It probably helped that I saw Fitzcarraldo a few years ago, but I think it worth reading for the sheer volume of ridiculous detail and interesting tone -- there is a necessary detachment in the writing so as to report the basic goings on of making a film that involves pulling a huge ship up the side of a large hill or small mountain in the Peruvian jungle to get it from one river to another, but there is clearly a near-insane devotion to the necessity of doing so that renders the detachment a tactical surface, and a wobbly one plenty of times. That would be boring. I read it to see what this director—an astute observer of his environment and its inhabitants, whether two-or eight-legged, winged, horned, or beaked—saw during his two-and-a-half years in the Peruvian jungle. Despite this singular quest, film production slowed and stopped sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently, often due to the weather frequently enough for observations, musings, and dreams to interfere and leave their mark. The result is this book of collected journal entries.
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In order to do this, he must find a way of moving a largish steamship over a ridge that separates two adjacent rivers, the Camisea and the Urubamba.
Naturally, such an idea is madness on the face of it. But Herzog did it, and the result is a film production that will continue to amaze people as long as films are being watched.
Although in form the book is theoretically a documentation of an insanely difficult film production, it is as much a series of vignettes of life in the jungle, dreams, tales of encounters with snakes, spiders, Peruvian Indians, strange fish and birds, jungle rot, illnesses and wounds, and whatnot. Here is a brief example: When I tossed a cigarette butt, still glowing, into a metal sewer grating, suddenly something like a snake shot up out of the damp, black sewer, seized the butt, dropped it again at once, and disappeared just as fast.
It was a very large frog. Here is another typical instance of jungle life: Our kitchen crew slaughtered our last four ducks. While they were still alive, Julian plucked their neck feathers before chopping off their heads on the execution block. The albino turkey, that vain creature, the survivor of so many roast chickens and ducks transformed into soup, came over to inspect, gobbling and displaying, used his ugly feet to push one of the beheaded ducks as it lay there on the ground bleeding and flapping its wings into what he thought was a proper position, and making gurgling sounds while his bluish red wattles swelled, he mounted the dying duck and copulated with it.
There were also many descriptions of problems with the cast and crew, particularly with Klaus Kinski, who played the lead. After one of his crazier tantrums, a number of Campos Indians came up to Herzog and whispered whether he wanted to have the actor killed.
Kinski got wind of what was going on and immediately died down. This book is a classic and tells me more about the area around the Peruvian headwaters of the Amazon than I have seen in any other source. But then Herzog had made two films in the area.
In addition to Fitzcarraldo, there was the equally excellent Aguirre, the Wrath of God, also starring Kinski. Also, this book gives me a good reason for never having wanted to become a film director: I would have gone stark raving mad and would have had to be killed by the Indians out of spite.
Conquista de lo inútil (Werner Herzog)
Conquista De Lo Inútil (2008)