Herzog's second Peruvian expedition provides as severe a test as ever devised of the spectator's ability to dissociate the on-screen movie from what he knows of the off-screen one. Some of the director's fabled adventurousness, endurance, and what-have-you is in fact apparent on screen. The colonial city of Iquitos, the jungle, the river, the skies, and so forth -- all this has been beautifully and incontestably captured on film, albeit more in the antiseptic, calendar-art manner of late-period David Lean than in the engulfingly physical manner of Herzog's previous Peruvian expedition, Aguirre, The Wrath of God. He comes closer to the overwhelming physicality of Aguirre with the step-by-step evolvement of the bustling work site where, for the movie's much-celebrated pièce de résistance, a strip of jungle is cleared away, a system of ropes and pulleys is rigged up, and a 320-ton steamship is hauled overland up a forty-degree slope. ("Nothing like it had been tried before in engineering history," claims Herzog, in the goldfish-swallowing, flagpole-sitting spirit of someone angling for immortality in the Guinness Book of World Records.) But the actual shots of the boat going up the hillside, scarcely five minutes of screen time in all, seem a small payoff for an awful lot of time and trouble. The ultimate limitation of the visionary approach in Fitzcarraldo is that it achieves, and really only strives for, the spottiest sort of inspiration. There are plenty of interesting ideas and images, but what's missing is some sort of narrative connective tissue between them. Neither very fully nor very tightly planned, the movie appears to have been stretched out backwards from the mere anecdote that makes up its final hour. And the central metaphor, as Herzog has called it, of the beached boat inching its way up the hillside may, finally, be a metaphor for this sluggish production in another way than he intended. Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale. (1982) — Duncan Shepherd
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