German film poster
|Directed by||Werner Herzog|
|Produced by||Werner Herzog
|Written by||Werner Herzog|
|Music by||Popol Vuh|
|Editing by||Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus|
|Release date(s)||5 March 1982|
|Running time||157 min.|
|Language||German, Spanish, Asháninka|
Fitzcarraldo is a 1982 film written and directed by Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski as the title character. It portrays would-be rubber baron Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an Irishman known as Fitzcarraldo in Peru, who has to pull a steamship over a steep hill in order to access a rich rubber territory. The film is derived from the real-life story of Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fitzcarrald.
Brian Sweeney "Fitzcarraldo" Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski) is a European living in Iquitos, a small city in Peru in the early part of the 20th century. He has an indomitable spirit, but in essence is little more than a dreamer with one major failure already behind him — the bankrupted and incomplete Trans-Andean railways. A lover of opera and a great fan of the famous tenor Enrico Caruso, he now dreams of building an opera house in Iquitos. This will require considerable amounts of money, and the most profitable industry in Peru at the time is rubber. The areas known to contain rubber trees have been parceled up by the Peruvian government and are leased for exploitation.
Fitzcarraldo investigates getting into the rubber business. He is shown a map by a helpful rubber baron, who points out the only remaining unclaimed parcel in the area. He explains why no one has yet claimed the parcel: while it straddles the Ucayali River, the parcel is cut off from the Amazon by a treacherous set of rapids. However, Fitzcarraldo notices that the Pachitea River, another Amazon tributary, comes within several hundred meters to the Ucayali upstream of the parcel.
To make his dream a reality, he leases the inaccessible parcel from the government. With the selfless underwriting of his paramour, Molly (Claudia Cardinale), a successful brothel owner, he buys a steamer (which he christens the Molly Aida) from the same rubber baron, raises a crew and sets off up the Pachitea, the parallel river. This river is known to be more dangerous the farther one gets from the Amazon because of the unfriendly tribes that inhabit the area. Fitzcarraldo's plan is to reach the point where the two rivers nearly meet and then, with the manpower of enlisted natives, physically pull his three-story, 320-ton steamer over the muddy 40° hillside across a portage, from one river to the next. Using the steamer, he will then collect rubber on the upper Ucayali and bring it down the Pachitea to market.
The majority of the ship's crew, at first unaware of Fitzcarraldo's plan, abandon the expedition soon after entering the territory of the natives, leaving him with only the captain, engineer, and cook. However, the natives are impressed by him and his ship, becoming his labor force without really understanding his intentions. After a devastating first attempt, the ship is successfully pulled over the mountain with a complex system of pulleys, worked by the natives and aided by the ship's engine. However, when the crew falls asleep after a drunken celebration, the chief of the natives severs the rope securing the ship to the shore, sending it floating down the river and crashing through the rapids. His reasoning for this is to appease the river gods, who would otherwise be angered that Fitzcarraldo defied nature by circumventing them.
Though the ship manages to traverse the rapids without major damage, they find themselves back in Iquitos with nothing to show for it. A despondent Fitzcarraldo sells the ship back to the rubber baron, but first sends the captain on one last voyage. He returns with the entire cast of the opera house, including Caruso. The entire city comes to the shore as Fitzcarraldo, standing atop the ship, proudly displays the cast.
The 1982 book Fitzcarraldo: The Original Story from Fjord Press (ISBN 0-940242-04-4) reproduces Herzog's first version of the story before the screenplay was written.
- Klaus Kinski as Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Fitzcarraldo)
- Claudia Cardinale as Molly
- José Lewgoy as Don Aquilino
- Miguel Ángel Fuentes as Cholo
- Paul Hittscher as Captain (Orinoco Paul)
- Huerequeque Enrique Bohórquez as Huerequeque (The Cook)
- Grande Otelo as Station master (as Grande Othelo)
- Peter Berling as Opera Manager
- David Pérez Espinosa as Chief of Campa Indians
- Milton Nascimento as Blackman At Opera House
- Ruy Polanah as Rubber Baron
- Salvador Godínez as Old Missionary
- Dieter Milz as Young Missionary
- William Rose as Notary (as Bill Rose)
- Leoncio Bueno
The story was inspired by the real life Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald; in the 1890s, Fitzcarrald did bring a steamship across an isthmus from one river into another, but it weighed only 30 tons (rather than over 300), and was carried over in pieces to be reassembled at its destination.
In his autobiographical film Portrait Werner Herzog, Herzog has stated that the film's spectacular production was partly inspired by the engineering feats of ancient standing stones. The film production was an incredible ordeal, and famously involved moving a 320-ton steamship over a hill without the use of special effects. Herzog believed that no one had ever performed a similar feat in history, and likely never will again, calling himself "Conquistador of the Useless". Three similar-looking ships were bought for the production and used in different scenes and locations, including scenes that were shot aboard the ship while it crashed through rapids, injuring three of the six people involved in the filming.
Casting of the film was also quite difficult. Jason Robards was originally cast in the title role, but he became ill with dysentery during early filming and, after leaving for treatment, was forbidden by his doctors to return. Herzog then considered casting Jack Nicholson, and even playing Fitzcarraldo himself, before Klaus Kinski accepted the role. By that point, forty percent of shooting with Robards was complete, and for continuity Herzog was forced to begin a total reshoot with Kinski. Mick Jagger was originally cast as Fitzcarraldo's assistant Wilbur, but due to the delays his shooting schedule expired and he departed to tour with the Rolling Stones. Herzog dropped Jagger's character from the script altogether and reshot the film from the beginning.
Klaus Kinski himself was a major source of tension, as he fought virulently with Herzog and other members of the crew; a scene from the documentary My Best Fiend depicts Kinski raging at production manager Walter Saxer over trivial matters, such as the quality of the food. Herzog notes that the native extras, contrary to Kinski's feeling of closeness to them, were greatly upset by his shows of anger. In My Best Fiend, Herzog says that one of the native chiefs offered, in all seriousness, to murder Kinski for him, but that he declined because he needed Kinski to complete filming. In one scene, when the crew is eating dinner while surrounded by the natives, the clamor the chief incites over Fitzcarraldo was, according to Herzog, his exploiting their hate of Kinski.
The soundtrack album (released in 1982) contains music by Popol Vuh, taken from the albums Die Nacht der Seele (1979) and Sei still, wisse ich bin (1981), performances by Enrico Caruso, and others. The film uses excerpts from Verdi's Ernani, Leoncavallo's Pagliacci ("Ridi, Pagliaccio"), Puccini's La bohème, Bellini's I puritani, and from Richard Strauss' orchestral work Death and Transfiguration.
The film holds an 83 percent Fresh rating on the movie aggregate Rotten Tomatoes.
Related works 
Les Blank's 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams, about the production of the film, documents the many hardships of the production. Blank's footage, some of which also appears in Herzog's Portrait Werner Herzog and My Best Fiend contains some of the only surviving footage of Robards and Jagger in Fitzcarraldo and many scenes documenting the ship's journey over the mountain.
Herzog's personal diaries from the production were published in 2009 as the book Conquest of the Useless, published by Ecco Press. The book includes an epilogue with Herzog's views on the Peruvian jungle 20 years later.
The Metalocalypse episode "Dethcarraldo" parodies elements of the film, including a scene where a massive boat is pulled over a mountain.
In her parody "From the diary of Werner Herzog" in the The Boston Phoenix in 1983, Cathleen Schine describes the history of a fictitious film Fritz: Commuter as "a nightmarish tale of a German businessman obsessed with bringing professional hockey to Westport, Connecticut."
The film won the German Film Prize in Silver for Best Feature Film. The film was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Film, the Palme d'Or award of the Cannes Film Festival, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Herzog won the award for Best Director at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.
- In reality, however, the Pachitea is a tributary of the Ucayali, not a third river, and they meet nearly 500 kilometers south of Iquitos. The real map looks nothing like the one Fitzcarraldo draws for Orinoco Paul.
- Blank, Les (1982). "English captions of documentary Burden of Dreams from 1:11:25 to 1:12:40". Burden of Dreams. Archived from the original on 2006-11-01. "[—Werner Herzog:] Well, the boat that [Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald] actually pulled across was only 30 tons. [...] Besides, they, uh, disassembled it in about 14 or 15 parts [...] The central metaphor of my film is that they haul a ship over what's essentially an impossibly steep hill. [...] [—Les Blank:] a complicated system to pull Herzog's ship over the hill [...] But the system is designed for a 20-degree slope. Herzog insists on 40 degrees."
- Blank, Les (1982). "English captions of documentary Burden of Dreams from 0:02:09 to 0:02:36". Burden of Dreams. Archived from the original on 2006-10-31. "[—Werner Herzog:] There was a historical figure whose name was Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald, a caucho baron. I must say the story of this caucho baron did not interest me so much. What interested me more was one single detail. That was, uh, that he crossed an isthmus, from one river system into another, uh, with a boat. They disassembled the boat and – and put it together again on the other river."
- Herzog, Werner (2001). Herzog on Herzog. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-20708-1.
- enricobassi.it Fitzcarraldo soundtrack album
- Fitzcarraldo soundtrack album at Discogs (list of releases)
- Ebert, Roger. "Fitzcarraldo".
- Ebert, Roger. "Fitzcarraldo (1982)".
- Addiego, Walter (3 August 2009). "'Conquest of the Useless,' by Werner Herzog". The San Francisco Chronicle.
- Schine, Cathleen (January 18, 1983). "From the diary of Werner Herzog". The Boston Phoenix. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- "Festival de Cannes: Fitzcarraldo". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 11 June 2009.
- Fitzcarraldo at the Internet Movie Database
- Fitzcarraldo at Rotten Tomatoes
- Fitzcarraldo at Filmportal.de (German)