When Werner Herzog has an idea for a movie in his head there are three certainties: 1) the movie is gonna get made, 2) Someone is gonna die during the filming, and 3) the movie is gonna be amazing.
So in 1979, Herzog had a movie in his head. The story was called Fitzcarraldo and it was set in the jungles of South America (Peru in particular). Magically, he allowed documentary filmmaker Les Blank along for the ride. The result is Burden of Dreams.
Burden of Dreams has much in common with the documentary Hearts of Darkness. They are both about passionate men who go to the jungle to make movies and get pulled to the verge of MADNESS… (facty, settle down…)
This film documented the entire production as Herzog cast Warren Oates (drill Sgt. Hulka in Stripes) as Fitzgerald, and Mick Jagger as his friend. He gathered his camera and his crew, but before their departure, Oates died of a heart attack. Filming was delayed.
They found Jason Robards free and willing –snip—this is where I must tell you that by 1979 Herzog’s reputation as a psychotic megalomaniac who would do and sacrifice anything to get his shot was well established. He had a core crew who worked with him on most of his shoots including his cinematographer Thomas Mauch, but for the average human he was too much to take. Seriously. –snip— to make the trek down into the deepest rainforests for art. They gathered everybody up and headed for Peru.
There are delays and problems at every turn. They left their first location when war broke out between Peru and Ecuador. Herzog forged a document from the President of Ecuador for passage to the new location where the locals still weren’t thrilled to host them.
Nearly halfway into filming Robards got amebic dysentery, he had to go home and quit the movie. Mick Jagger left with him. Halt production.
The more you learn about Herzog, the more you believe that fate has an interest in filmmaking – it’s my favorite explanation for him casting his most hated friend Klaus Kinski in the role of the obsessed Irishman Fitz. Though the men hadn’t spoken for the last year they called a truce. Filming resumed.
Look how much tribulation I just wrote about – AND THEY JUST STARTED FILMING THE REAL MOVIE!!! There is a plane crash; ships run aground, restless natives get more and more aggressive. Kinsky threatens to leave the set and Herzog threatens to SHOOT HIM WITH HIS SHOTGUN!
“I’ll put eight bullets in your arm. The last one is for me”
“Whoever heard of a shotgun with nine rounds?”
All the while, Herzog is getting more and more obsessed with the project. He embraces this madness. Some say Herzog trades his sanity for his art. I say he uses these obsessions to get a special kind of high – this movie captures him not in a psychotic episode but in a reverie.