My Best Fiend | Chicago Reader

My Best Fiend

It's a question whether Werner Herzog's 1999 film about his poor dead mad-genius friend/fiend collaborator Klaus Kinski could realistically be called a documentary. Herzog, hardly a poster boy for mental health, turns in a fine, if purely fictional, performance as a sane director, and the story is moderately interesting, as much for what it doesn't say as for what it does. Apparently, as a boy of 13 Herzog lived with his family in the same boardinghouse as Kinski. Today as Herzog walks about the building, now a private residence, he describes the damage Kinski did in fits of rage to his own minuscule living quarters (a fourth of the present-day kitchen) and to the Herzogs' and fellow boarders' digs. From there to the influence Kinski later wielded over Herzog's life and work is but a small step. The problem is that Herzog never goes beyond the anecdotal to explore the “sick” symbiotic relationship he had with the star of five of his most envelope-pushing films. This is no Burden of Dreams, Les Blank's genre-defining documentary on the notoriously arduous making of Fitzcarraldo. Aside from a few videotape segments of a long semipsychotic diatribe Kinski delivers to a hostile German theater audience, which came to see his performance as Jesus, the visual material is sparse. Much of the film is shot in Peru, on the locations of Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: The Wrath of God, and clips of those films alternate with footage of Herzog talking about Kinski or interviewing local people who acted with Kinski 20 years ago and still bear the scars. Weirdly, Herzog comes across as an uneasy stand-in for Kinski, awaiting the real actor's return so the action can start.

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