Dangerous to know
Andreas Faust | Tasmanian Autonomous Zone | 01/11/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In this very watchable documentary Werner Herzog pays tribute to the late Klaus Kinski, who played the lead in five of Herzog's films. This is Herzog's side of the story, of course, as Kinski is no longer around give his version.
A Peruvian actor from 'Aguirre' describes Kinski as "a diabolical character." In one memorable scene, Herzog tells a very uptight, bourgeois couple about what Kinski used to get up to in their house when he lived there in the 1950s. He once locked himself in the bathroom for two days, and smashed it up so thoroughly you could sift through it with a tennis racket. "I never thought it was possible someone could rave for 48 hours," Herzog tells the couple, who try to hide their shock and disapproval.
Kinski was a genius - an intuitive actor, highly professional when not possessed by megalomaniacal psychosis. Occasionally he even showed warmth and camaraderie.
But other times he screamed in Herzog's face for literally hours because his coffee was lukewarm. Once he fired a gun at random through the wall of a hut, shooting the thumb off another actor. Kinski's ravings were a real problem for the Amazonian Indians who starred alongside him in 'Fitzcarraldo', and they made a serious offer to Herzog to kill him. Herzog himself threatened to shoot Kinski, yet it was this very threat which wrung the amazing final scene of 'Aguirre' out of him.
One is reminded of George Orwell's essay on Salvador Dali - namely, how much bad behaviour do you tolerate in a gifted artist? In Kinski's case I would tolerate a fair bit.
Herzog ends by comparing Kinski and himself to two critical masses, dangerous to come into contact with each other. Despite (or because of) this, they created 'Fitzcarraldo' (one of the greatest films ever made), the mesmerising 'Aguirre', the incredible 'Nosferatu' remake, and two other films. Few other actors have approached the intensity of Kinski, and this documentary is a fitting tribute to him."
Good humour, tipped with venom.
Angry Mofo | 06/06/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Here's what Klaus Kinski wrote about Werner Herzog in his autobiography:
"Herzog is a miserable, spiteful, envious, stingy, stinking, money-hungry, malicious, sadistic, insidious, backstabbing, blackmailing, cowardly person, and a liar through and through. His so-called talent is nothing more than torturing helpless creatures and, if necessary, putting them to death or simply murdering them. No one and nothing interests him but his lousy career as a so-called filmmaker. Driven by a pathological addiction to cause a sensation, he himself provokes the most senseless difficulties and dangers and puts the safety and even the lives of others on the line -- only so he can later say that he, Herzog, achieved the seemingly impossible." (This goes on for pages.)
Herzog mentions these passages in "My Best Fiend," holds up a copy of Kinski's book, and says that he ought to read from it...but he never does. Instead, Herzog says that, actually, he ghost-wrote those hate-filled passages for Kinski (zing!). But he never quotes them. It is telling.
Things like this happen all the time throughout the film. I don't mind that Herzog focuses on the five films he made with Kinski -- those are Kinski's most famous performances, and Herzog would know more about them than anyone else. But, for instance, toward the end of his life, Kinski was obsessed with making a film about the famous violinist Paganini, with whom he personally identified. Eventually he was able to make it, but it was the only film he ever directed, and the last film he ever acted in. Herzog mentions it in "My Best Fiend," but he doesn't show any excerpts from it. All he says about it is that the script was unfilmable, and that Kinski had already exhausted himself by that point.
I am perfectly willing to suppose that Herzog is right, and that "Paganini" is a bad film. In fact I'm sure that's the case -- Kinski had no directorial experience, plus his notorious lack of restraint probably wouldn't translate into good directing. Also, it's clear from Kinski's autobiography that Kinski's interest in Paganini was driven by a badly-concealed desire to exalt himself. (You can see this in "Cobra Verde" too, although that's a brilliant film.) But still. "Paganini" was Kinski's only directorial effort, and he certainly put a lot of time and emotion into it. Whatever its ultimate artistic merit, clearly this project was extremely important to Kinski, and surely any attempt to understand him should at least briefly look at it. Maybe Herzog could even show an example of why it was such a bad film, and thereby make a larger point about why Kinski was unable to harness his own talents by himself. But he doesn't. Why? It's certainly not because he couldn't get the rights to it -- if he could find that obscure footage of Kinski's "Jesus" performance, he could surely get a clip from "Paganini," a failure that no one wanted to distribute for years. But he doesn't forget to mention that Kinski allegedly asked him to direct "Paganini," and that he refused. Hmm.
Herzog also visits a photographer who took many pictures of Kinski on set. This scene feels like mutual back-slapping, rather than a discussion of Kinski. Sure, they explain Kinski's ability to manoeuvre in front of the camera during the filming of "Aguirre," but most of the time, the conversation goes along the lines of, "Oh Werner, it was hard work, but you did it." "Oh yes, I did, and you have the proof." "Yes, that was your role and you did it with bravado." "Oh, yes, it sure was." Then Kinski is shown throwing a tantrum on the set of "Fitzcarraldo."
There are scattered tidbits about Kinski's acting style, and a couple of clips, mostly from Herzog's films. There's one non-Herzog clip of Kinski playing a cruel military officer that illustrates how he could use subtle realism to strengthen his "demonic" roles. But that's all: for instance, there's nothing from Kinski's brief appearance in "Doctor Zhivago," the only watchable scene in that otherwise dreadful film. On the plus side, there are a couple of interviews with Kinski's fellow actors. Eva Mattes and Claudia Cardinale both found Kinski to be a sweet and considerate man. Eva Mattes says so many nice things about Kinski that Herzog hurries to turn the conversation back to himself.
Watching this film, I thought that the Herzog/Kinski feud never ended, and that the real purpose of the film is to define Kinski's legacy entirely in Herzog's terms. The tone Herzog chooses for his anecdotes is exactly the tone that would discredit Kinski most. Instead of reading from Kinski's book, Herzog remarks, with all the good humour in the world, that all the abuse therein was actually Herzog's own idea. This remark is brilliantly unanswerable -- if you believe it, there's simply no way to take Kinski seriously anymore. Herzog's numerous remarks about Kinski's "posing" and "insipid beliefs" are in a similar vein. Herzog casually says that he showed Kinski how to act in many scenes, and that he could have played the parts himself. The film also reproduces Herzog's rant about the jungle from "Burden of Dreams," even though it has nothing to do with Kinski. Sure, Herzog praises Kinski's talent, but he leaves no doubt as to who the real master was.
I can understand if Herzog wanted to even the score, after all the things Kinski said about him over the years. But in some sense, Kinski's hatred was boyishly naive compared to this film. Looking at Herzog's genial smile in "My Best Fiend," you wonder whether Kinski might have been on to something in his description of Herzog. If you are interested in Kinski, read the autobiography. It's just as unreliable as a source of facts, but it reveals more of his character."