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by Andy Jarosz
Every so often a movie comes along where its on-screen plot is overshadowed by the story of how the movie was made and the problems that had to be overcome to reach the final cut. The 1982 movie Fitzcarraldo, directed by Werner Herzog, is a prime example.
Manaus' Teatro Amazonas
Using the neo-Renaisssance Amazon Theatre (inuagurated in 1986) in Manaus, Brazil, for part of the filming, Herzog tells the story of Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald, an Irish entrepreneur who was trying to make money in the lucrative rubber plantation business. Fitzcarraldo has a soft spot for opera, and he has a dream to build an opera house deep in the Amazon jungle with the money he earns from his business exploits.
Filming of Fitzcarraldo
Scarcely has the making of a movie been more fraught with disasters. The film is based on the true story of Carlos Fitzcarraldo, who managed to drag a 30-ton steamship across land from one river to another. Herzog aimed to reproduce this, but not to be outdone, his ship weighed 300 tonnes and he insisted that the colossal steamship really would be moved overland without any special effects using manpower alone.
His first lead actor, Jason Robards, contracted dysentery midway through filming and was ordered home by doctors, meaning that all his scenes had to be re-shot with his replacement, Klaus Kinski. Finding Kinski was certainly not the end of Herzog’s problems: The new lead proved to be a very fiery character, with constant battles with Herzog. By all accounts Kinski was so unpleasant to both the other cast members and the native population who worked as extras, that one of the local chiefs even offered to kill him on Herzog’s behalf.
Perhaps once again it’s a case of the blurred boundaries between real life and art. The real-life Fitzcarraldo 90 years earlier had been known as a fearsome character who terrorized local tribes and would give them the choice of working with him on his terms or being killed.
Manaus is home to several grand buildings that date from the days of the rubber barons. Taking a walk from any hotel in Manaus to the city’s center, however, it is soon clear that no building compares to the magnificent opera house, which plays host to an annual film festival attracting visitors from around the world and is considered a must-see attraction on a visit to the Amazon's capital.