Reviewed by: Dave Murray
What's it about
In his desperate, and almost obsessive, adventure to bring an opera house to a small town in Peru where grossly rich rubber barons have mansions next to the slums of the natives who serve them, Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) hatches a plan to exploit an unexposed and seemingly inaccessible plot of rubber trees for the cash he needs. But to do so, he must first transport a steamboat OVER a bloody mountain to avoid the waterfalls, with the help of the natives, who are of course as in love with opera music as he is.
Is it good movie?
It is an awesome movie. Not everyone's cup of tea, but I seriously dug it. I've always loved Herzog's work, and despite being beaten with a whole bushel of ugly sticks, Klaus Kinski is a brilliant actor who's classic talent is being all but forgotten in this age of cut-and-paste pretty tabloid stars. Fitzcarraldo is the last of five successful and critically acclaimed collaborations between the two (which include the excellent Nosferatu as well), and in my opinion, it is one of the best. The locations are gorgeous, and the steamy, mosquito hell of Peru is brought to vivid life in this tale of a man who wants to bring about the impossible in a place devoid of miracles.
What makes the movie so heartbreakingly emotional and dynamic is the Oscar calibre performance by Kinski as the title character, an opera fanatic deperately trying to raise money to build an opera house, and to bring the greatest voice the opera world has ever seen to the small Peruvian village he lives in. And the backdrop of this village, this culture where children starve and slave in the streets and gardens next to the houses of the obese, greedy rubber merchants is one of painful realities and harsh life lessons. But Kinski's character is so obsessed with bringing something that, to him, is magical into the jungle, that he tries to pull off the impossible to cut and sell an unexplored tract of rubber trees. Seriously, anyone who'd try and haul a steamboat over a f*cking mountain to avoid some nasty rapids isn't all there to begin with. And the journey would just be the final push into madness. But Kinski brings charm and a touching sense of personality and depth to his quietly manic character, and as much as Herzog's visuals, it's his talent that drives the whole movie.
Complimenting him is an excellent cast, which includes the gorgeous screen beauty Claudia Cardinale in a very memorable role as Fitz's biggest supporter, but it is the native extras that steal most of the show. Herzog's move of using hundreds of indigenous actors and extras gives a level of stark realism to the movie that makes the story all that much more powerful and entertaining.
But the movie is not perfect. The so-called "greatest opera voice" is grating on the nerves (but then again, I'm not an opera fan), and some of the social commentary is on the not-so-subtle side. But when all is told, this is an entertaining and good looking flick, and it's well worth the ticket price. As an addition to the "Cult Fiction" film series from Anchor Bay, it more than holds its own among some pretty spectacular movies. But then again, I'm a fan of both Kinski and Herzog. If you are too, then this movie is a must have.
Video / Audio
Video: Widescreen - 1.85:1. The lush Peruvian jungle looks sweet in this crystal clear transfer.
Audio: German and English (Dolby 2.0 Surround) and subtitles in English. The German soundtrack is a little off, but the English is much easier on the ears. It still doesn't help with the opera though.
It's some pretty standard fare here, and less than what is on other Cult Fiction releases from Anchor Bay. Other than the usual Trailer, Talent Bios (which are lengthy and fascinating, especially for Herzog and Kinski) and the Still Gallery, there is an audio commentary by the legendary German director, and with producer Lucki Stipetic. It's a fascinating listen, a glimpse into the process and thoughts of a film making genius. This was a larger than life production, and while it would have been nice to see some more of the making of other than still photos, the commentary is quite good.
As far as Herzog-Kinski collaborations go, this one is right up there with Nosferatu for visuals and talent. There is a depth of story here, in what is seemingly a very simple story on the surface. Despite the annoying opera music, this is a nearly perfect movie. Poignant, emotional and well told, it's the story of a man trying to bring something he loves to the place that he loves. It's also a depressing look at the subject of class differences in third world countries, a topic for which this movie (along with the big ass steamboat) is remembered. It's not horror, but it is genius filmmaking. If this is your bag, check it out.