Documentarian Les Blank, who filmed Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, trained his cameras on Herzog again, as the eccentric German filmmaker made his epic, Fitzcarraldo, in the Amazon rainforest of Peru. Herzog's production is in trouble right from the start.
He begins filming with Jason Robards playing the title role, and Mick Jagger playing Fitzcarraldo's sidekick, Wilbur. With 40 percent of the film shot, Robards becomes ill and goes back to the states, where his doctor will not let him return. Because of the delay, Jagger, with album and tour commitments, is forced to quit the production.
Thinking no one can fill the rock star's shoes, Herzog jettisons Jagger's role. He eventually casts his frequent collaborator Klaus Kinski as Fitzcarraldo and begins shooting again.
Violent tribal disputes and unpredictable weather hinder the shoot, but the biggest obstacle is Herzog's own quixotic and dangerous determination to film one antique boat smashing down the Amazonian rapids, and the dragging of an identical boat over a mountain from one river to another.
Blank interviews members of the cast and crew, including the impoverished Indian extras, and captures the troubles of the seemingly cursed production, but his interviews with Herzog are the focal point of the film.
If I abandon this project, Herzog explains at one point, I would be a man without dreams, and I never want to live like that. I live my life or I end my life with this project. Herzog later made his own documentary about Kinski, My Best Fiend, which adds to the lore of this infamously difficult shoot.