My Best Fiend Review
In the commentary track on Nosferatu, Herzog comments on the 250 or so films that Klaus Kinski appeared, noting that in the vast majority – and the reason he was able to make so many films – was that he only appeared in most of them for one to one and a half minutes, which would be the length of time any filmmaker could stand having him on the set. Kinski however, made five full films with Werner Herzog – some of them quite exceptional films. In My Best Fiend, director Werner Herzog narrates the story of his extraordinary and turbulent working relationship and friendship between himself and actor Klaus Kinski – how two very different personalities nevertheless complemented each other and allowed each of them to make films that they could never have achieved with anyone else.
My Best Friend looks at that relationship and tries to examine what it was that made the partnership work, revisiting location where the films were made and interviewing actors who worked with Kinski on the films. Herzog himself narrates many anecdotes while showing footage from the films – Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Nosferatu, Woyzeck, Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde – allowing them to be seen from the eye of the director with an explanation to what was going on behind the scenes. There are perhaps a few too many shots of Herzog sitting talking directly into the camera, but there is also behind-the-scenes footage and audio recordings of Kinski’s legendary tantrums and rages. The one from Fitzcarraldo we are told is relatively mild and I suppose since he didn’t shoot at anyone or destroy anything, it must be true.
It’s a good documentary even though it fails, as it must inevitably do, to get behind what it was that drove Kinski. A madman? An egomaniac with a Christ complex? All are undoubtedly true, based on the evidence, the behaviour and the statements of the man – but there must also be a real person behind the posture, behind the rage. If anyone was close enough to Kinski to be able to see the man and understand him in some way, it’s Herzog, but from this documentary, the man remains elusive, incomprehensible.
The DVD is released on Region 2 in the UK as part of Anchor Bay’s Herzog Kinski Collection. Also included in the boxset are all five films that Herzog made with Kinski – Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Nosferatu, Woyzeck, Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde. The DVD of My Best Fiend seems to be a UK re-packaging of the previously released Anchor Bay US Region 0 DVD, already reviewed here on DVDTimes by Gary Couzens.
The film is presented in 1.77:1 anamorphic and the quality is quite good, but considering a lot of it is made up of old footage, its quality is variable depending on the source. Interestingly, the 1.77:1 anamorphic excerpts from Aguirre, the Wrath of God look much better than the print used for the feature itself in the same boxset, although the 1.77:1 framing does look very cramped. Compare the image below with the screenshot in the Aguirre review.
Two audio tracks are included – one in German Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles. On the English Dolby Digital 2.0 track, Herzog speaks over his German narration, interviewees are also overdubbed, but there are no overdubbing or selective subtitles for the film or behind-the-scenes footage, which makes the English dub pointless, unless you want to flick to subtitles manually during undubbed sequences. The English subtitle track provides subtitles for the whole film only. The quality of the audio is adequate, again considering the nature of the material and its sources.
The only extra feature on the DVD is a Trailer for the film.
While My Best Fiend does provide a balanced view of Klaus Kinski, it doesn’t quite manage to get behind the man’s contradictory actions and motivations. Herzog, for my money, has already left a perhaps greater legacy to the actor in their film collaborations, particularly in the characterisation of Fitzcarraldo which shows a gentler, warmer side of the actor and the man that doesn’t come through here. Nevertheless My Best Fiend is a fascinating insight into a working relationship between and actor and a director that yielded astonishing results and some exceptional films and is a perfect accompaniment to the films in the Herzog Kinski Collection.