Herzog in the Jungle


From the Archive

Still from Fitzcarraldo.

Still from Fitzcarraldo.


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When Werner Herzog was filming Fitzcarraldo in the late seventies and early eighties, he kept a series of journals, which “for reasons that could not escape me” he didn’t reread until twenty-four years later. We published a selection of them in our Spring 2009 issue. They are weird, fascinating notes, full of frightening stories from the Amazon and, of course, Herzog’s marvelous fatalism. As in, “Fog-panting and exhausted [the trees] stand in this unreal world, in unreal misery” and “I did not see God today.” For some reason, an assortment of farm animals make appearances: “the chickens are not doing well, ditto the rabbit,” he writes from Iquitos on March 31, 1981. “Little Michaela was riding the albino turkey today,” he said on April 27 in Camisea. But, like in his movies, there’s the sublime at work in the darkness. Here’s a scene from June 6, 1981, when his crew has made its first attempt at towing the old steamship through the jungle:

The first attempt to tow the ship did not go well, but at least we filmed the failure. After a few meters, the ship tipped and got hung up, and I heard the mighty steel cables in the block and tackle creak strangely and make unhealthy sounds. Finally one cable, as thick as a man’s arm, snapped, having heated up internally from the strain. It lay smoking on the ground. At the point of breakage I could see that the inner strands were glowing bright red. The ship gently slid backward, and it looked good, even if that does not help us much. The main actors in our disturbing drama, surrounded by the indifferent jungle as our audience, are no longer human beings but the steel cables, the Caterpillar, the winches, the tree trunks, the mud, the river, the rain, the landslides.

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