Director Werner Herzog is one of the most versatile film makers working in the industry today and he is also one of the most infamous. His onset escapades with both actors and crew members are legendary and most infamous on the set of his film Fitzcarraldo which went through complete cast changes, controversy with the locals, and natural disasters that prolonged the film’s production. So much drama went into the making of the film that he released his onset diary as a novel called Conquest of the Useless: A Reflection from the Making of Fitzcarraldo.
Herzog’s odyssey with Fitzcarraldo begins in 1979 and will not come to an end until 1984 so the book covers a huge span of time in which things on a film set can go wrong. The book is meticulous with details in regards to the process and needs of the filmmaking but Herzog doesn’t dwell on those details. He is more concerned with the minutiae of living in an exotic place filled with an exotic people and culture and trying to bring all this together to complete his massively ambitious film.
Herzog’s reflections are very much like a catalogue of what happens each day on set whether it is important or not and most of the time it’s just his simple observation of things that never seem to change on a day to day basis over the many years of production. With all of the problems and obstacles put in the way of the production you’d think he would’ve given up on the film. There were major cast changes, sets were destroyed and lost in the swamp, crew members quit on a daily basis not to mention the locals and their many cultural differences. The amazing thing is that Herzog never gives up (although there were several times where he thought about it) but instead uses each obstacle as a means to push forward in order to complete the film. It’s an amazing look at how life can imitate art since the major obstacle in the film is a man who tries to move a ship up a mountain (no easy feat since Herzog and crew were doing this practically whereas in today’s world it would just be a CGI effect).
This is like a written behind the scenes documentary which Herzog is very familiar with since he has produced a plethora of documentaries. If you are a fan of Herzog’s work and want to know how the man truly thinks while making a film then this is a book right up your alley. It’s also a great means to get into Herzog’s mind during his early years as a film maker.