The Obsession of Men in the Jungle
February 9, 2011
Here are four movies in the Fire in the Jungle Hall of Fame:
Oro, Plata, Mata (1982) directed in the Philippines by Peque Gallaga. The jungle scenery is beautiful, especially the waterfalls. This is considered by some to be the greatest Filipino film of all time. It is quite an eclectic movie, with some elements similar to The Godfather and Gone With the Wind, some balls-out action and gore scenes, and even some Filipino mythological fantasy. It is the best movie I’ve seen about the Filipino guerrilla movement during WW2…until that Wendell Fertig movie gets made, at least.
Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), directed in Peru by Werner Herzog. One of the earliest color films to present a lush, harsh jungle, establishing Herzog as a master of the technique. Whenever I watch this movie it seems too short and I am disappointed when it ends because I want to see more of the story and the setting. Many memorable scenes in this movie, but one that I often think of is when the expedition slowly trudged its way through the muddy jungle in their heavy armor, cargadores hauling all their extraneous equipment.
During some playtesting for the upcoming Fire in the Jungle fantasy RPG supplement, my friend wrote this great description of his party of adventurers pushing through the sloppy jungle, just like Aguirre and his conquistadores:
The sickly cleric demands his acolyte help him onto the top of the supplies and refuses to walk. He holds a parasol to protect him from the sun, even though the light that reaches them is already filtered by the dense overgrowth. The cute magic-user swelters in her elaborately embroidered and too-thick robes that continually get caught in the undergrowth; she makes her apprentice carry the heavy spellbook strapped to her back with various tinctures and components and all the writing supplies in a front-pack strapped to her chest. The fighting man grimly struggles to lead the mules and cut a path with his ‘squire’, really a cousin his mother made him bring, pushing the cart from behind. The squire is covered in mud, mule shit, undergrowth, and sweat. The thief and elf take “rear guard” but mostly just make noise with their ribald jokes and too-loud and forced laughter.
The next two both feature a river journey through the jungle, somewhat mad and obsessed characters, and had documentaries about the films’ creation and their somewhat mad and obsessed directors.
Fitzcarraldo (1982). Directed in Brazil and Peru by Werner Herzog. The third film on this blog directed by the jungle master (Aguirre Wrath of God, Rescue Dawn). The idea of dragging a boat over a jungle mountain and how it was accomplished in this movie is fascinating to me. All in the hopes of building an opera in the jungle! Burden of Dreams is the documentary about the creation of Fitzcarraldo and is just as good as the full movie.
Apocalypse Now (1979). Directed in the Philippines by Francis Ford Coppola. Not much I can say about this movie that hasn’t been said elsewhere. The jungle scenes just prior to the tiger’s appearance is a wonderful depiction of deep, dark, thick canopied jungle. The documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse is an interesting look at the struggles and disasters that hampered the creation of Apocalypse Now.
Finally, the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad must be mentioned here. First published in whole form in 1902, its influence on these two films is well known. It is in the public domain so the text and several free audio recordings are available for free download all over the internet.