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Fitzcarraldo (1982) Review

An angry, blonde, German man forcing a group of natives and crew members to push a steamboat over a large mountain is certainly a premise I’d been dying to see. In fact, Fitzcarraldo was the one film from director Werner Herzog I had wanted to see the most of all. After finishing up Aguirre: The Wrath of God, I was rather eager to see what his further collaborations with Klaus Kinski would offer up. By far the most famed and acclaimed is Fitzcarraldo, and after viewing it, I’m still not all that sure why it’s held in such a truly high regard.

Kinski and his hot-headed performance take centre stage once again throughout Fitzcarraldo, a film where Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Kinski) attempts to bring the opera into the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. In the hopes of bringing the beauty of seeing people dolled up in strange Viking costumes, echoing their warbly voice around a room full of socialites, Fitzgerald, better known as Fitzcarraldo, assembles a crew in the hopes of constructing an opera house deep in the heart of the jungle. As far as stories go, Fitzcarraldo certainly has a tremendously unique stance to it.

With the biggest prop the film has to offer being Klaus Kinski, it’s a shame that everyone around him can’t match the speed and energy of his performance. Kinski throws himself into the role, stirred by the dialogue that, to be frank, could use some work. The rest of the cast members however are on the complete opposite end, with some genuinely awful performances on the whole. Most of the supporting cast are either forgettable, useless or just generally poorly represented. A lot of performances feel like they just have nothing to offer, with characters coming and going without much interest in the script.

The legend that swirls around this film is now a bigger story than the film itself. With a shift in interest to the tumultuous relationship between Herzog and Kinski, and the background antics going on behind the scenes are now far more interesting than anything Fitzcarraldo can offer. It begins to seep over into the film, feeling more and more like a film on the brink of collapse. The biggest downfall to the film is the interest held not on camera, but behind it. With the documentary My Best Fiend releasing some years later, it feels like the song and dance of two larger than life creatives knocking heads with one another is more interesting than whatever they set out to do for Fitzcarraldo. 

A film which has all the novelty of an erupting volcano, but the storytelling merits of the most mediocre and disinteresting of films, Fitzcarraldo is blown out of the water by none other than itself. Herzog’s direction is fine, Kinski hangs on by a thread and throughout, I was left wondering what the whole point of it all was. An interesting expedition into the dangers of the jungle, completely foiled by an incompetent cast.

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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