Thursday, July 14, 2011

With friends like these...

Klaus Kinski is not a well man. This is a man who is not only loathed by nearly all who have worked with him, but has actually earned numerous death threats against him due to his egomaniacal behavior on the sets of the films in which he is cast. Even so, German director Werner Herzog has worked with Kinski on numerous occasions and even considers him one of his best friends. I forgot to mention that Herzog has been the source of several of these death threats. If you watch interviews with Herzog, he comes across as a sane, soft-spoken, intelligent man. So, what is it about the unpredictable Kinski that compels Herzog to work with him? Herzog, himself, made a film, released in 1999, exploring the subject: MY BEST FIEND - KLAUS KINSKI.

The film covers the period from when the two first met as lodgers in a boarding house (when the director was only a teenager) through the production of the five films the two would make together over the years. Herzog revisits many of the locations where his films were shot and interviews those who worked with Kinski on them. Kinski, himself, only appears in archive footage, apparently wanting nothing to do with the documentary. There is no doubt that Kinski is one of the most temperamental actors ever to have worked in cinema. The slightest provocation can lead to extended rants, fights, and threats of quitting. Witnessing footage of these rants is like watching car accidents on the highway; difficult to stomach, at times, but compelling. Herzog's stunning footage of remote and rugged landscapes perfectly matches the wild abandon with which Kinski practices his art. Kinski's unpredictability synchronizes with that of the wilderness surrounding him. It's almost as if he feeds off of the energy of his environment and channels it into torrents of vitriol and manic explosions of movement. In the end, what is learned is that Kinski possesses incredible raw talent that also comes with a stupendous ego and an emotional hair trigger. When these energies are focused into a role, however, he gives performances unlike any other actor on the planet. Those performances drive the films in which he appears and command the audience's attention in remarkable ways.

As for the film itself, it's a bit of a mixed-bag. The scenery that Herzog photographs is gorgeous beyond imagining. Rough, wild, and bursting with life. Enduring Kinski's abuse of his fellow workers can be a bit hard to stomach for such an extended period of time, however. In addition, Herzog's deep, almost monotonous narration can be off-putting as the film progresses. One can see that it would take someone as even-keeled as Herzog in order to successfully tame a beast such as Kinski but his voice still palls after a while.

I would recommend the film as an interesting study of an actor who lives and works on the edges of acceptable behavior, crossing the line more-frequently than is comfortable for most people. The film is not light entertainment, but it does have its charms and the subject is certainly unique.

1 comment:

  1. I have this DVD as part of the Herzog/Kinski box set...It is fascinating. I especially lik the footage of Kinski doing his performance art/rants. Unnerving stuff. Great review, Brian!