By Owen Gleiberman
Updated November 05, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

With his molten grimace and pop-eyed Wagnerian intensity, the German actor Klaus Kinski may be the closest Europe came to spawning its own Marlon Brando. No role was showy or ferocious enough for him, and when he teamed up with Werner Herzog in the ’70s, he found his ideal collaborator, a filmmaker grandiose enough to elevate Kinski’s possessed freakishness into hambone art.

My Best Fiend — Klaus Kinski is Herzog’s fascinating, rambling, love-hate documentary about their friendship and creative partnership, and in its discursive, anecdotal way it gets at the essence of one of cinema’s indelible crackpots. We see clips of Kinski throwing tantrums on the set of ”Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and ”Fitzcarraldo” and performing on stage in a one-man rant-athon billed as the Jesus Tour.

He’s gripping as only a meticulously rehearsed monomaniac can be, yet when ”My Best Fiend” offers scenes from the movies themselves, especially the mesmeric ”Aguirre,” it’s impossible not to be moved by the oddball purity of what Kinski and Herzog, high on their lust for extremes, achieved. For Kinski, life was no cabaret — it was a shock corridor waiting to be filmed.