I am taking this opportunity to ask again my question about Saura's El Dorado: Has anyone seen it? Any comments?
Sorry to take this off topic of the Flamenco Trilogy for a moment. I've only seen a television showing of El Dorado (1.85 rather than 2.35 widescreen), and thought it was OK, with some major reservations. I feel Aguirre, Wrath of God is the far better film - it has a raw quality that helps to create a feeling of actually living and struggling through the events with the characters. El Dorado is spectacular but is made in a much more 'classical' style (the main characters barely get their armour muddied!), keeping its distance from Aguirre and not focusing too much on the insane folly of it all (it is described as being officially commissioned as a commemorative film in the opening credits and it plays very much like an authorised version of history).
There is not really a sense of the number of people slowly dwindling as the expedition becomes hopeless - there are still a huge number of extras even at the end of the film. At the same time there are no scenes showing the physical labour of the people being ruled by a bunch of variously idealistic, greedy and crazy people vying for control of the expedition. There is nothing comparable to that magnificent first shot of the Herzog film of the sheer scale of the expedition that was taken to search for El Dorado, a shot that had me immediately thinking of all the people struggling to fulfil their master's crazy ambitions (which also applies as much to Herzog as to the events he is showing) and a shot that contrasts perfectly with the final image of Aguirre alone on the raft, showing how all those people ended up dying in vain.
The nearest El Dorado comes to a similar comment is an early scene where a boat is launched to much celebration, which then immediately breaks in half and sinks, and a scene where one of the noblemen who was plotting to return to Peru is humiliated by having to row the boat with the black slaves.
I was left feeling that El Dorado was much more of an 'official' or nobleman's take on history, concerned with plots, betrayals and infighting among the elite (even the earlier boat launching scene shies away from showing the fate of those on the boat that sinks to focus on the head shipbuilder's reaction to seeing his boat sink - akin to showing how terrible the sinking of the Titanic was from the perspective of the manager of the White Star Line Board of Directors back in Liverpool trying to figure out how much the tragedy has cost them!) while Aguirre, Wrath of God seems to move beyond the story itself to portray the universal themes behind the specific story.
El Dorado also manages to make this epic story strangely boring in its middle section - there must be about forty minutes where Lambert Wilson and his clique are dispatched, then new rulers are brought in who are then also killed, then new people lead the expedition until they are killed at which point Aguirre kills the people who plotted the last assassination!
This is another way in which the film is strangely by the numbers in its storytelling - once it became apparent that we are going to have to watch a third cycle of paranoia, plotting, assassination and spinning of the assassination to the troops I found myself getting a little frustrated with the film. I guess it was an attempt to show the way the expedition was cannibalising itself through repetitive cycles of violence, but if that was the aim the message was belabored a little too much.
For a film that takes far less risks in telling its story, it strangely feels much cruder than Herzog's film (i.e. the scene where the horses are killed for their meat) - it seems to be trying to fit the characters into simple hero and villian roles compared to Herzog managing to find some compassion and empathy even for Aguirre himself.
This is perhaps best illustrated by the way Herzog finds a beautiful poetic image of the now bereaved wife of the original leader of the expedition walking off into the jungle with her retinue never to be seen again with the same character's treatment in El Dorado - as a manipulative slut who after her man is killed is caught in bed with Aguirre's power rival and is then chased into the jungle and killed onscreen. One interpretation allows the character to retain a tiny shred of dignity through making the audience fully aware of her inevitable death without having to show it (which moment might also inform the later Grizzly Man and Herzog's decision not to play the tape of the fatal bear attack in the film), the other makes it more obvious as to her eventual fate but also imposes its opinion of what it thinks of the character in the way it treats her.
I don't know whether this problem was the fault of the television broadcast that I saw or not, but Lambert Wilson's dialogue did not seem particularly well dubbed into Spanish - it was very out of synch at times, which was very obvious in his big speech scene at the beginning of the film.
So there are a lot of major flaws in the film, which focuses on the most limited rather than universal aspects of the story, which ends without taking events fully to their inevitable conclusion and which fails to capture any of the danger or struggle of the expedition, instead making it feel at times like a historical cruise trip(!), but some of the images are extremely beautiful and it is certainly worth checking out if you are interested. Watch Aguirre, Wrath of God first though!