My Best Fiend (1999)

Genres - Film, TV & Radio, History  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Film & Television History, Interpersonal Relationships  |   Release Date - Nov 3, 1999 (USA)  |   Run Time - 95 min.  |   Countries - Germany , United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Werner Herzog's documentary is a thoughtful and clever examination by the director of his longstanding friendship and creative partnership with the late Klaus Kinski. It's not a biography, and there's little information about Kinski's life outside of Herzog's purview. There's a brief, but fascinating clip of Kinski on stage during his "Jesus Tour," wherein the actor traveled through Germany, ranting at his audiences, claiming to be the "new Jesus." Herzog claims that Kinski was a madman, and there's ample evidence of the actor's mental imbalance in outtakes as he throws lengthy tantrums and is seen smashing another actor over the head with a sword. But Herzog also shows Kinski's power as an actor, contrasting a clip of Jason Robards playing Fitzcarraldo with a clip of the raving Kinski playing the same scene after he replaced Robards. Herzog also interviews Claudia Cardinale and Eva Mattes, who worked with Kinski on Herzog's films and remember him as a gentle and sensitive man. Herzog is a skilled documentarian, and is himself a fascinating subject, as had already been proven in Les Blank's excellent account of the making of Fitzcarraldo, Burden of Dreams. He's softened a bit since those days, but his fierce intellect shines through. Some may wish that the film included more clips of Kinski, as the footage there is of him -- raving, performing, and playing with a butterfly -- is incredible, while Herzog's stories are even more astounding. The director takes credit for a lot of the actor's work, describing how he essentially tricked Kinski into giving him just the performance he wanted, and at one point even claiming he helped Kinski come up with the horrible insults he throws at Herzog in his autobiography. One wishes Kinski were still around to let Herzog have it one more time.