Movie Magazine International

My Best Fiend

U.K.,Germany, Finland, U.S. - 1999

Movie Review By Moira Sullivan

If Klaus Kinski, the enfant terrible of six of Werner Herzogís films were still living, he would surely rant and rave hysterically in protest of My Best Fiend, a documentary made by Herzog on his love/hate relationship with the actor. Herzog who was at the forefront of "New German cinema" in the 1960ís explains that Kinski did not always keep his magnetic power under control but unleashed it full force both onscreen and off; Herzog in turn cultivated Kinskiís talents as he would a wild animal. His attempts to subdue the actorís wrath on the set included giving him chocolate-- so that his crazy uncontrollable energy would subside.

In this subtitled German language documentary, standard interviews and voice- overs explore the compulsions of both actor and director. But there are lulls when the reminiscing is confined to Herzog sitting on a log in the jungle, or nostalgic stories between old crew hands and actors such as Claudia Cardinale and photographer Bert Presser.

Herzogís journey through time to some of the places where he shot films with Kinski such as the Peruvian jungle is a kind of purging. What almost everyone confides is that Kinski was mad, insane, a hollerer who went on tirades and hounded photographers and crew, claiming artistic supremacy. We are allowed to witness these breakdowns, incredibly preserved on film. According to Herzog, Peruvian Indians offered to murder him, their anger building in a cauldron of emotion before shots. It helped since these scenes demanded anger, as did many of the scenes involving Kinski. Not only the Indians but Herzog himself wanted to kill Kinski.

My Best Fiend is also a chronicle of the soul of Herzog some of whose early Films had a reputation for reckless endangerment. In Aquirre, the Wrath of God , made in (1973)--a tale of a 16th century expedition by Spanish soldiers searching for a mythical city of gold in the Peruvian jungle-- his crew nearly starved to death. And in Fitzcarraldo (1981) --a film about a man who yearns to build an opera house in the Amazon jungle -- lives were lost .

Astonishingly , Herzog claims he does not know the color of his eyes because he does not believe in retrospection. But by looking closely at Kinski , he seems to discover himself. He ridicules the actor for never embracing the nature of the jungles, wanting to only pose for location photographs in his Yves Saint Laurent designs. Paradoxically, Kinskiís characterís live close to the sordidness and extremes of human existence brilliantly articulated in Herzogís work. And Kinski knew his business --according to Herzog he even invented a particular way of moving for the camera-- the kind of detail that makes you marvel at the untold stories of how actors assist their directors.

In over 160 films, Herzog claims that Kinski never smiled. In the course of this documentary are dozens of images of his contorted face and his raging anger. Yet, in stark contrast ,Herzog presents us with a wonderful sequence of a butterfly that befriends a joyful Kinski--a gesture that seems to balance out his horror of animals, of uninvited human touch.

In the end, Herzog compares Kinski to Dracula in his remake of Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), a love craving vampire out of his element in daylight who simply burned himself out.

My Best Fiend which debuted at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival was shown at the Tempo Documentary Film Festival last week in Stockholm, Sweden March 10-18,2000 ) and is now playing in San Francisco starting March 24,2000 for one week.

This is Moira Sullivan for Movie Magazine International Reporting from Stockholm, Sweden.

March 2000

© 2000 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 3/2000

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