Burden of Dreams

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2005, 12:00am


Burden of Dreams

Starring: Werner Herzog, Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale

Director: Les Blank

The film: At the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, the giant movie posters hanging along the length of the seafront were dominated by those for Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo.

Heralding this film about one man's obsession with building an opera house in the Amazon, Klaus Kinski (below in a scene from the feature) stared maniacally out of the frame, pointing back to a steamship being pulled over a mountain by hundreds of tribesmen. And while that particular scene in the film lived up to expectations, the movie as a whole was less impressive. More entertaining, and more critically acclaimed, was Les Blank's documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo, the aptly titled Burden of Dreams.

German director Herzog spent about five years making Fitzcarraldo, and for much of that time he was stuck in the Peruvian jungle trying to employ native labour without causing inter-tribal wars, drag the aforementioned 360-tonne ship over a hilltop, and prevent his crew from going insane with boredom. He also had to deal with Kinski, perhaps cinema's most volatile personality, whom even the local headhunters seemed to treat with some trepidation.

American filmmaker Les Blank lets Herzog tell his own story (in English) for the most part, although he makes a few subtle visual comments such as focusing on the natural beauty of the jungle while Herzog rants about what a vile and disgusting place it is. The film's climax is the perilous shooting of the ship hauling scene, over which the project's Brazilian engineer resigns because he doesn't want to see the carnage he predicts will ensue when the central winch post shoots out of the ground and wipes out half an indigenous tribe.

By the time Herzog announces, towards the end of the film, that, 'I shouldn't make movies any more. I should go to a lunatic asylum,' there'll be few viewers inclined to disagree.

The extras: This Criterion disc comes with an interesting commentary by Blank, Herzog and editor/sound recordist Maureen Gosling, and a new 40-minute video interview with Herzog about the making of Burden of Dreams and Fitzcarraldo.

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980) is a short film made by Blank showing just what the title suggests, as Herzog fulfils a lost bet, and there are two deleted scenes, one of which shows the entire Amazon Basin aquiver as Kinski loses his temper with the film's producer.

Also supplied is an 80-page book featuring Blank and Gosling's location diaries. This is a full-screen TV-quality transfer, and it's probably as good as the film is ever likely to look.