Burden of Dreams

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Documentarist Les Blank, who earlier recorded Werner Herzog in the act of eating his shoe (never mind why), here follows the German director's misadventures in the Peruvian jungle on the set of Fitzcarraldo. Perhaps most useful as a sort of subtext or appendix to the finished Herzog film, this is not a very full or rounded account of what went on behind the scenes (forty percent of the film was in the can, we are told, when Jason Robards and Mick Jagger opted out, and yet this phase of production is dispatched blinkety-Blank). Blank seems most himself, most at ease, when picking out peripheral details of native life and culture, but his gad-about style isn't much good for describing and analyzing what ailed this foundering production. For that, he relies on a neutral narrator and straight-to-camera soliloquies by Herzog himself, in his inflationary, mirthless, self-romanticizing rhetoric: "I live my life or I end my life with this project"; "If I believed in the Devil, I would say the Devil is right here"; "The trees are in misery, the birds are in misery. I don't think they sing, they just screech in pain." Herzog, who invited Blank along on this ordeal, seems to have the documentarist's eye and ear whenever he wants them, and the version of events is predominantly his, even though it is quite easy to resist getting sucked into his view of things. (1982) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated NR | 1 hour, 35 minutes
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