unexpectedly slid backward down a hillside, for instance, and when enormous trees crash into a river directly behind natives in canoes, a telephoto lens makes the distance appear much shorter than it actually was. Still and all, Fitzcarraldo was an adventure as well as a production, and the sheer physicality of its events - the weight of the steamship inching up the hill, the force of the hull hitting rocks in the rapids, the boom of dynamite used to turn a sixty-degree incline into a manageable forty-degree slope - comes powerfully through with every viewing.
Along with its realism and excitement, Fitzcarraldo is a triumph of artistic filmmaking. The gifted cinematographer Thomas Mauch had already worked on several Herzog films - including Aguirre, the Wrath of God, also shot in the Amazon jungle - and the lighting and camerawork of Fitzcarraldo have a painterly splendor that brilliantly sets off the tension and exoticism built into the story. The sound is also beautifully rendered, from the natural noises of the rainforest to the eclectic music track, which includes the mystical vibes of Popol Vuh and the voice of opera legend Enrico Caruso, which emits from Fitzcarraldo's beloved gramophone at regular intervals. The film begins and ends with opera scenes, the first of which was staged for Herzog by Werner Schroeter, a less-famous director with a distinctively flamboyant style.
Fitzcarraldo ranks with the most ambitious and audacious ventures in modern film, and it's a testament to Herzog's perseverance that it ever reached the screen. At one point the entire production was shut down for a full five months because the water level on one side of the isthmus was too low for the Molly Aida to float in; one of the ships used for the river scenes stayed perched on the hillside until the tide rose again, and the other was stuck on a sandbar after running aground. Many directors would have retreated to the safety of a modest studio picture, but Herzog went on to projects in the Australian desert, the oil fields of Kuwait, and other far-flung locations. He also made the 1999 documentary My Best Fiend, about his love-hate relationship with Kinski over the years. Fitzcarraldo is a landmark achievement for both of them.
Director: Werner Herzog
Producers: Werner Herzog, Lucki Stipetic
Screenplay: Werner Herzog
Cinematographer: Thomas Mauch
Film Editing: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus
Production Design: Henning von Gierke, Ulrich Bergfelder
Music: Popol Vuh
With: Klaus Kinski (Fitzcarraldo), Claudia Cardinale (Molly), José Lewgoy (Don Aquilino), Miguel Ángel Fuentes (Cholo), Paul Hittscher (Captain), Huerequeque Enrique Bohorquez (Huerequeque), Grande Othelo (Stationmaster), Peter Berling (Manager), David Pérez Espinosa (Campa Chief)
by David Sterritt
The Country of West Germany
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1982
Released in United States 1982
Shown at New York Film Festival September/October 1982.
Five weeks after filming began in January 1981, Jason Robards came down with amoebic dysentery, and Mick Jagger withdrew due to other commitments. Klaus Kinski replaced Robards, but Herzog decided not to replace Jagger's role.
Began shooting between January and February 1981.
Began re-shooting between April and July 1981.
Completed shooting November 1981.
Began preparations in the Peruvian Amazon Jungle November 1979.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1982
Released in United States 1982 (Shown at New York Film Festival September/October 1982.)