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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Movie Discussion: Fitzcarraldo

It's Movie of the Week discussion day! All right, first of all The Wave-inatrix sucks because I didn't get a chance to see Burden of Dreams. So. I suck. BUT if any Wavers did see either film, I'd love some discussion here on La Onda Roja as we kick off our experimental Movie of the week club.

Regarding Fitzcarraldo:

What, in your view, was the theme of the movie?

What was your favorite part?

Was Fitzcarraldo an admirable character, was he redeemed in the end, or was he single-minded and obsessed in a negative way?

Did you feel that WHY he wanted opera brought to the village was explained or was a backstory missing on that? Did it matter?

Was Kinski's hair completely fantastic or what??

Did the movie feel overlong or was the pacing fine?

Do you feel this is a movie that movie-lovers should make an effort to see or can you read a brief synopsis and Bob's your uncle?

Did Fitzcarraldo's character complete an arc? If so, what was it?

Overall, did you enjoy this movie? Would you recommend it?


Rouge Waver Debby Vega suggested THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS for our next selection. Here are her compelling reasons:


- People not familiar with older Hollywood films really should know that, yes, they DID make dark and edgy films back then.

- The subject matter--the power of the media and how some people abuse that power--is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

- It's so rare to hear dialogue that smart, that sharp, that memorable.

- It's a great example of effective use of setting. New York City is practically another character in the film.

- You won't quickly forget these characters. JJ is possibly one of the greatest film villains of all time. And the acting's not shabby, either.

So queue up THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and be ready to discuss it next week, on September 9th.

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Deb said...

I was good and watched BOTH movies. :->

The theme of the movie, I think, is pretty much summed up by the title of the documentary--burden of dreams. You would think that dreams are something that are supposed to keep us mellow, but here it's a burden because Fitzcarraldo is not content merely to dream--he must make his dreams reality. The same is true of Herzog's determination to get this film made, even against tremendous odds. Definitely there is a connection here between dreamers who move mountains to bring about progress and artists who move them to make art.

Both films also study how being a dreamer can skirt the fine line between sanity and insanity. (If you want to see a movie where it DOES skip over the line to insanity, I would recommend Herzog's AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD.)

While I'm typing this I have LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE on in the background, and this may seem a weird comparison, but I don't think it's off-base to say it is similar to FITZCARRALDO thematically. How does one define success? What makes someone a winner and another person a loser? Fitzcarraldo seems to be a tremendous failure. Nothing he tries succeeds.

Yet it's difficult not to be drawn in by his character--the guy just never stops trying. Yes, the question of whether or not what he is doing is worth it (or even moral, considering the cost) is definitely fair. But his tenacity, along with what seems to be a nice dollop of optimism, makes him a fascinating character to me.

Admirable? Heroic, in the traditional sense? Probably not. But I don't watch movies to see perfect people. If his obsession were connected to enriching only himself, he probably would be a less appealing character. But his goal is to enrich OTHERS with culture.

I think too many movies are spoiled by pseudo-psychoanalysis of their characters. The transcendent nature of art is enough of an explanation to me.

My favorite part is the final scene where Fizcarraldo finds a way to bring opera to the jungle. It's a great example of the hero getting what he wants in a completely unexpected way. That final image of the opera singers in full costume in the boat and the citizens of Iquitos applauding them is one that has stayed with me since the first time I saw the movie. That, and the iconic image of the boat moving over the mountain.

I did feel, seeing it this time for the first time in close to two decades, that the pacing was slow. But it was a nice change from the hyper-paced movies of today.

Yes, I feel Fizcarraldo completed an arc. He found a way to make his dream a reality in the face of failure. For the first time, he has a real measure of success.

Thanks for picking these movies, Julie, it's was great to watch them again after so many years

Julie Gray said...

Well, this is a movie club of TWO! lol

Your observations are great, Deb. I agree with you to a one. The final scene, when he steams into port with the opera performing on top of the steam ship is just so redeeming, I think.

I did think that once he got the boat over the mountain, the storyline of the rubber plants was truncated quite a bit; the Indians cut the boat loose and that whole storyline is just over very quickly when it had had quite a build up. The maps, the land, the other rubber barons and the fortunes they had made - whoosh - gone. I mean, this is lame but I almost wanted Fitzcarraldo to say "Oh no! My plan to get the rubber from the rubber plants in order to get enough money to bring the opera to the village have been ruined!" I wanted some acknowledgment of the enormity of that. It's almost like Herzog focused on getting the boat over the mountain, skipped a step and then we have the redemptive resolution. Did that strike you too?

Christina said...

Movie club of three. I just finished it. I too thought the space from getting over the mountain to having the boat set free by the natives and then going through the rapids was too short. But it's a small plot hole in an otherwise epic movie.

I love Klaus Kinski - he is soooo weird, perfectly weird to play this part. And the hair!!

I did feel some back story was missing, but it didn't matter. Sometimes attempts to explain the reason a character is the way they are feel heavy handed to me. Who cares - it's a movie about a guy with a vision. Kind of reminded me of a more sophisticated Fields of Dreams.

The movie felt purposely and enjoyably slow. I loved the passages on the water, where the ship is just sailing and there are shots of the shoreline and the wake. Very meditative. Also a lot of sunrise/sunset shots, which I found interesting.

It's a movie that has to be seen to understand.

The film was almost surreal, reminding me of the Fellini movie And the Ship Sails On - its tone, at least.

I would recommend it to film buffs, but not my friends who love conventional studio pictures.

Julie Gray said...

Great comments, Christine! I found that it has aged well; I thought it was compelling and a little hypnotic and there were so many GREAT scenes of the Indians. That scene where their hands disappear, one set at at time, as they are listening to Kinski, et al discussing whatever they are discussing. Or when they turn around and see all these canoes on the river behind them. The Indians thought the boat was some kind of messianic prophecy, right? Is that why they helped them? So then why did they cut the boat loose? I was a little confused about that part of the movie too. Kinski was AMAZING. Question: it looks as though the film was shot in English except for Kinski and his gf and then the other dialogue was dubbed over in German. Did you notice that?

Christina said...

I did some research - they say the film was shot in English, but some parts I think were dubbed - the cook character in particular, and the big rubber baron guy who buys the boat at the end. Their voices didn't feel right. But Klaus was really speaking English - I watched his mouth.

I think they cut the boat loose as offering to the Gods because of the deaths, like that was their way of repaying God - by giving him the ship. (I may be reading this wrong though.) But the ship survives, that's the interesting part.

I think the ending is an example of getting what you need, not what you want. He followed through on his dreams and it didn't quite work out the way he wanted - no opera house. But he did get opera...

Christina said...

Okay, just at the end of Burden of Dreams (which I just watched, belatedly), they explain why the Indians release the ship. It's because they have a dream of their own that they don't share with Fitzcarraldo - and that is to sacrifice the big ship to the river Gods. It has nothing to do with the deaths from moving the ship, but rather, their own dream. They had their own agenda. Interesting, eh?

Burden of Dreams will now be one of my favorite documentaries of all time, I thought it was even better than Fitzcarraldo.

In the last five minutes of the doc, Herzog explains why he goes to such great lengths to follow through on his dreams [his work] and he says (I may not have this verbatim):

"It's not only my dreams. My belief is that all of these dreams are yours as well. The only distinction between me and you is that I can articulate them."

He says that without following through on the articulation of our dreams, all we would be is cows in a field.

Wow. Great stuff. Totally inspiring and something I needed to see right now.

Julie Gray said...

Wow, that quote gave me goosebumps, Christina. Did you see Grizzly Man? It is sort of a take on a man and his (possibly suicidal) dreams as well. Is this a theme for Hertzog in general - the importance of following your dreams? Gee, wish we could get him on the Rouge Wave, huh?