Great Documentary – BURDEN OF DREAMS
BURDEN OF DREAMS is a lesson in humility that every aspiring filmmaker should see.
In Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, we are offered a glimpse of the Forest Spirit: a towering giant embodying the surrounding landscape and every living thing within it. If there were an analogous Film Spirit, it would no doubt look like Werner Herzog, the subject of this 1982 documentary by Les Blank. The charismatic Herzog embodies the history of cinema itself: the larger than life bravado of Samuel Fuller, the eye for detail of Stanley Kubrick, and the spirit of magic and alchemy of Alejandro Jodorowsky. In his quest for “essential truth” Herzog has made pilgrimages to islands evacuated due to erupting volcanoes, to the flaming oil fields of Kuwait, and to the wilds of the Amazon, where he first shot his masterpiece, Aguirre, Wrath of God, in 1972. This documentary concerns Herzog’s return to the Amazon to make Fitzcarraldo, the Quixotic tale of a man who dreams of bringing opera to the jungle. Like many “making-of” documentaries, Les Blank’s camera captures the usual problems – like Mick Jagger and Jason Robards bowing out of the film at the last minute, or investors balking at the mounting costs. But there are unusual problems as well – like a civil war between local tribes, or natives believing Herzog to be a god and offering to kill cantankerous lead actor Klaus Kinski for him. And of course there is the Sisyphean task at the heart of Fitzcarraldo, in which a 340-ton ship is pulled over a mountain – a feat which Herzog insists on creating without special effects, underscoring the similarities between himself and the character. This fusion of dreams, reality, and fiction is typical of Werner Herzog, and it’s what makes his movies (and this one) so transcendent. As Herzog puts it, movies and other forms of expression “might be the inner chronicle of what we are, and we have to articulate ourselves, otherwise we would be cows in the field.” If only the people filling our movie theaters and TV’s with franchise bullshit shared his viewpoint, we wouldn’t be feeling so… bovine as of late. Long live the Film Spirit!