Burden of Dreams
Les Blank has made a name for himself as the cineaste par excellence of blues singers, folk music from Tex-Mex to polkas, and folk cuisine (Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers). When he filmed Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, his culinary interests met Herzog’s moral-spiritual ones (honoring a bet). And he’s been easing over into another bracket, first shooting Poto and Cabengo with Gorin, and, with Burden of Dreams, returning to Herzog’s spiritual activities. Its a documentary of Herzog shooting Fitzcarraldo and its subject is a double dream coming true against all the odds. Herzog’s vision is of shooting, up the jungle river, a work of art about Fitzcarraldo’s vision, of staging, up the jungle river, the operas he loves.
Gradually a film about Herzog making the film (against difficulties no less impressive for being self-imposed) shades over into being a film about two cultures sliding past one another, using one another, but unable to make contact. Apart from the contrast between native and Europeans, many other visions shuffle and rub past one another.
As Herzog’s bulldozers work (erratically) away, you realize that to shoot the steamboat in profile, he had to clear a much wider area of jungle than was needed to haul the steamboat. It’s as if to see is to destroy. Actually, Herzog’s talk about the jungle is much more uncomfortable, and persuasive, than the visual grandeur of Fitzcarraldo. In his beautifully sad, serious voice he confesses his philosophical terror at the jungle’s fecundity and rapacity: ‘it’s the harmony of perfected and overwhelming murder’. And Blank’s camera (or editing-bench) spots an ant toiling under an enormous red feather. Emphasized like this it becomes a metaphor for – well, one hardly knows what for: Herzog hauling his steamboat ? flaunting his film?
–Raymond Durgnat, Wellington Film Society
Les Blank (1935 –2013) was an Amercian documentary filmmaker best known for his portraits of American traditional musicians.
- PRODUCTION : Les Blank Films, Flower Films