Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fitzcarraldo on the Big Screen

I went to see Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo last night at ACMI's season of Claudia Cardinale. Clearly only chosen because of the film's reputation, Cardinale doesn't feature in the movie all that much and anybody watching it is not going to be watching it for her, as good as she is in it.

I do wish that ACMI would place some quality limits on the prints they get. I know their one and only screening of Fitzcarraldo on a Friday night is not the sort of event that you would go searching through archives to find a perfect print for, but the one they screened last night was bathed in a red, pinkish haze, filled with hisses and pops on the soundtrack and covered in scratches. It's a shame because it would have been great to see the movie in all of its gorgeous light.

As for the film? Well, I firstly have to appreciate, and respect, the absolute grandeur that Herzog puts on display here. It truly is epic to watch the final hour as Fitzcarraldo leads the expedition to move a massive riverboat, quite literally, over a mountain. Thomas Mauch's cinematography is simply astounding and, despite the visual quality of the print, is still obviously awe-inspiring. Popol Vuh's music score doesn't necessarily fit into the movie, but it's a gorgeous to listen to nonetheless.

And yet, there's such a distinct sadness to this film. Watching these actual native Peruvians be exploited for Herzog's follies and to see the beautiful Amazon rainforest get pillaged and plundered is not too much fun at all. Perhaps that's not what it was really like, I just added Burden of Dreams to the top of my DVD queue so I'll find out soon enough, but then there's the matter of Herzog's frequent star Klaus Kinski, a Man who is clearly insane and gives a performance to match. If this movie were released today it would, at least in certain aspects, be laughed off the screen and Kinski is one of those reasons why. Here he is more Tommy Wiseau than anything else and he doesn't come close to resembling a good actor until the final act.

I liked the movie quite a bit, and there's something to be said about the awe-factor that it holds over an audience, but that doesn't stop the flaws from sticking out like bad dubbing. B

1 comment:

Gerard said...

I'm really fond of Fitzcarraldo, and leapt at the opportunity to catch it at ACMI last week myself. Unfortunately, the forces of the universe (by way of a stomach-churningly dodgy takeaway salad) conspired against me - I had to leg it after 40 minutes in favour of convalescence. You're right though - the print was very pink. 8 ½ fared much better.