The DVD, put out by Anchor Bay, and part of their great six-DVD Herzog-Kinski Collection (which includes all five films the duo filmed together, as well as My Best Friend), is in terrific shape — devoid of scratches and in glorious hues that are never too much. It was copied from a great transfer, filmed in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It also comes with the original German film trailer, a stills gallery, talent bios, and a commentary featuring Anchor Bay’s Norman Hill prompting Herzog (perhaps the best and most cogent DVD commenter going) and his brother, the film’s producer, Lucki Stipetic. Stipetic is Herzog’s real surname; Herzog is his middle name.
The commentary is shorn of the usual non-critical fellatio and philosophic meanderings most films have. Perhaps the funniest anecdote is how, during an early opera house scene with Enrico Caruso (Costante Moret), we see the character of legendary stage actress Sarah Bernhardt. First, we get the visual cue that she’s not singing, when we see a fat lady singing in the orchestra pit, and then Herzog reveals that the Bernhardt character is being played by a transvestite actor named Jean-Claude Dreyfuss.
Perhaps the only way this DVD, or the DVD set could have been improved was to have included the making of documentary about the film, Burden Of Dreams (1982), shot by Les Blank and Maureen Gosling. The rest of the film and DVD are in fine form, as Thomas Mauch, Herzog’s cinematographer, brings eye level realism to great heights, even as we whirl about Fitz and his crew in a tall tree stand from a helicopter shot. The film’s score is impressive, once again, as Herzog proves that he has no peer in film scoring, again relying on Florian Fricke and Popol Vuh, as well as native jungle music, and turn of the century recordings of Caruso singing Giuseppe Verdi, Vincenzo Bellini, and Richard Strauss.
Yet, there are many little moments in the film, that are the realism in the ‘eye level realism’, which make the film seem less like a film and more as if a camera had been snuck aboard a real life adventure. This is where the film’s greatness really comes into focus, for so few other directors ever have such moments in their films. Herzog often calls these moments ecstatic truths, but they are great because they are not really ecstatic, merely ordinary, but displaced in narrative space and time so that they take on a meaning and metaphor that is not immanent.
As example, there are the young children who stare at the jail Fitz is held in after an incident at a rubber baron’s party. The police chief lets him out because the children will not flee, and one child plays a fiddle for days on end. Why? There is no explanation, but oddities like this occur in life far more often than they ever appear in film.