German director Werner Herzog’s movies are best known for occasionally starring Klaus Kinski. Klaus Kinski, meanwhile, is best known for being an insane maniac with diva tendencies. Together, they made quite a pair, working together on five films that would probably be little-remembered were it not for Kinski.
That working relationship, in which Kinski was psychopathic and Herzog put up with him, is documented in Herzog’s film “My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinski.”
As documentaries go, this one is second-rate, consisting of almost nothing but Herzog sitting in locations at which he and Kinski once filmed and reminiscing. He consults a few of Kinski’s co-stars, but none has anything terribly insightful to offer, and Herzog himself lets us down considerably. His films often used exotic locales and were filmed under arduous physical circumstances; why would he keep using an actor whom most people hated to work with and whom he himself often wanted to throttle? It’s suggested that the brilliance of Kinski’s performances was Herzog’s motivating factor, but there must have been more to it than that. Kinski was good, but not THAT good — and besides, this is a man who several times LITERALLY almost killed cast and crew members, and who was known to stand inches away from Herzog’s face and scream at him for hours on end. These were no Andy Kaufman-style shenanigans; this was a true deranged man. The greatest actor who ever lived couldn’t deliver a performance to make up for all that, as far most people are concerned. So what else prompted Herzog to overlook it? He doesn’t tell us.
It’s also unfortunate that Kinski died in 1991, making any insight from him impossible. It’s doubtful he would have participated anyway, but it’s frustrating to see him only in film clips and behind-the-scenes footage.
Kinski and Herzog met when Kinski, already an established actor and former sanitarium dweller, moved into the boarding house where a 13-year-old Herzog lived with his family. Kinski, 14 years older than Herzog, made a lasting impression by spending his first 48 hours locked in a bathroom, raving and destroying the place. Somehow from this Herzog gleaned that he’d like to one day direct the lunatic; an analogy would be if Steven Spielberg decided to make “Jaws” after having been bitten in half by a shark.
Kinski and Herzog’s best film together, “Fitzcarraldo,” was already the subject of a decent documentary, “Burden of Dreams” (which some consider to be better than the movie itself). For insight into the character of both Kinski and Herzog, you’d be better off watching that, as it’s told from a fairly objective viewpoint and offers more telling details than “My Best Fiend” does. For die-hard fans, though, Herzog’s strange little tribute to his cowardly, egomaniacal collaborator will no doubt hold some interest.
C (; )