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Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,943 ratings  ·  184 reviews
Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) is one of the most revered and enigmatic filmmakers of our time, and Fitzcarraldo is one of his most honored and admired films.  More than just Herzog’s journal of the making of the monumental, problematical motion picture, which involved, among other things, major cast changes and reshoots, and the hauling (without the use of special effects) o ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 30th 2009 by Ecco (first published 2004)
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Lee Klein
Jun 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Here's something to do before the end of the month: read this book and watch "Fitzcarraldo," "Aguirre: Wrath of God," the Herzog documentary about Klaus Kinski called "My Best Fiend," and the Les Blank documentary about the making of "Fitzcarraldo" called "The Burden of Dreams." A highly recommended crash course in Herzogian ecstatic beauty . . . At one point, a diary entry begins with a hilarious understatement, something like "Profoundly unreconciled to nature." But the writing is so natural a ...more
Jeff Jackson
Sep 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jeff by: Blake Butler; the perfidious obscenity of the jungle
Shelves: celluloid-dreams
His documentaries are still strong, but Herzog the person has started to lapse into self-parody thanks to Youtube readings of "Green Eggs and Ham," etc. It's easy to imagine his journal chronicling the torturous making of "Fitzcarraldo" would be chock full of madly hilarious Germanic ravings and pronouncements on the maniacal cruelty of nature and hairbrained insanity of the universe - but in fact this is a nuanced, affecting, microscopically observant, and sometimes visionary account of the inn ...more
Mar 28, 2019 marked it as to-read
From Marina Hyde's column in today's Guardian:
Anyway, let me conclude with a correction. A fortnight ago, I suggested the movie disaster Brexit was most like was Heaven’s Gate, simply because that notorious flop effectively collapsed a studio much in the way this crisis is threatening to collapse the UK. But I have since wondered whether the most closely analogous flop is Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (don’t worry, you needn’t have seen it), which even its director came to see as “the conquest of
Nov 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: burden of dreams
Recommended to Mariel by: I can't remembers not the same as I don't know
I'm glad that I've not felt that compelled to HAVE to do something. But I kinda relate in feeling sometimes like people around me don't give a shit and I'm some crazy dreamer chick with a crazy dreamy look in her eyes.

But I also kinda wish that I had those visions in my head that had to come out in words and images. I've not felt the kind of righteous rightness that burdened me to create. Maybe that's why I almost never remember my dreams...

Fucking crazy stuff. I loved it. Like the rest of lif
Oct 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, film, peru
One of my favorite films of the 1980s was Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, about a 19th century Peruvian rubber baron who decides to bring the opera to the jungle city of Iquitos. In order to do this, he must find a way of moving a largish steamship over a ridge that separates two adjacent rivers, the Camisea and the Urubamba.

Naturally, such an idea is madness on the face of it. But Herzog did it, and the result is a film production that will continue to amaze people as long as films are being wat
What else can you do but give this one two thumbs up? The man hauled a steamship over a mountain in the Amazon. There's nothing about that that isn't ridiculous, amazing, destructive, damaging, obsessive, incomprehensible, baffling, gratuitous, pointless, staggering, horrible, laughable, great.

I've seen My Best Fiend, Herzog's documentary about his relationship with Klaus Kinski, which contains a lot of footage of the making of Fitzcarraldo, the ship-hauling movie. Reading his diaries from the m
Nancy Oakes
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction

As Werner Herzog tells us in his preface, this book is not a collection of "reports on the actual filming," and it is not a journal, "except in a very general sense." He refers to it as "inner landscapes, born of the delirium of the jungle," but then says that he's not sure if that's really it either. The book covers the period from June 1979 through November 1981 during the making of Fitzcarraldo and while it is filled with some of the struggles he endure
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing

But in the film the geography has to be visible: two rivers that almost touch, with only a mountain ridge between them, over which the ship has to be hauled. Without that understanding the point of the story is lost says Herzog.

In the jungle things can go wrong and everything that could go wrong did, in Herzog's case. And people kept asking him, why can't we ditch the scene with the ship or fake it at least? And he replies, because there is a metaphor there, without this metaphor there is no fil
Jul 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone seeking to understand one of the 20th Century's great works of Art
Fear and Loathing in the Peruvian Jungle: Werner Herzog's Pursuit of his Dream.
I feel that it is a fairly safe statement that never has a film production been so fraught by so many factors: political hurdles, extortionate local bureaucrats, wars between indiginous tribes, plane crashes, torrential down pours, drought, dried up funding, drunken extras, drunken crew, drunken actors, snakes, seperate media circuses involving Mick Jagger and Claudia Cardinale, snakes, and Klaus Kinski, to name just
Kit Fox
Jul 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
So, if like me, you've seen Fitzcaraldo and Burden of Dreams and My Beast Fiend in addition to having read Kinski Uncut, is this still worth checking out? The answer is an emphatic "yes." Yes all the way to Peru. Herzog writes the way he speaks, in his own—well I wouldn't say inimitable because people do pretty good impressions of his these days—idiosyncratic, stream-of-subconscious cadence that bounds from topic to topic with patently illuminating levels of absurdity. A dreamscape full of fist- ...more
Dec 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Clovis and other Herzog-heads.
Werner Herzog is one of the greatest filmmakers in cinematic history. Anyone who says otherwise is, well... Wrong. Seriously. Go watch Grizzly Man and come back and tell me I'm wrong. That shit is crazy.

He also did this one film few people have heard of, Fitzcarraldo. During the filming of that movie in South America, Herzog kept a journal of his everyday experiences. Later he turned those recollections into a book, Conquest of the Useless. Santa loves me and gave it to me for Christmas, so it's
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it

I responded, half jokingly, that our prayers resembled intense comments directed into a darkened room from which no answer came and which we had to assume was completely empty, not even occupied by a large, taciturn guy on a throne, who might be able to hear us but did not even bestow on us so much as an echo from the void, other than the echo of our stupid hopes and our self-deception. After I had got that off my chest, we laughed and had a beer.

A mad diary of the making of Fitzcarraldo, but
Jun 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Two great things about *Conquest of the Useless*

1) Werner Herzog writes exactly the same way he talks, so it's no trouble at all to imagine him personally reading this book to you in that trademark flat Bavarian drawl. It would make the perfect accompaniment to a midnight road trip through a Louisiana bayou where you ran out of gas, sank into mud up to your wheel wells, were bitten by several cottonmouth moccasins and then had your throat slashed by swamp-dwelling sociopaths. Werner Herzog would
Steev Hise
Jul 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fun, own-it, filmmaking
This is a wonderful book. If you're a big Herzog fan like I am, or interested in filmmaking, or Peru, or just interested in reading the journals of a really unique artist and thinker, trying to do the impossible in the middle of a jungle, you will probably like this book. I'm not sure who else would like it for sure if they don't fall into one or more of those categories.

This book covers a lot of ground. It's some descriptive logging of daily work on a film set, but it's much much more. Many ent
Vincent Saint-Simon
Nov 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Nikki Rainey
Sirs, But More Especially Madams:

When I read this book I feel like I am touching another soul, and that soul is slapping an albino turkey.


Sep 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Very good. The next is "walking on ice". ...more
Sep 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
I’ve watched plenty of DVDs with the director commentary turned on, enough to know that this material is rarely illuminating and all too often a complete waste of time. And so it seems like Werner Herzog’s diary of making his 1982 film Fitzcarraldo, the diary reconstituted after three decades on a shelf somewhere, wouldn’t be something I’d be too interested in reading.

But Herzog is an engaging diarist and a witty observer, and in short, this is the diary of a madman. Venture with cast and crew i
Rose Boehm
Oct 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
I am half-way through. It's a diary without self-pity of a pitiless time in the jungles of Peru. Werner Herzog shot Fitzcarraldo here, where I live. So I don't live in the rainforest, but Lima, the capital. I know the rainforest and understand his frustrations and the culture shock for one used to the comforts of Europe or the US. Only Werner Herzog could attempt this films and actually see it through. Anyone else would have given up before even starting the project.

Soon more.

Ok, I have finishe
Shane Bordoli
Sep 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Well, so good I feel I should write one of my rare reviews for it to maybe inspire someone else to read this little known work. A book by Werner is a rare beast and well worth hunting down. The film and the escapades involved in making it are the stuff of legend and have been covered in several documentaries; here we get Werner's experiences with such style and content that is quite unlike anything else I have read. It's form is simply a diary of the on location filming of one of his classic col ...more
Kobe Bryant
Jun 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
How did he have the energy for all this, just reading it was exhausting
Jun 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'm back. Did you miss me? (He screams into the void).

The beginning of my summer job and an increase in my duties as a journal editor dovetailed at the beginning of June. Unfortunately, I was only able to get through one book! How pathetic! I should have much more free time in the month of July, so hopefully I can make up on my reading deficit . . . Now, onto the ACTUAL review.

The title of this books says it all. These are Werner Herzog's journal entries from his time filming Fitzcarraldo. Of c
Sep 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Kind of strange book, the story of a man (Herzog) living in the rainforest working with indians. He nicely describes the heavy athmosphere and surroundings. It tells a little about the making of the film, but I had hoped to hear more of it.
Oct 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book isn't a straight account on the making of Fitzcarraldo, and I didn't expect to find that here. I read it to see what this director—an astute observer of his environment and its inhabitants, whether two-or eight-legged, winged, horned, or beaked—saw during his two-and-a-half years in the Peruvian jungle. I also read to get closer to the spirit of this useless conquest—this act of hauling a ship over a mountain to serve the director's operatic vision.

Despite this singular quest, film pro
" this setting, left unfinished and abandoned by God in wrath, the birds do not sing; they shriek in pain, and confused trees tangle with one another like battling Titans, from horizon to horizon, in a steaming creation still being formed. Fog-panting and exhausted they stand in this unreal world, in unreal misery -and I, like a stanza in a poem written in an unknown foreign tongue, am shaken to the core."

Me too dude, me too.

Perhaps it's because I'm a city girl, but Herzog's vision of natur
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"A dream, not dreamed at night because I do not dream, but experienced while walking: when I saw snow falling over the jungle and forming a soggy blanket over the huge, warm river, over the palm huts, the vultures' branches, I knew at once that an ice age had broken our in Europe, covering everything calamitously, and this could only be a long-distance effect from that. A large boa constrictor was also there, killed by a volley of buckshot to the head, but brought back to life by energetic massa ...more
Dec 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
If you are a Herzog fan, you will love this. Reality, dreams and imagination all flow together with no boundaries. Part chronicle of the making of "Fitzcaraldo", part journal of his thoughts and struggles with the jungle and the whole experience, and part cathartic rant, you will hear his voice throughout. In an interview that I saw, he claims that this is the only diary he has ever kept on a film, and he did it here out of tne need to channel the chaos around him. Not a conventional read, but,i ...more
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A madhouse. A relentless parade of insane details, characters, and situations, recounted by a man who seems to be anticipating the worst, and for whom chaos is some kind of sinister nourishment. To think that this represents someone's diary, and not some sort of crazed Stanley Crawford novel, borders on the unthinkable. I relished every page. ...more
Jul 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
In the evening I finished reading a book, and because I was feeling so alone, I buried the book on the edge of the forest with a borrowed spade.
Leslie McAllister
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I had so much fun reading this I want to read it again right now!
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
An audiobook version read by Herzog himself would be awesome. Real missed opportunity there.
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Werner Herzog (born Werner Stipetić) is a German film director, screenwriter, actor, and opera director.

He is often associated with the German New Wave movement (also called New German Cinema), along with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Margarethe von Trotta, Volker Schlöndorff, Wim Wenders and others. His films often feature heroes with impossible dreams, or people with unique talents in obscure fields

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