Born October 18th 1926
Died 23rd November 1991.
It is a cliche that the line between madness and genius is a thin one, but Klaus Kinski proved it’s accuracy as far as actors are concerned. He actually spent some time incarcerated in an insane asylum, and he brought a similarly dark, mad, intensity to any role he took, no matter how crass and appalling the movie. And, it has to be admitted, there were plenty of those, thanks to an attitude to work best summed up as “Fuck the script, send me the cheque”.
However, despite possessing a filmography which went into three figures as long ago as 1972, there were still many highlights. Kinski’s tempestuous (to say the least) relationship with Werner Herzog provided a lot of these: ‘Fitzcarraldo’, ‘Woyzeck’, ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’ and perhaps most notably of all, as ‘Nosferatu’ in the remake of F.W.Murnau’s 1922 classic Dracula rip-off.
His upbringing in Germany during the war – he was 12 when it broke out – must have had an effect on his mentality. In the last days of the Third Reich he deserted the army, was caught, sentenced to death, escaped and made his way to Allied lines. After the war he was a pimp for a while before becoming an actor, first on stage, gaining notoriety for his poetry readings. His first film was ‘Morituri’ in 1948 (his second, ‘Das Kalte Herz’, was directed by Paul Verhoeven, though presumably not the Paul Verhoeven!) and his intensity brought him to the attention of people like Fellini, Visconti and Pasolini, all of whom he turned down because they weren’t offering enough money. Only Werner Herzog managed to wheedle Kinski into acting for love – or at least, some strange, symbiotic hate-hate relationship:
“Herzog is a miserable, spiteful, envious, stingy, stinking, money-hungry, malicious, sadistic, insidious, backstabbing, blackmailing, cowardly person and a liar through and through”. This quote from Klaus is only the tip of the ice-berg. Also well known is the incident where Kinski threatened to shoot Herzog, which, since they were in the Amazon at the time, would have been an interesting concept. The exact facts of the case are rather more difficult to discover – Kinski claims that he had the only gun and it was Herzog who threatened him! Despite the sparks produced by the clashing of two great creative forces, it’s probably safe to say that Klaus Kinski did not like Werner Herzog and the feeling seemed to be mutual, as after the publication of Kinski’s autobiography, Herzog sued for libel.
He wasn’t the only one to do so – our beloved Nastassja wanted to take her own father to court for libel, after certain comments that their relationship had been very close. Whether this is true or not will probably never be known. On the one hand, Klaus was a relentless womaniser, as three wives and an indeterminate number of more or less casual lays prove. On the other, his grip on reality never seemed to be too firm – overall, I’d probably be inclined to suggest, shall we say, that it would take someone with more moral control than Klaus possessed, to keep his hands off ‘Passion Flower Hotel’ era Nastassja!
His death has left the world of cinema a significantly less interesting place. Somehow, ‘Rest in Peace’ just doesn’t seem an appropriate epitaph…
[For much more on Klaus, you can now visit one of my other sites at klaus.kinski.us