German filmmaker Werner Herzog, who turns 71 today, directed actor Klaus Kinski in his two most acclaimed motion pictures – Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, The Wrath of God. Kinski is regarded as one of the most temperamental – some would say insane – actors of the past 50 years.
Kinski continually wreacked havoc on the set of Aguirre with his psychotic screaming fits. Irritated that cast and crew were making too much noise while playing cards during a break, he fired a gun at a hut, blowing the top joint off an extra’s finger. At one point he threatened to abandon the production when Herzog refused to fire a technician he hated. Says Herzog: “I went up to him and said, ‘You can’t do this.’ I told him I had a rifle and that he’d only make it as far as the first bend before he had eight bullets in his head — the ninth one would be for me.” Kinski returned to the set.
Most directors would refuse to work with such a maniac again, but no one loves a challenge more than Herzog. He ended up hiring the German actor to star in four more of his films, including Fitzcarraldo, a film about an Irishman who becomes obsessed with building an opera house in the jungles of Peru. The film employed hundreds of Peruvian Indians. Near the end of production, the locals offered to solve the Kinski problem. Herzog: “They said: ‘Shall we kill him for you?’ And I said: ‘No, for God’s sake! I still need him for shooting. Leave him to me!'”
In 1999 Herzog produced a documentary about their tormented relationship. It’s called Klaus Kinski – My Best Fiend. Says the director, “People think we had a love-hate relationship. Well, I did not love him, nor did I hate him. We had mutual respect for each other, even as we both planned each other’s murder.”
To give you a sense of Kinski’s madness, here are some of his thoughts on the director: “Herzog is a miserable, hateful, malevolent, avaricious, money-hungry, nasty, sadistic, treacherous, cowardly creep…he should be thrown alive to the crocodiles! An anaconda should strangle him slowly! A poisonous spider should sting him and paralyze his lungs! The most venomous serpent should bite him and make his brain explode! No panther claws should rip open his throat — that would be much too good for him! Huge red ants should piss into his lying eyes and gobble up his balls and his guts! He should catch the plague! Syphilis! Yellow fever! Leprosy! It’s no use; the more I wish him the most gruesome deaths, the more he haunts.” (I actually think some of these sentiments may have been intended as satire. But then, I wouldn’t bet money on it.)
Well, I, for one, am extremely grateful that Werner Herzog continues to haunt. I adore his movies, and encourage film connoisseurs to discover his work, starting with his masterpiece, Fitzcarraldo.
So, are you wondering about Klaus’s karma? Of his three children — actress Nastassja among them — only his son Nikolai attended his funeral in 1991.
Here’s the trailer of My Best Fiend:
© Dana Spiardi, Sept 5, 2013