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Fitzcarraldo (free)

  • Vilas Hall 821 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

Werner Herzog's most infamous film screens in a new digital restoration. Info/tix

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Fitzcarraldo, initially released in 1982, is Werner Herzog's most infamous film, thanks to the now-legendary story of its filming. To depict his protagonist's quixotic journey carrying a boat across a mountain in the Amazon jungle, Herzog decided to exactly that, battling disease, warfare, the elements and his volatile relationship with actor Klaus Kinski. Kinski plays Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an opera-obsessed rubber baron in South America who, in order to raise money for an opera house, must transport his steamship across the Amazon jungle. Herzog's technique of using reality as a cinematic tool is at its most powerful here, as Fitzcarraldo is filled with scenes that would lack emotional impact if they were merely staged with special effects.

In hindsight it's easy to call Herzog out on his colonialist filmmaking tactics—risking the lives of indigenous tribes and his cast and crew to complete a film—but the end result is one of the most startlingly surreal films ever made. From the first shot, where the music of Popul Vuh plays over the fog-covered jungle, you are transported into a unique world of Herzog's creation. Even without knowing the bizarre backstory, Fitzcarraldo is a beautiful and hypnotic fever dream and one of Herzog's finest achievements. It screens here in a new digital restoration. —Ian Adcock