Burden of Dreams is a remarkable documentary that in many ways holds a greater prominence than the film it is documenting. The filming of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982) was becoming a legend while it was happening, but Les Blank’s documentary helps to clear aside the mythologizing in much the same way that Herzog’s army of extras cleared away a mountain pass for the central metaphor of the film. Blank’s camera helps to humanise the proceedings and documents in unflinching detail the heavy price that numerous people paid in service of Herzog’s dream. Dreams hang heavily in the air like the humid temperatures of the Peruvian jungle, and this is a document about the futility of attempting to capture a reality on screen that exists within the fevered realms of a dreamscape. The ‘making of’ documentary has become a debased form in the modern age of DVD with producers employing film crews dedicated to producing bland and generic featurettes during the making of the film for the sell through market. These artless self-centred ego trips are barely watchable, but it means that the cost of producing material for the DVD is absorbed into the budget of the film. The genius of Burden of Dreams, and the reason such a film wouldn’t be made now, is that it concerns itself with things other than the making of the film. Blank’s documentary possesses an organic and improvised feel which uses the events surrounding the production of Fitzcarraldo as an anchor for a very inquiring camera.
© Shaun Anderson 2010