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Reflections From the Making of Fitzcarraldo

by Werner Herzog & translated by Krishna Winston

Pub Date: July 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-06-157553-2
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

The acclaimed director’s diary of his time making Fitzcarraldo (1982).

From the beginning, the film faced more challenges and uncertainties than most of Herzog’s other movies, and he composed a lengthy list that ended with the grim forecast that it could “be added to indefinitely.” Filming had to start anew after Jason Robards, the original lead and an actor Herzog came to scorn, abandoned the project halfway through due to illness, and Mick Jagger, set to play the lead character’s assistant, had to drop out to go on tour. When filming restarted, it was with German actor Klaus Kinski, a raving, unhinged presence in these journals—his volatility so alarmed the locals that they quietly asked the director if he wanted Kinski killed. Then there were the nightmarish logistics of the famous scene where a steamship is dragged over a small hill in the jungle, from one river to another. Herzog insisted that, as the central metaphor of the film, the event must be recorded without any compromise. (Much of the behind-the-scenes drama is recorded in Les Blank’s documentary Burden of Dreams.) Herzog’s journals effectively map the director’s dislocation and loneliness, but they also highlight his unique imagination and the profound effect the remote Peruvian location had on him. The writing is haunted by what Herzog came to see as the misery of the jungle, a place where “all the proportions are off.” He slept fitfully, when at all, and there is a hallucinatory quality to the journals—the line between what is real and what is imagined becomes nearly invisible. Recorded daily, with occasional gaps and fragments, Herzog’s reflections are disquieting but also urgent and compelling—as he notes, “it’s only through writing that I come to my senses.”

A valuable historical record and a strangely stylish, hypnotic literary work.