FILM 1657: AGUIRRE, WRATH OF GOD
TRIVIA: Werner Herzog claims to have written the screenplay in two and a half days. He wrote a good portion of it while traveling with his soccer team, during games and on bus rides. Following one game, the team was very drunk, and the player seated behind Herzog vomited on his typewriter, ruining many pages of the script. Herzog was unable to salvage the pages, and tossed them out the window. He was also unable to recall what he'd written on them.
The monkeys that appear at the end of the film were somewhat difficult to acquire. According to Werner Herzog's commentary, he paid the men who were to provide them only half of what they asked for, as he didn't trust them and thought they would try to run off with the money without providing the monkeys. He was proved right, as they had sold the monkeys to someone else and they were to be flown to Florida. In desperation, Herzog pretended he was the veterinarian and that the monkeys didn't have their vaccination documents, which allowed him to finally get the monkeys and film their scenes. After this, all the monkeys were set free into the wild.
During a particularly rowdy night of production, Klaus Kinski, irritated by the noise from a hut where cast and crew were playing cards, repeatedly fired a Winchester rifle into it. One of the bullets took the tip of an unnamed extra's finger off. Werner Herzog immediately confiscated the weapon and it remains his property to this day.
This film, as well as several other early films by Werner Herzog, were shot on a 35mm camera that he stole as a young man from the Munich Film School, a predecessor to today's prestigious film school 'HFF München'. Herzog himself never was a film student there or anywhere. He readily admits to the theft but also justifies it with the significance of the films he's made with the camera and his right to artistic expression: "It was a very simple 35mm camera, one I used on many other films, so I do not consider it a theft. For me, it was truly a necessity. I wanted to make films and needed a camera. I had some sort of natural right to this tool. If you need air to breathe, and you are locked in a room, you have to take a chisel and hammer and break down a wall. It is your absolute right."[Cronin, 2003]
This was the first Werner Herzog film with Klaus Kinski. It was the start of an extremely stormy, and sometimes violent, professional relationship that lasted 15 years.
Although plot details and many of the characters in "Aguirre, the Wrath of God"(1972) come directly from Werner Herzog's own imagination, historians have pointed out that the film fairly accurately incorporates some 16th-century events and historical personages into a fictional narrative. The film's major characters, Aguirre, Ursúa, Don Fernando, Inez and Florés, were indeed involved in a 1560 expedition that left Peru to find the city of El Dorado. Commissioned by Peru's governor, Ursúa organized an expeditionary group of 300 men to travel by way of the Amazon River. He was accompanied by his mixed-race mistress, Doña Inez. At one point during the journey, Aguirre, a professional soldier, decided that he could use the 300 men to overthrow the Spanish rule of Peru. Aguirre had Ursúa murdered and proclaimed Fernando as "The Prince of Peru". Fernando himself was eventually murdered when he questioned Aguirre's scheme of sailing to the Atlantic, conquering Panama, crossing the isthmus and invading Peru. Many others who attempted to rebel against Aguirre were also killed. The surviving soldiers conquered Isla Margarita off the coast of Venezuela and made preparations to attack the mainland. However, by that time Spanish authorities had learned of Aguirre's plans, and when the rebels arrived in Venezuela, government agents offered full pardons to Aguirre's men. All of them accepted the deal. Immediately prior to his arrest, Aguirre murdered his daughter Florés, who had remained by his side during the entire journey. He was then captured and dismembered. Herzog's screenplay merged this 1560 expedition with the events of an earlier Amazonian journey, that took place in 1541 and 1542. Like Ursúa, Gonzalo Pizarro and his men entered the Amazon basin in search of El Dorado. Various troubles afflicted the expedition and, sure that El Dorado was very close, Pizarro set up a smaller group led by Francisco de Orellana to break off from the main force and forge ahead, then return with news of what they had found. This group utilized a brigantine to journey down the river. Accompanying Orellana was Spanish Dominican friar Gaspar de Carvajal, who kept a journal of the group's experiences. The historic Gaspar de Carvajal (1500-1584) had settled in Peru and dedicated himself to the conversion of the Indians. While Carvajal's diary does indeed exist, the content as presented in the film is mostly invented by writer/director Herzog himself.
The film was originally shot in English, the only language skills that all of the multi-national crew and cast members had in common. The original production sound was recorded on location, but finally not used because of its poor quality. The whole film was later post-synchronized into German. Director Werner Herzog claims that lead actor Klaus Kinski demanded too much money for the recording sessions and therefore another actor with a similar voice, Gerd Martienzen, dubbed him. Even audiences that have seen other performances of Kinski often can't tell the difference.
Aguirre's line "What is a throne but a plank red with velvet?" is an authentic quote from Napoleon Bonaparte.
In 1971, while Werner Herzog was location scouting for the film in Peru, he narrowly avoided taking LANSA Flight 508. Herzog's reservation was cancelled due to a last-minute change in itinerary. The plane was later struck by lightning and disintegrated, but one survivor lived after a free fall. Long haunted by the event, nearly 30 years later he made a documentary film Wings of Hope (2000) about it, which explored the story of the sole survivor Juliane Koepcke.
Werner Herzog explained how the choir-like sound was created, "We used a strange instrument, which we called a 'choir-organ.' It has inside it three dozen different tapes running parallel to each other in loops. ... All these tapes are running at the same time, and there is a keyboard on which you can play them like an organ so that [it will] sound just like a human choir but yet, at the same time, very artificial and really quite eerie."
Ranked #46 on Entertainment Weekly's "Top 50 Cult Films of All-Time"
Featured in the teen book "Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl" by Jesse Andrews.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.