Monday, June 29, 2009

'Conquest of the Useless' By Werner Herzog

Reviewed by JANET MASLIN
New York Times

This is what “a beautiful, fresh, sunny morning” was like for Werner Herzog during the Sisyphean miseries that plagued the shooting of his Amazonian epic “Fitzcarraldo” (1982): one of two newly hatched chicks drowned in a saucer containing only a few millimeters of water. The other lost a leg and a piece of its stomach to a murderous rabbit. And Mr. Herzog realized, for the umpteenth time, that “a sense of desolation was tearing me up inside, like termites in a fallen tree trunk.”

These and other good times have been immortalized in “Conquest of the Useless,” Mr. Herzog’s journal about his best-known filmmaking nightmare. Already published in German as the evocatively titled “Eroberung des Nutzlosen” in 2004, this book, translated by Krishna Winston, seemingly recapitulates some of Les Blank’s film “Burden of Dreams,” the 1982 documentary that captured the “Fitzcarraldo” shoot in all of its magnificent, doomy glory. When he spoke to Mr. Blank, Mr. Herzog used the phrase “challenge of the impossible” to describe his heroic, arguably unhinged struggle to complete his film.

But “Burden of Dreams” never penetrated Mr. Herzog’s rogue thoughts, at least not in the way his own mesmerizingly bizarre account does. That’s understandable: Mr. Blank could concentrate on such external diversions as hauling a steamship over a hill in the Amazon rain forest, which was the pièce de résistance of Mr. Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” scenario.

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