November 09, 2023

#08-356: Fitzcarraldo

From the German film poster (Wikipedia)

Note: This is one of the most harrowing movie experiences ever, made more so by its backstory.

Get Ready: Have you ever acted on an "impossible dream"? Why or why not?

There's a fine line, they say, between genius and insanity. Throughout his career, the German producer, director, and actor Werner Herzog has stood firmly astride that dichotomy.

Perhaps no film captures these two sides of his personality like the 1982 Fitzcarraldo. The story involves moving a river boat weighing 320 tons (over 290,000 kilograms) up and over a steep hill.

Life imitates art: Herzog insisted on moving an actual boat over an actual hill, without special effects, resulting in numerous injuries and even deaths, opening Herzog to accusations of exploitation of the Amazonian natives on his crew.

The story is set in Peru in the early 20th century. An ambitious Irish immigrant, Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (known locally as "Fitzcarraldo") has decided that the small city of Iquitos should host the great Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso--but needs an opera house to do so.

He leases land from the Peruvian government to harvest rubber. But it is on the Ucayali River above a long stretch of white-water rapids that effectively cuts it off from the rest of the world.

Studying a map, Fitzcarraldo sees that another river, the Pachitea, is at one point only several hundred meters away from the Ucayali. If Fitzcarraldo could get a boat onto the upper Ucayali, the rubber could be transported to the point near the Pachitea, then portaged to that river and shipped down the Amazon to the Atlantic ports.

But the space between the rivers is occupied by a hill. That means not just getting such a ship, but getting it over that hill.

His girlfriend, a wealthy brothel owner, pays for the ship. Then comes the excruciating task of getting it over the hill.

After months of mishaps, the boat is on the Ucayali. But during a drunken celebration party, a native chief cuts the boat's rope, sending it down the river and into the rapids as an offering to the river gods--seemingly his plan all along.

The ship makes it through the rapids fairly unscathed, so before selling it back to its original owner, Fitzcarraldo arranges for a European opera company (but not Caruso!) to come to Iquitos and perform on its deck for the whole city to see.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

  1. astride
  2. brothel
  3. deck
  4. dichotomy
  5. excruciating
  6. exploitation
  7. mishaps
  8. portaged
  9. rapids
  10. unscathed
  1. on either side of
  2. carried from one body of water to another
  3. a house of prostitution
  4. undamaged
  5. the floor of a ship
  6. extremely painful
  7. a division into two parts
  8. taking advantage of someone
  9. accidents
  10. a fast-moving part of a river

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 9, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. c; 3. e; 4. g; 5. f; 6. h; 7. i; 8. b; 9. j; 10. d