A vision had seized hold of me, like the demented fury of a hound that has sunk its teeth into the leg of a deer carcass and is shaking and tugging at the downed game so frantically that the hunter gives up trying to calm him. 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,…which shatters the weak and the strong with equal ferocity…
-Werner Herzog, from the Prologue of “Conquest of the Useless”
In a 2006 New Yorker profile, Daniel Zalewski wrote that Werner Herzog “is less renowned for his oddly brilliant movies than for the arduous, and sometimes savage, circumstances under which they were made.” Perhaps the most famous example is his 1982 film ‘Fitzcarraldo,’ which tells the story of a man who becomes obsessed with pulling a steamboat over a mountain in the Amazon — an arduous feat Herzog actually staged without special effects during the filming, and which nearly killed the film. For “Fitzcarraldo,” Herzog won the director’s prize at Cannes, in addition to legend status in the annals of film history.
Due out at the end of the month is ‘Conquest of the Useless’, a collection of Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” journals (or, as he describes them in the book’s preface, “inner landscapes, born of the delirium of the jungle.”) Though not a document of the actual filming, it does chronicle his turbulent relationship with Klaus Kinski (“In the midst of Kinski’s bellowing and raving, which brought all work to a standstill, I stood like a silent rock wall and let him crash against it.”) and many other ensuing fiascos in the Amazon rainforest.
Next week, he’ll be speaking with Jeffrey Brown for Art Beat about “Conquest of the Useless.”