Friday, February 19, 2010


If any of the following topics resonates for you, I have a documentary to recommend: German cinema, South American rivers and native people, the clash between what we call civilization and ever-more-scarce remote lands in a timeless state, the question, are we propelled or pulled to our doom by dreams, tenacity bordering on madness, Werner Herzog.

The documentary, produced and directed by Les Blank, is called BURDEN OF DREAMS and is the tale of filming Herzog's FITZCARRALDO, in which, for veracity, he insists on dragging a three-story ship up a 40% grade to launch it upon an unreachable-by-water tributary on the other side of the hill, part of the story of the fictional lead character's dream.

Since first seeing Herzog's AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD about which I had read that his actors were required to climb through the Andes in the armor and court dress of Spanish conquerors, I have been unable to lose the images he captures, on the face of lead actor (as he is also in FITZCARRALDO) Klaus Kinski, of the impossibility of their plight, of the power of the primal or deeply primitive to triumph against everything except firearms with ancient, intuitive knowledge of life, death and survival. When I saw FITZCARRALDO some years later for the first time, then again perhaps six months ago along with AGUIRRE, I can only describe my response as emotion, which began as infatuation and grew into love. Both AGUIRRE and FITZCARRALDO swept me away, no river pun intended, raising an awareness of how I am moved by and aligned with the unlikeliest of goals, possibly the more apparently doomed, the better.

A phrase such as "hopelessly majestic, yet redeemed" sounds creepily like reviewer-speak but can't be called inappropriate. I have loved movies since I was three and went with my mother and father to the drive-in, several of which were no more than a town away and whose double-bills changed twice a week. Not anything close to a prodigy, I did have a scarily retentive mind and would be called upon to recite the trailers, short subjects, cartoons and pictures we had recently seen. Sometimes they woke me up to stand there in my pajamas and amaze dinner guests.

Having just finished seeing BURDEN OF DREAMS within the past hour, I haven't allowed myself time to process its themes or truths, yet the compulsion, the need to say something about it isn't going to rest. In one on-camera interview, at one of the many points where the whole project appears impossible, Herzog tells his interviewer that he makes movies because he really doesn't know how to do anything else, though he should stop making them and have himself put in an asylum. At another point, realizing how complex and fraught with disaster the film company's intrusion on the jungle and its people may be, he is clearly troubled by the peril in which his project has placed them and their way of life. "I don't want to live in a world without lions," he says, "and these people are lions." Herzog is one as well.

1 comment:

Melissa Green said...

Herzog is s genius, AGUIRRE is unforgettable, and Burden of Dreams is on my bucket list,
though I've seen a lot of clips from it over the years. Thanks for reminding me--
I'll consult Netflix! xoxo