Friday, April 30, 2010

Burden of Dreams

For the fourth or fifth time last night I watched Les Blank's documentary, Burden of Dreams about Werner Herzog and the filming of Fitzcarraldo in the amazon jungle. Fitzcarraldo portrays a would-be rubber baron who pulls a steamship over a steep hill to access a rich rubber territory.  This in order to obtain enough money to bring opera, specifically the singer Caruso, to a small town in the Amazon jungle.

The documentary about Herzog's seemingly impossible task to film the entire movie on location in the depths of the jungle is a fascinating study of one man's obsession with realizing a vision and mirrors the story of the movie.  Herzog was up against overwhelming odds only made harder by his insistence to do everything realistically, without special effects.  Whether it was having to cut down massive trees, enlist the support of tribal people who are fighting between themselves, flying in massive amounts of equipment and supplies, creating very dangerous situations, or taming the wildness of the jungle.

Herzog believes we all have dreams but that only a few of us can realize them or "attribute" them and that it is by approaching the impossible and overcoming overwhelming odds that we are able to see and appreciate a new vision.  He also makes some questionable remarks about the wildness of nature, that it is a miserable and wretched, rampant, irrational and random.  He bemoans the fact that in the jungle there is no order to anything and that it is a godless place where everything is fighting for survival and things are constantly being killed and suffocated.  This view, which has seemed to persist for him, as in the more recent documentary of his called Grizzly Man, (which describes how Timothy Treadwell attempts to live with grizzly bears who end up eating him) belies the fact that he makes films that often express the beauty of nature.  It is his characters and himself that are at odds with the natural world.  I think this is his message in many of his movies.  He explains to me that if we are obsessed in a humanistic way with "conquering" or overcoming nature our rewards can only be small and marginal.

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