Remembering Klaus Kinski
It’s ironic, yet somehow dramatically fitting, that actor Klaus Kinski, the Wild Man of Modern Movies, died in his sleep. The gaunt-faced, platinum-haired, intensely blue-eyed Kinski was 65 when he died on Nov. 23 at his home in Marin County, Calif. A veteran of more than a hundred B movies like Dead Eyes of London (1960) and Venus in Furs (1970) made mostly in Europe, he shot to international stardom in 1972 in the title role of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God. This film, along with Herzog and Kinski’s Nosferatu the Vampyre and Woyzeck (1979) and Fitzcarraldo (1982), remain among the best-matched collaborations of director and actor in film history.
”Kinski is the demon,” said Herzog of his star, who was born Nikolaus Naksznski in Sopot, Poland, ”the only real authentic demon of contemporary cinema. There just aren’t many other people who have his presence and his intensity and his madness and his power.” But Kinski’s true art was a miraculous ability to create sympathy for devils, as he brought enormous empathy to such roles as a vampire, a would-be dictator, and a common soldier going insane.
The father of actress Nastassia Kinski (Cat People; Paris, Texas), he was really a silent artist trapped in the sound era, an actor whose face had the natural gift of intensely magnifying states of feeling. ”It’s very strange,” said Herzog. ”Nosferatu is 110 minutes long, and when you check it with a stopwatch you will find out that he is not on-screen more than 20 minutes. Yet he dominates the entire film. Even when he’s absent, he dominates the screen. Who else does that?”
Here’s the best of Kinski available on video:
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)
A Spanish expedition searching for El Dorado in the Amazon jungle discovers the heart of darkness instead. Kinski, barking orders and shooting reptilian glances in every direction, is electrifying as a demagogue-in-training. A
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Kinski’s vampire has two tiny front fangs, fingernails like talons, and a bald and chalky visage wherein only the eyes glisten with life. ”Centuries come and go,” he laments, conjuring the weary music of the night. A
A charming, low-budget, funny, and virtually unknown science-fiction lyric in which Kinski, at his B best, plays mad Dr. Daniel, whose robotic assistant, yearning to be human, decides to rebel. B
Kinski’s fixed, visionary stare captures the crazed single-mindedess of a man obsessed with bringing grand opera to the Peruvian wilderness, as he supervises the hauling of a 288-ton steamship up the side of a mountain to make good on his demented dream. B+