Dangerous Film-making: 'Burden of Dreams' Review
It's said that filmmaking is not an easy adventure. Regardless of the quality of the film, there is always a struggle behind the scenes. Sometimes financing falls apart; sometimes a chosen actor turns out to be terrible, at times the weather doesn’t favor the filmmaker. From Hearts of Darkness to Lost in La Mancha, behind-the-scenes disasters can be great material for a documentary. Especially since often, the films may be a reflection of the filmmakers. Fitzcarraldo follows a rubber baron who wishes to construct an opera house in the middle of the jungle, and to do so, he plans on dragging a steamboat over the hills. Needless to say, Herzog very much identifies with Fitzcarraldo, to the point that he wishes to pull that steamboat over the hill himself without using miniatures or any special effects.
Burden of Dreams is not directed by Herzog. Instead, Les Blank directs it while Herzog himself appears in front of the camera. Despite his ideas, Herzog himself seems amazingly calm-headed throughout the entire production. The man that once had threatened to shoot actor Klaus Kinski and then kill himself appears to be a nice, calm man Directors like Terry Gilliam can be seen throwing fits because of inclement weather; even David Fincher can be seen shouting at his crew for screwing up. And who can blame them? But the fact that Herzog appears almost unemotional to the chaos around him is admirable, and perhaps even a little disturbing.
After hearing numerous behind the scenes stories about the film, I expected Klaus Kinski to be a bigger presence in the movie. This is not the case. The documentary seems mostly unconcerned with him, but rather, the impact of the production on Herzog himself and the indigenous people who they’ve chosen as extras and production assistants. Apparently, Blank and Herzog opted not to feature much footage of Kinski to avoid sensationalism. So we are left with only the tip of the iceberg.
Regardless, even that proves to be something of a remarkable experience. We witness the indigenous people become frustrated at the production to the point of walking out. Territorial tensions translate over to the production, leading to massive conflicts between them. They’re all adrift in the jungle without anyone looking after them. Herzog remains uncompromising; one scene that particularly shocked me was when he’s explaining to one of the financiers how dragging the boat over the hill is essential to the theme of the film. In what other business would that argument is seen as reasonable? Especially in the face of a chaotic set where people have gotten injured?
Those expecting more about Herzog’s relationship with Kinski, look elsewhere. Again, the documentary is mostly unconcerned with him and instead focuses on other aspects of the production. But as it is, it’s revealing and almost as much of a high drama as Fitzcarraldo itself was. Burden of Dreams is entertaining, a bit disturbing and even weirdly inspiring.