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Fitzcarraldo @ La Villette: Sunday, 16th August

Fitz3 In 1982 no one would have dared or even bothered to drag a 320 ton steamship over a hill, in the middle of the Peruvian jungle, but Herzog wanted to make the unimaginable become a reality. Like the film’s eponymous hero, Herzog became a Conquistador of uselessness and absurdity, but he created a classic. Villette’s En Plein Air showing is a rare opportunity to see a film “in the great tradition of grandiose cinematic visions”, so join VINGT Paris for the evening’s entertainment.

Herzog has called Fitzcarraldo his greatest documentary, and this is because his own ambition to move the ship over a hill becomes that of the film and that of the film’s hero, so that the fate of each hangs by the same thread.  Through this unity of project, production and story we see different versions of reality played out in the film.

Klaus Kinski would sometimes rant at the production team for hours, yet to see footage of this, but for a few t-shirts and microphones, one feels it could be part of the film. Herzog’s and Fitzcarraldo’s united project hung in the balance as the filming dragged on. The tension was at one point so fraught that one of the Indian extra’s offered to kill Kinsky.

Isolated in the jungle, the film crew and the Indians inhabited a world of their own, living on a patch of jungle, temporarily cleared but with its giant organic mass surrounding them, violent and base, threatening to asphyxiate them. After just a year the jungle would swallow up their tracks for ever, leaving no trace of their time there. Herzog later referred to the misery of the jungle, caught in a prehistoric age where the birds screech in pain.

Kinsky’s turbulent performance is so tied to the film’s success that at his maddest moments the viewer is lost, half in awe and half laughing at his crazed and contorted figure. In these scenes the success of the film walks a tightrope where the threat of humiliation looms for Fitzcarraldo, the character; for Kinsky, the actor; for Herzog, the director. At its most succinct, Verdi booms out from the gramophone to Fitcarraldo’s delight and the acting and direction flow with ease and splendor. This inconsistency might make the film seem, at times, slightly scrappy and meandering, but the threat of failure and humiliation is, for Herzog, integral to creating good cinema and Herzog’s film is certainly bursting with original and innovative images.

All the VINGT Paris team and friends will be there to enjoy the film and other festivities, so don’t miss out on the finale to Villette’s En Plein Air season.

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