A. S. Hamrah at Bookforum:
“Nature here is vile and base,” Herzog tells Blank. “I would see fornication, and asphyxiation, and choking, and fighting for survival, and growing, and just rotting away. Of course there’s a lot of misery, but it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing. They just screech in pain.” If Herzog overstates, his intensity is effective. “We, in comparison to the articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle,” he continues in Burden of Dreams, “we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban novel.” To drive home this experience of insignificance in the Amazon, Herzog eventually published his diary of the making of Fitzcarraldo, which he called Conquest of the Useless.
Herzog, of course, did manage to drag a three-hundred-ton steamship over a mountain for Fitzcarraldo, proving that his worldview was effective as more than just rhetoric. That film came out after other ambitious films had helped end a period of serious, self-consciously heroic auteur cinema. Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980) and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) are notorious examples (Coppola’s film was influenced by Aguirre).