Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Film #27: My Best Fiend

Werner Herzog's My Best Fiend chronicles the masterful German director's unbelievably volatile relationship with the late actor Klaus Kinski, whom he'd known and worked with for three decades. Before this film hit theaters in 1999, stories of these two massive megalomaniacs locking horns on troubled sets were already part of filmmaking folklore, thanks largely to Les Blank's landmark 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams, about the making of Herzog's Fitzcarraldo.

My Best Fiend lifts some portions from Blank's work but mainly gives us Herzog, speaking English throughout with a dignified German growl, as he leads us on a singular, bizarre tour through his life with Kinski, including his first exposure to Kinski's acting onscreen. He takes us to the Berlin apartment they shared, where Kinski broke up a party by smashing into the room and declaring that his acting was not merely great, "it was epochal!"

And he takes us back to the jungle, where he relives the shaky times Kinski threatened the completion of both Aguirre, The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo with his volcanic temper (which so frightened the South American Indians working on Fitzcarraldo that they gladly offered to murder Kinski); his overzealous quest for realism (he smashes a supporting player in the head with an ax and almost kills him); and his deafening belief that he was sent by God to instruct the world on the art of acting. By the time we get to the final shot, a rustic portrait of a gentler Kinski, we realize that Herzog -- a man who obviously thrives on chaos -- feels immeasurably enriched in having known his friend, this fiend with two faces. You'd be wise to rent the incredible Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde, and Woyceck (all recently remastered and re-released) before seeing My Best Fiend, but see it you must.

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