The blurry border between having a dream and losing one’s mind

Whenever you hear a story about how the making of a film wound up eerily paralleling the onscreen action, you can pretty much be sure the film in question is not a romantic comedy. Unlike the more famous example of Francis Ford Coppala’s Appocalypse Now, Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, despite its even more harrowing circumstances of production, manages to impossibly push through to something approximating real bliss and beauty, if not quite sanity.


“Fitzcarraldo” — which Herzog did indeed finish — has endured long and well in the hearts not only of movie lovers but of connoisseurs of production disasters, partly because the film itself seems to mirror the story of its making. It’s a half masterpiece, half folly about a gesture both grand and grandiose — an attempt by a would-be impresario (Kinski) to build an opera house in the wilds of Peru, a venue he imagines might someday showcase Enrico Caruso. This desire necessitates the deployment of hundreds of Indians to haul an immense ship up a steep mountain ridge, a Sisy­phean metaphor that’s no less effective for being so explicit.

The movie and its making are both fables of daft aspiration, investigations of the blurry border between having a dream and losing one’s mind. So it’s no surprise that in some ways, the back story has lingered longer than the story.

from “Dream and Delirium,” Mark Harris’s review of Conquest of the Useless: Reflections From the Making of ‘Fitzcarraldo’, by Werner Herzog, New York Times Book Review, 29 July 2009 :: via 3quarksdaily

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