'My Best Friend: Klaus Kinski' (aka: 'Mein liebster Feind') **** 052005
DVD Review (2004)

The Work = ****
Having watched 'Incident at Loch Ness' it got me pumped to see Werner Herzog on film. One of the first features that came to mind was 'My Best Friend: Klaus Kinski'. The film is a tribute to Kinski made by Herzog in the mid 90s. The two worked together on five films. This in and of itself would be interesting but it gets more so when one learns that Kinski was notoriously difficult to work with.

The documentary is made by a close friend of its subject. That is sort of a double edged sword because while it is a heart felt tribute, it is also somewhat narrow. Focusing on Kinski’s life primarily only when it would intersect with Herzog’s, the film gives a somewhat limited background on the actor. I didn’t learn that much about Kinski’s early formative years simply because Herzog was not around much for those. (They actually did meet briefly in passing when Herzog was a child.)

Herzog appears in footage shot for the documentary of him traveling back to the locations he shot 'Fitzcarraldo' at. This is mixed with home movies, footage from Burden of Dreams (the documentary about Fitzcarraldo,) and various interview clips with Herzog. The result is a portrait of a turbulent, combative, relationship that produced great films. Kinski and Herzog made 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God', 'Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht', 'Woyzeck', 'Fitzcarraldo', and 'Cobra Verde'.

Through footage and interviews Kinski comes off as a seriously unstable person. He used to tour Germany reciting passages from the bible and Shakespeare. He would often claim to be Jesus and melt down into an enraged man, literally foaming at the mouth while he screamed and berated the audience. According to the documentary, people started to go to the shows just for the spectacle. The man became a carnival sideshow all by himself.

How did he end up this way? Why was he so difficult? The documentary doesn’t offer answers, only hints. He was extremely insecure and many of his on set tantrums came from not being the center of attention. A crew member was injured and wamo! Kinski whirled into a rage about the food onset or something of that nature. An actress that worked with Kinski and Herzog mentioned that he was extremely sensitive about physical contact. This lead me to wonder if the man didn’t have some form of Asperger’s. (which is a mild form of Autism.)

Whether my amateur diagnoses holds any water I cannot say but it is clear that Kinski had serious issues. I wish there had been more of an exploration of them because they run parallel to the fact that he was also an amazing actor. Herzog (and a few other directors who were not mentioned) managed to wrangle Kinski enough to work with him and capture impressive performances. Clearly it took a toll on Herzog (he states that both Kinski and he plotted to kill each other at different times) but he kept coming back for more because the final products were worth it.

I wish there had been more biographical information on Kinski. I wanted to know more about what made him the way he was. I can’t fault Herzog too much though because, in the end it is a sincere portrait by a friend who cared deeply for Kinski and made great films with him. This is an easy one to recommend, although it helps to be a fan of the subject or Herzog.

DVD = ***

The Look
'My Best Friend' is presented in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture varies, largely because it consists of a mix of media; some old and in poor shape and some newer and looking much better. I say it is probably about as good as can be expected.

The Sound
This is kind of strange. There is a German Dolby Digital 2.0 track and there are optional English subtitles. Nothing strange right? Except there is also an English dub, with Herzog dubbing his own voice in English. That wouldn’t be bad except horrible actors overdub the other people when they speak. They try to mimic the emotion of the speakers and instead sound foolish. To make things even more odd there is no dub on the film footage or some of the behind the scenes footage so if you want to listen to the dub you have to have the English subtitles on too. Weird.

The Bonus
Ah bonus. It is a shame there is not more here. Additional info or a more biography oriented doc’ or featurette on Kinski and/ or Herzog would have really supplemented the feature nicely. Even a commentary by Herzog might have done the trick. It’s a shame. The only feature of note on the disk is a trailer. Bummer.

All together = ****
This is an enjoyable, if somewhat narrow in focus, documentary that is an easy recommendation. It does pretty much require that a viewer be a fan or Kinski or Herzog so if you are just curious you will probably want to rent first. This documentary makes a nice companion to the Kinski/ Herzog films and I recommend it. I wish the DVD had better features, it’s a shame a company like Criterion didn’t release this as they probably would have put a bunch of features on the disk like they did with 'Burden of Dreams'.


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