BURDEN OF DREAMS
Review by Michael Jacobson
Werner Herzog, with Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Mick
Director: Les Blank
Audio: Dolby Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: May 10, 2005
running out of fantasy..."
always surprised when I see German filmmaker Werner Herzog in front of the
camera or hear him speaking about his craft...he's never the way I imagine him
based on his movies. I always
picture a frothing madman with wild staring eyes and a ferocious temper, much
like his frequent star Klaus Kinski. But
Herzog is far from that...gentle, thoughtful, and aware of the ambitions that
frequently threaten to crush him. Risk
isn't an act of flamboyance for him; it's an artistic necessity.
the five films he made with Kinski, Fitzcarraldo is my personal favorite,
and as providence would have it, he hired documentary makers to follow him on
what turned out to be a four year epic journey in the Amazon constructing his
great vision. One senses easily
that having himself filmed was not an act of ego, but one of desperation, as he
may have instinctively known that such a film could end up being the only record
of what he tried to accomplish.
of Dreams follows
a production beset with as many difficulties as can be conceived.
One would expect hardships when moving a film company from the friendly
confines of a carefully controlled studio environment into the jungles of Peru,
but Herzog finds himself drowning in troubles like a possible impending tribal
war, the loss of his original stars, the ebbing rivers, the mud and muck, the
temporary camps that ended up dilapidated after months and months of use...and
that's not even addressing his biggest challenge, which was how to drag a full
sized steamer ship a mile over a big hill from one river to another.
used real Peruvian natives for his shoot and paid them much higher than they
normally received for their regular daily labors, but the conflict between
tribes always threatened the safety of the cast and crew.
At one point, a couple of his extras are badly wounded in a skirmish, and
half of his Indians have to go out on an expedition to either prevent or finally
start the war.
attempted to time his production around the rainy season when the Amazon was
full, but delays forced him to shoot when the waters were shallow, leaving to
his ship frequently unable to move. Even
more daunting was when his star Jason Robards came down with amoebic dysentery,
and the actor's doctor refused to allow him to complete shooting.
Co-star Mick Jagger also had to exit early when the delayed production
finally caught up with his Rolling Stones obligations.
Herzog's picture was 40% complete, but he had no choice but to start from
scratch with Klaus Kinski. He never
bothered to re-cast Jagger's role, leaving the part out altogether.
climax of Burden of Dreams, as it was in Fizcarraldo, involved
moving the giant steamer over land with available manpower so that the character
played by Kinski could eventually set up an opera house in the forbidding
jungle. It was an engineering
nightmare. Herzog employed
consultants, who warned that the rigging used to haul the ship could break and
result in deaths. At one point,
that's exactly what happens. We
shudder to see what looks like a crushed native, but breathe a sigh of relief
when he gets up and walks away relatively unharmed.
would any man go to such lengths, putting lives on the line for the sake of a
motion picture vision? I always
assumed it was a burning, destructive obsession much like the one Fitzcarraldo
carried himself. But Herzog seems
like a relatively sane man. He
understands the perils of his methods, but he just doesn't know any other way to
make his movies and explore his themes.
film feels an awful lot like the more recent documentary Lost in La Mancha, where
Terry Gilliam's production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was ravaged
by natural and financial problems. The
difference is that Gilliam's vision failed to reach the screen.
Herzog somehow pulled it off.
recommend this movie as a good companion piece to Herzog's own film.
The only experience comparable to marveling at his epic vision is seeing
just how difficult realizing it actually was.
film source for this movie is fraught with grain, debris, and print problems, so
the overall result of the digital transfer wasn't as good as most Criterion
offerings. It's watchable for what
it is, but noticeably flawed.
mono soundtrack is decent and serviceable, with some noticeable noise and not a
lot of dynamic range, but no problems with the clarity of spoken words.
Les Blank and editor Maureen Gosling join up for a commentary track, with
separate interventions by Werner Herzog. The
movie is fairly self-spoken in what it conveys, but the artists add a little
more information and reflect on their own experiences for your listening
are two featurettes on Herzog, one made by Les Blank where he literally eats his
shoe to pay off a wager to fellow filmmaker Errol Morris, and a new video
interview where he reflects on Ftizcarraldo. There are also two deleted scenes, a trailer, and a photo
gallery, and a terrific companion book that compiles notes taken from Blank and
Gosling's diaries while shooting.