Fitzcarraldo (1982)

Klaus Kinski plays the lead role in this very impressive Werner Herzog film. Anchor Bay UK R0 boxset and single release.

The Film

Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) is a massive opera lover who travels over a thousand miles down the Amazon to see a performance by his hero Enrico Caruso. Returning to his home in Iquitos he has the dream of bringing the Opera there too. In order to make money to build the opera house he decides to sell rubber from trees in an untapped reserve, but in order to get his boat there he needs to drag it overland between two rivers, but inbetween is a mountain...

Fitzcarraldo is loosely based on real stories - there were rich rubber barons who built opera houses in the jungle and imported European Opera singers, and there was a man named Fitzcarrald who moved a boat across land between two rivers - but in true Werner Herzog style, the film's storyline is a wonderfully exaggerated and stylised version of history. The plot is surprisingly detailed, giving a plausible explanation for the entire boat moving operation, and giving the Fitzcarraldo character a very good backing - there are enough twists and turns to keep the audience interested, with it all ends fittingly. The pacing is surprisingly quick, and despite the 2 hour plus runtime, the film does seem almost rushed in places. Although Herzog was criticized by some elements of the media for his use of natives in the film, the script treats them and their customs with a great deal of respect.

Herzog's direction is decent here, with a mix of fixed and handheld camera-work that helps to give a very realistic feel to much of the film, although not quite the documentary feel that boosted Aguirre (1972). The editing is rather more Hollywood style than the langurious pace of many of Herzog's 1970s films, although this does help to keep the film moving faster than normal. A scene where the crew of the ship visit Fitzcarraldo's abandoned rail terminal plays out in under 5 minutes, yet it has enough detail to have lasted up to 20 minutes in one his classic films. The most important part of the production was the fact that Herzog and crew really had the boat pulled over the mountain, giving effects that could never be replicated in a studio. The soundtrack is a mix of opera and incidental music from Herzog regular Florian Fricke which boasts some of his most haunting musical themes.

Klaus Kinski was not originally cast in the film, but when actor Jason Robards had to withdraw when he fell ill, Herzog managed to persuade the notoriously tempramental Kinski to take on the lead role - fortunately for him, and for the us, Kinski accepted. His performance is fantastic, although rather atypical, Fitzcarraldo may be bordering on insane, but less the raving lunatic of Augirre (1972) than a visionary man, driven by his passion for music, and for possibly the only time in his entire film career, Kinski's character looks really happy and even smiles. The remaining footage of Jason Robards (with a sidekick played by Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger) shows his performance to be quite different, more a straight forward adventure picture. Claudia Cardinale gets second billing, but only has a minor role as Fitzcarraldo's friend/lover and financial backer. Miguel Ángel Fuentes is probably most recognisable as the Aztec from the MST3k favourite, Puma Man (1980), he plays the engineer, and certainly has the physical size and stregth for the role. The rest of the cast look fine.

Fitzcarraldo is the fourth Herzog/Kinski partnership, and although ostensibly a more mainstream style production than the surreal and dream-like Aguirre (1972) and Nosferatu (1979), it still boasts hints of the respective documentary and stylised feels of these two films. Fitzcarraldo is an entertaining film and recommended to all Kinski and Herzog fans, anyone wanting to experience these two for the first time will probably find this very accessible film a good place to start. Recommended.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Klaus Kinski - One of the biggest names in Euro-cult cinema, most famous for his 5 films with Herzog.
Directed by anyone interesting? Werner Herzog - one of European cinema's best directors with a powerful artistic vision in all his films.
Any violence/gore? Some mild violence.
Any sex? Some mild references.
Who is it for?
Recommended for all Herzog/Kinski fans, and a good starting place.
Good Soundtrack?Another haunting soundtrack from Florian Fricke, coupled with some classical Opera.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 Anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print looks good with light grain and print damage. There is a slight softness to the picture, although not very noticable.
Audio German 5.1, and stereo. English 5.1. The tracks sound good, with good stereo seperation, although 5.1 element is rather flat.
Subtitles English - transcribes the German track.
AvailabilityAvailable as a single disc release, or in the Herzog Kinski collection boxset.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio Commentary with Herzog, his brother/producer Lucki Stipetic and moderator Norman Hill. Detailed and interesting.
  • Original cinema trailer.
  • Talent bios of Kinski, Cardinale and Herzog.
  • On screen film notes, from the book Herzog on Herzog.
  • Photo gallery, 14 publicity and behind the scenes shots.
Region Region 0 (ALL) - PAL
Other regions? Anchor Bay R1 DVD - sharper print. German DVD includes the documentary Burden of Dreams (1982) as well, but no English subtitles.
Cuts? None known. German language print.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 18th August 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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