Love and Hate
After seeing Fitzcarraldo last year, I have been exploring the films of Werner Herzog and in particular, the films he made with actor Klaus Kinski. Herzog made five films with Kinski: Aguirre, Nosferatu, Wyzeck, Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde. What is fascinating about their relationship (if you've never heard of them) is that it was as temultous as any working relationship in film (think Burton and Taylor without the sex). Kinski was well known as being a raving madman and impossible to work with. Here is a clip from youtube:
Herzog talks about his love/hate relationship with Kinski in his terrific documentary 'My Best Fiend' where that particular clip was taken from. Herzog is a filmmaker in the purest sense. He doesn't have aspirations for fame or blockbusters (not that he'd mind) but is an obsessive and driven artist. This is the only explanation as to why he would have suffered five difficult films with someone like Kinski.
As Herzog explains, Kinski's rantings and ravings (which could last for hours if not days) were a part of what made him electric on the screen. He was a powder keg of raw emotion and energy and Herzog wanted to capture it and use this in his works. Or should I say, needed to capture it.
In the documentary he refutes the claim that in Aguirre, he made Kinski finish a scene while pointing a loaded gun at him. No, he says that Kinski was getting into a boat to leave the set for good and knowing that Kinski had broken contracts before, he told him that he would get his rifle and before Kinski got around the bend there would five bullets in him, save for the last one which would be for himself. Kinski stayed.
Herzog says that he used to fantasize about murdering Kinski and almost fire bombed his house one night (he says a loud dog stopped him from his plan). Whether or not Herzog was serious about these murderous threats, it highlights the kind of relationship these two men had. Herzog was just as much a megalomaniac and just as obsessive. Remember that in Fitzcarraldo he insisted that they actually pull a river boat over the mountain and then ran the boat through the rapids with a small crew on board!
In the end, Herzog was right. The films he made with Kinski, however flawed at times, are nothing short of brilliant and memorable. Roger Ebert puts it well in his review of Aguirre:
Of modern filmmakers, Werner Herzog is the most visionary and the most obsessed with great themes. Little wonder that he has directed many operas. He does not want to tell a plotted story or record amusing dialog; he wants to lift us up into realms of wonder. Only a handful of modern films share the audacity of his vision; I think of “2001: A Space Odyssey'' and “Apocalypse Now.'' Among active directors, the one who seems as messianic is Oliver Stone. There is a kind of saintly madness in the way they talk about their work; they cannot be bothered with conventional success, because they reach for transcendence.
As difficult as Kinski was, Herzog has a genuine affection for the man. In 'My Best Fiend' he also shares that side of Kinski that was kind, warm and generous.
We human beings have a wonderful ability for contradiction. It is possible to love someone and hate them at the same time.