Read to Ward off Winter Misery

I’ve got to say that Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless is a perfect winter read, just as Shackleton’s Last Voyage offers mental respite for the un-airconditioned in August.  This is Herzog’s feverish diary as he sweltered in the Amazon through the making of Fitzcarraldo, the epic story of a rubber baron’s scheme to obtain new territory by dragging a steamboat from one river to another, over a mountain, an endeavor that Herzog physically accomplished in the making of the film, arguing that steam boat models or turning the camera at a 45 degree angle wouldn’t have quite the same effect as actually doing it.  The film won him Best Director at Cannes in 1982.  And while many details worthy of movie buffs’ interest are present in this account, the peripheral information is even more interesting.  Mick Jagger, who was supposed to be in the film but had to leave for a Stones world tour when the movie went past his contract’s deadline, drives actors to and from jungle airstrips, and moonlights as a Vogue photographer, taking pictures of another actor in a leopard-skin Speedo cavorting in the jungle.  Herzog becomes the victim of a media war, as papers report that he exploits the natives.  Meanwhile, the jungle seethes around him; his descriptions border on hallucination; his favorite word to describe it seems to be “murderous”, and it’s impossible not to hear this pronounced in his meticulous German accent when he rails venomously against Robard’s and later, Klaus Kinski’s cowardice toward the jungle and germs.   The real story here is Herzog’s struggle with his own doubts and nightmares–while army ants find their way into his drawers and Klaus Kinski staggers around the set raving and looking like Mark Twain on crack, I suddenly realize that shoveling my front step, or removing the twelve foot icicle hovering over my neighbor’s minivan isn’t so terrible after all.  -Ed Scripsi

Published in: on February 16, 2010 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

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