Werner Herzog’s magnificent, hypnotic look at the 16th-century conquistadors was shot on location in the Amazon jungle. It was the international hit that made him and his star, the late Klaus Kinski, famous.
Pizarro’s men are after the fabled El Dorado, but Kinski – as the ruthless and insane Don Lope de Aguirre – doesn’t even appear until near the end.
Characters argue, fight, and kill each other, then starve and hallucinate, while Indians pick them off with arrows. The image of the defeated, mad Aguirre, with his dead daughter on an out-of-control raft covered with monkeys, is unforgettable.
Aguirre was shot in German and English-language versions. The film was originally shot in English (the only language the multi-national cast and crew had in common) but the original production sound was recorded on location and could not be used because of its poor quality.
The whole film was later dubbed into German. Werner Herzog claimed that Kinski wanted too much money for the recording sessions, so Gerd Martienzen dubbed him. Even audiences that have seen Kinski’s other performances often can’t tell the difference. Herzog went on to direct Kinski in Nosferatu (1978) and three other features.
Burden of Dreams (1982) is a fascinating documentary about the making of the film. It shows how the obsessive director treated the native actors, dealt with setbacks, and pushed ahead despite incredible odds. Original costars Mick Jagger (who left because of other commitments) and Jason Robards (who became ill after five weeks of shooting) are shown in early footage.
The excellent soundtrack is by Popul Yoh.
Don Lope de Aguirre
Inez de Atienza
Brother Gaspar de Carvajal
Don Pedro de Ursua
Don Fernando de Guzman