One of Jeremie’s favourites is Werner Herzog’s 1982 masterpiece, Fitzcarraldo. A tale of epic proportions, it sees the maniacal European (Klaus Kinski) enlist natives of the Peruvian rainforest to pull his 340 ton paddle steamer over a mountain, in order to harvest an untouched expanse of rubber trees on the other side; all in the ultimate quest of making enough money to fund his burning desire to build his own opera house.
Perhaps just as difficult as this seemingly impossible feat was the conception of the film itself. Herzog originally had cast Jason Robards as the main character, having completed almost half of the filming, but he fell ill with dysentry early into filming. This was after-all filmed in the jungles of South America with cast and crew camping out for weeks. Jack Nicholson was considered for the main role, as well as Mick Jagger who was set to play Fitzcarraldo’s assistant but had to decline due to touring with the Rolling Stones. The unpredictable Klaus Kinski was then hired and shooting had to start again from the beginning.
Kinski was the source of much tension on set as can be seen in the documentary about their relationship My Best Fiend. His manic rants would go on for hours, to the point where the natives on set were seriously worried. At one point they even offered to kill Kinski for him. Herzog declined as he needed Kinski to finish filming.
Herzog had no problem suffering for his art and knew that ultimately nothing outside of the final product mattered, so that if Kinski’s moods could be captured on screen then it would be well worth the effort. Check out Les Blank’s documentary Burden Of Dreams for a behind-the-scenes look at the chaotic production.