Try and forget Fitzcarraldo. You can’t. Regardless of one’s opinion, the film is as memorable as a sunset. A remarkable cinematic feat , Fitzcarraldo surpasses even itself; the “behind the scenes” story film parallels the on-screen happenings and then some. Director Werner Herzog knew it. So much so that he invited Les Blank to document the making of the film.
Fitzcarraldo the man—who he was exactly is unclear—was madly determined to build an opera house in early twentieth century Iquitos, Peru. He attempted to fund his dream by harvesting the rubber from an area previously inaccessible because of two major obstacles; rapids that make travel on one river too dangerous, and the cannibalistic indigenous that populate the area of another approach to the region.
Unfazed by the immense challenge his project faces—that must be some damn good opera—Fitzcarraldo, ever thinking outside the box, devises yet another solution to a problem where most would find none: transport an entire steamship over an Amazonian mountain with nothing more than engineering know-how and a little elbow grease provided by an Amazonian tribe.
The real life Fitzcarraldo wasn’t that daring; his solution was to disassemble the steamship, transport across the mountain in pieces, and reassemble it on the other river. Unimpressed by the scenario’s visual value, director Werner Herzog opted to one-up history and controversially drag a ship across the jungle.
Making a film in the remote Amazon basin is a task for only the most driven of directors. Thanks to Mister Herzog, we the audience are treated to majestic shots of jungle scenery that a very small percentage of us will ever see. Also shot on location in Iquitos and Manaus, Fitzcarraldo is a wonderful example of early 20th century life on the Amazon. You thought your afternoon commute was rough? Try paddling across Earth’s biggest river in a canoe.
Normally associated with the Andes, Peru shows its Amazonian side in Fitzcarraldo. The river starts high in the Andean highlands descending eastward towards the jungle, passing by the southern tip of Colombia before continuing into the massive Brazilian bosom that hosts it until empties into the Atlantic Ocean, watering much of the South American continent along the way.
If you’re the kind that believed what you read on the internet, there is a posting on Google Earth locating the present resting place of Fitz’s famous steamer. According to its story, the boat fell into the hands of drug runners before falling into its current state of disrepair. And by the way, that ship really ran those rapids in the film. Now it looks like the fixer-upper that Fitzcarraldo bought in the film.