Monday, July 26, 2010

The Burden of Dreams

Ok, this is going to be a long one, but a good one, so bear with me.  The payoff is worth it.

I spent Saturday going through the last five years of my work, revisiting old jobs, sifting through personal projects, and thinking about where I'd like to go from here. 

It was an intense experience, traveling through 5 years of work in a single day.  When I arrived at the end I felt uneasy and anxious.  There was no satisfaction or sense of contentment.  Now that it's 2010, all I care about is what I'm going to do in 2011. 

Of course the last 5 years have produced many memories and I've traveled to some amazing places, and spent time with creative, interesting, inspirational people.  I wouldn't trade it for anything.  However, just looking at the images from past shoots can't recreate the feeling of going into these shoots, or being behind the camera on set.

I celebrated the end of my editing journey with some chinese food and a cold Tsingtao, then headed home to watch a movie.  I'd just seen Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, which led me to dig a bit deeper into Mr. Herzog's fascinating past, which then led me to a documentary called Burden of Dreams, that chronicles the making Herzog's 1982 film Fitzcarraldo.

The movie is based on the true story of an eccentric rubber baron (yes, rubber baron) that traveled by steam ship far up the Amazon, dismantled his 30 ton ship, and dragged the pieces up and over a hill using ropes and pulleys, then reassembled it in another river on the other side.  

Herzog decides that the only possible way to shoot his film is to go to the Amazon, and actually do this.  Except that instead of dismantling the ship, he insists on keeping it whole.  And his ship is 250 tons, instead of 30.  And he's going to do this in a place where people don't speak english and will shoot you with arrows if you piss them off.  And it's 1980.  And at the time he is only 36 years old.  And he is using a bunch of other peoples' money to do this.

This has to be one of the most insane undertakings in the history of film production.  And it's all documented in one of the best "making of" movies I've seen.  

It's not easy. People are injured and killed in the process, but he eventually does it.  One crew member is bitten by a snake, and is forced to immediately amputate his foot on the spot using a chainsaw.

Herzog should be an inspiration to any artist.  He is a dreamer.  And he believes that when his dream ends, his life ends.  To dream = to live.  Here it is in his words:

I have yet to tow a 250 ton ship up and over a remote hill in the Amazon, but it's such a great metaphor for following through on creative pursuits.  Following through can feel like this -- an enormous weight that must be dragged uphill, through the mud using limited tools.  But Herzog is living proof that it can be done, along with anything else we can dream up.

Herzog actually ate his shoe to prove this point.  He lost a bet with his friend Errol Morris, that Morris would never finish one of his numerous personal projects.  This is also documented in a 20 minute short aptly named Werner Herzog eats his Shoe:

So here's to you Werner, and to pulling 250 ton steamships up and over the hill.


chris said...

Nice !!

here's a great interview if you haven't already seen it :

Sam said...

Man, Fitzcarraldo has to be one of the all time greats. "And from that theater I want an armchair with red velvet upholstery. I have to keep a promise to a pig that loves Caruso so mutch." Amazing!

If you haven't seen it, check out this footage from the early months of shooting, with Jason Robards and Mick Jagger standing in for Klaus Kinski. Nuts.


jimgolden said...

GREAT film, amazing director...

Steph said...

I love Werner! Thanks for sharing!