My Best Fiend Review

Werner Herzog first met Klaus Kinski when he was thirteen, when they found themselves living in the same Munich apartment. In a two-day fit of rage, Kinski destroyed all the furniture. Years later, Herzog hired Kinski to play the lead in Aguirre, Wrath of God, shot under extremely inhospitable conditions in the Peruvian Andes. That was the first of five films the director and actor made together until Kinski's death in 1991, and their relationship was a stormy one to say the least. In My Best Fiend, Herzog describes this relationship, with input from other people who worked with Kinski, such as the actresses Eva Mattes and Claudia Cardinale. He revisits the locations of the films they made together: the Amazon jungle for Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, the picturesque town of Telc, Czech Republic, for Woyzeck, and Central Africa for Cobra Verde.

At his best, Kinski was an actor of unparalleled intensity, though he certainly made more than his share of hackwork. Offscreen, he was a violent, raging egotist. However, as Herzog shows, he was capable of great charm and generosity. In video footage shot at the Telluride Film Festival, the two men are bantering like long-time friends. But in another scene (an extract from the documentary Burden of Dreams, about the making of Fitzcarraldo) they are having an argument so violent it's a wonder that one didn't kill the other. A brief sequence towards the end of the film, showing Kinski playing with a butterfly, is quite beautiful: in one shot, it sums up Kinski's considerable charisma. Certainly, Mattes and Cardinale are both very positive about the experience of working with him.

No one film can truly explain the contradictions and complexity of a real human being, and in some minor areas My Best Fiend falls short. None of his family are interviewed. Maybe they declined to be, though the perspective of his daughters Nastassja and Pola would have been interesting. Apart from a couple of arbitrarily-placed extracts, Nosferatu is barely dealt with. Although Kinski and Herzog undoubtedly pushed each other to some of their best work, it's not true that the rest of Herzog's career is insignificant: there are the two films he made with Bruno S, for example, not to mention many excellent documentaries such as this.

The DVD is transferred in anamorphic 16:9, as you would expect for a film intended mainly for TV showing. As the original is brand new, you'd expect a top-notch transfer and you get one. Some material was originated on video or 16mm, and some of the film extracts show a few minor signs of age, but the new material was done on 35mm and it's well-nigh perfect. The soundtrack is functional at best, but as this film relies on interviews and Herzog's addresses to camera, that's not a problem. You have a choice of English or German soundtracks, but it's not as simple as that would seem. The film was made mostly in German, and the English soundtrack mostly involves dubbing Herzog and Eva Mattes, and providing an English voiceover (though still delivered by Herzog). However, the Telluride video footage and the Cardinale interview are in English in either version, and the film extracts are all in German. The English subtitles are optional, but unless you are fluent in German you will need them at least in part, whichever soundtrack you choose.

The only extra is the trailer. Given the fact that the film is a documentary, you can't really expect more than that. There are an ample twenty-six chapter stops.

Although it's not a complete picture of Kinski and his work, My Best Fiend is frequently fascinating. For fans of the five Herzog/Kinski collaborations, it will be essential viewing.

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Last updated: 31/05/2018 18:37:55

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