jungle fever


Werner Herzog is famous for his cinematic depictions of obsessives and outsiders, from the El Dorado-seeking Spaniard played by Klaus Kinski in his 1972 international breakthrough, “Aguirre: The Wrath of God,” to Timothy Treadwell, the doomed bear-worshiper of his 2005 documentary, “Grizzly Man.” Herzog’s own reputation as an obsessive, not to mention daredevil and doomsayer, was solidified by “Burden of Dreams,” a documentary chronicling Herzog’s trials while filming “Fitzcarraldo” in the Peruvian jungle in 1981. “Conquest of the Useless: Reflections From the Making of ‘Fitzcarraldo’ ” comprises Herzog’s diaries from the three arduous years he worked on that movie, which earned him a best director award at Cannes in 1982 yet nearly derailed his career. It reveals him to be witty, compassionate, microscopically observant and — your call — either maniacally determined or admirably persevering. “A vision had seized hold of me . . . ,” he writes in the book’s prologue. “It was the vision of a large steamship scaling a hill under its own steam, working its way up a steep slope in the jungle, while above this natural landscape, which shatters the weak and the strong with equal ferocity, soars the voice of Caruso.”

more from Lawrence Levi at the LA Times here.