4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Klaus Kinski Edition

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

94 years ago today, the infamous but incredibly talented Klaus Kisnki was born.  Though Kinski appeared in many genres of film, he was an actor who seemed to be well-suited for horror films.  Today, we honor that legacy with….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Aguirre The Wrath of God (1972, dir by Werner Herzog)

Nosferatu (1979, dir by Werner Herzog)

Crawlspace (1986, dir by David Schmoeller)

Nosferatu in Venice (1988, dir by Augusto Caminito and Klaus Kinski)

Scenes That I Love: The Finale of Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Happy Birthday, Werner Herzog!)

Werner Herzog and Friend (Image from the documentary The Burden of Dreams)

Since today is Werner Herzog’s birthday, I thought I would share a Herzog scene that I love.

Herzog is such an iconic and eccentric figure that I think there’s a tendency to overlook just how good of a director and a storyteller he actually is.  People just tend to think of him as being the man with the German accent who makes random comments about how the universe is governed by chaos.

But, he’s actually a brilliant director as well and if you need proof, just watch his 1972 film, Aguirre, The Wrath of God.  The scene below is actually from the final few minutes of the film so I guess it’s technically a spoiler if you haven’t seen the film yet.  That said, people who get upset about spoilers are wimps.

Klaus Kinski plays Aguirre, a Spanish conquistador who attempts to conquer the South America by floating down the Amazon River.  Things don’t quite go the way that he intended.  By the end of the film, all of his man are dead and a large amount of monkeys are congregating on his raft.  Has Aguirre conquered the monkeys or have they conquered him?

That’s up to the viewer to decide.

Happy birthday, Werner Herzog!

The International Lens: Aguirre, The Wrath of God (dir by Werner Herzog)

Take a moment to picture this: Klaus Kinski, drifting by on a raft with a bunch of monkeys.

There’s a lot of memorable scenes in Werner Herzog’s 1972 film, Aguirre, The Wrath of God.  However, for me, this will always be the film where Klaus Kinski ends up on a raft with a bunch of monkeys.  It feels like an appropriate fate for Aguirre, the Spanish conquistador and proto-fascist who Kinski plays in this film.  After spending 90 minutes listening to Augirre rant and rave about how he’s destined to conquer South America and how he will always be known as “the wrath of God,” it’s easy to look forward to him being reduced to being a somewhat pathetic figure, commanding a raft full of monkeys.

And yet, what’s odd, is that Aguirre never quite become as ludicrous a figure as you’re expecting him too.  Even though he’s obviously been driven mad and the Amazon rain forest is closing in on him, there’s nothing desperate about Aguirre.  He still believes in himself.  He still believes in his destiny.  He still believes that every decision that he’s made has been the right one.  It’ll take more than a bunch of monkeys to defeat Aguirre!

Filmed on location in South America, Aguirre, The Wrath of God claims to be based on a true story.  We’re told that the film was adapted from a journal that was kept by a 16th century priest named Gaspar de Carvajal.  And while it is true that a Dominican missionary named Carvajal did publish several accounts of his journeys to the New World and while the film itself is full of people who share their names with actual historical figures (Pizarro, Pedro de Ursua, and Lope de Aguirre, being just three examples), the film’s story is itself fictional, though plausible.  This is one of those stories that may not have happened but the viewer can’t help but feel that maybe it should have.

The film deals with an expedition of Spanish conquistadors making their way through South America, searching for the fabled country of El Dorado.  The conquistadors, whio are first seen awkwardly climbing down a huge mountain in their full armor while dragging along cannons and treasure chests, are led by Pizarro (Alejandro Repullés).  Pizarro orders 40 members of the expedition to scout ahead by taking a raft down the Amazon River.  Pizarro places Ursua (Ruy Guerra) in charge of the scouting expedition while naming Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) as second-in-command.  The hope is that the scouting expedition will return in one week with news of what’s ahead.  Of course, it doesn’t work out that way.

Aguirre is Klaus Kinski’s signature role.  Herzog, who knew Kinski when the latter was a young actor renting a room in Herzog’s family’s apartment, specifically wrote the role with Kinski in mind.  Aguirre would be the first of several legendary collaborations between Herzog and Kinski.  In Kinski, Herzog found the perfect actor to embody his belief that chaos was the determining factor of the universe.  And, in Herzog, Kinski found one of the few directors who truly knew how to harness his manic acting style.  They were a perfect match and, of course, they often hated each other.  During the filming of Aguirre, Herzog and Kinski reportedly argued so frequently over how Aguirre should be portrayed that Kinski threatened to leave the jungle at one point.  Herzog responded by saying that, if Kinski tried to leave, Herzog would first shoot him and then himself.  It was not the last time that Herzog would threaten to kill Kinski.  In fact, after Kinski’s death, Herzog made My Best Fiend, an entire documentary about their difficult but often worthwhile collaboration.

Kinski reportedly wanted to play Aguirre as a ranting madman while Herzog wanted a subtler interpretation.  Judging from the end results, they agreed to meet somewhere in the middle.  From the first minute we see him, it’s obvious that Aguirre holds everyone and everything around him in contempt.  He hates the other members of the expedition.  He despises the jungle that surrounds them and the river that he’s soon be floating down.  Even when he’s dealing with his own teenage daughter (Cecilia Rivera), he never smiles or shows anything resembling affection.  He glares at the world with distrustful eyes.  And yet, everyone follows him because he seems to be the only member of the expedition who is not intimidated by the river or the jungle.  He promises his followers that they will be kings and that they will be rich and he says it with such authority that it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone to ask how he can be so sure.  Even when it starts to become apparent that Aguirre is losing his sanity, he’s too intimidating a figure for anyone to try to stop.  When one member of the group starts to complain about Aguirre’s leadership, Aguirre chops off his head.  (The head continues to talk for a few seconds before falling silent.)  As the film progresses, Aguirre grows progressively more and more unhinged.  By the end of the film, he’s come to stand-in for fanatics through history.  Every dictator, the film seems to be saying, started out as an Aguirre.

In fact, the only things that’s not intimidated by Aguirre is the jungle that is continually threaten to swallow up the expedition.  In typical Herzog fashion, the jungle is both lushly beautiful and also home to all sorts of unseen threats.  As more than a few people learn as they float along the river, stopping to admire the jungle is a good way to get hit by an arrow.  Amazingly, no matter how many times the expedition is attacked by the potent combination of nature and angry natives, Aguirre never seems to get a scratch.  It may be that, in the end, only the insane can survive in a world with no rules beyond random destruction.

Aguirre was Herzog’s first big hit and it remains perhaps his best-known film.  It’s certainly features some of Herzog’s best work as a director and Klaus Kinski’s best performance as an actor.  In the end, you’ll never forget Aguirre and the monkeys.

Happy Birthday, Werner Herzog!


Happy birthday, Werner Herzog!  That’s right — one of the greatest and most visionary directors of all time is 71 years old today.

Now, if you’ve followed this blog for a while, then you know that I love trailers.  In honor of Herzog’s birthday, here are 6 trailers from Werner Herzog:

Here is Herzog’s latest (and some would say, most powerful) documentary — an anti-texting PSA:

As a bonus, here’s Les Blank’s 1980 documentary, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

Poll: Tell Lisa Marie What To Watch Next Sunday

So, guess what I did earlier today?  That’s right — I put on a blindfold, a stumbled over to my ever-growing DVD, Blu-ray. and even VHS collection and I randomly selected 12 films!

Why did I do this?

I did it so you, the beloved readers of Through the Shattered Lens, could once again have a chance to tell me what to do.  At the end of this post, you’ll find a poll.  Hopefully, between now and next Sunday (that’s August 21st), a few of you will take the time to vote for which of these 12 films I should watch and review.  I will then watch the winner on Sunday and post my review on Monday night.  In short, I’m putting the power to dominate in your hands.  Just remember: with great power comes great … well, you know how it goes.

Here are the 12 films that I randomly selected this afternoon:

Abduction From 1975, this soft-core grindhouse film is based on the real-life abduction of Patty Hearst and was made while Hearst was still missing.  Supposedly, the FBI ended up investigating director Joseph Zito to make sure he wasn’t involved in the actual kidnapping.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God From director Werner Herzog and star Klaus Kinski comes this story about a Spanish conquistador who fights a losing battle against the Amazon.

Black Caesar In one of the most succesful of the 70s blaxploitation films, Fred Williamson takes over the Harlem drug trade and battles the mafia.

Don’t Look Now Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are a married couple who attempt to deal with the death of their daughter by going to Venice, Italy.  Christie quickly falls in with two blind psychics while Sutherland pursues a ghostly figure in a red raincoat through Venice.  Directed by Nicolas Roeg.

The Lion In Winter From 1968, this best picture nominee stars Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn as King Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Taking place on Christmas Eve, Henry and Eleanor debate which one of their useless sons will take over a king of England.  This film is also the feature debut of both Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton.

Logan’s Run — From 1976, this sci-fi film features Michael York and Jenny Agutter as two future hedonists seeking Sanctuary and instead finding Peter Ustinov and a bunch of cats.  Filmed in my hometown of Dallas.

Lost Highway — From director David Lynch comes this 1997 film about … well, who knows for sure what it’s about?  Bill Pullman may or may not have killed Patricia Arquette and he may or may not end up changing into Balthazar Getty.

Mystic River — From director Clint Eastwood comes this film about murder, guilt, redemption, and suspicion in working-class Boston.  Starring Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins.

Naked Massacre — From 1976, this stark film is something a grindhouse art film.  It takes the true life story of Chicago mass murderer Richard Speck and transfers the action to Belfast.  Also known as Born for Hell.

Night of the Creeps — From 1986, this film features alien slugs that turn an entire college campus into a breeding ground for frat boy zombies.  Tom Atkins gets to deliver the classic line: “Well don’t go out there…”

PetuliaConsidered by many to be one of the best American films ever made and one of the definitive films of the 60s, Petulia tells the story of a divorced doctor (George C. Scott) who enters into an odd relationship with Julie Christie.  Directed by Richard Lester, this film also stars Joseph Cotten, Richard Chamberlain, and the Grateful Dead.

What Have You Done To Solange? — From 1975, What Have You Done To Solange is a classic giallo that  features dream-like murders, disturbing subtext, and one of the best musical scores of all time.

So, there’s your 12 films.  Vote once, vote often, have fun, and I await your decision.

Voting will be open until Sunday, August 21st.

Review: My Best Fiend (dir. by Werner Herzog)

How do I explain my fascination with Klaus Kinski, an actor who died long before I even saw my first movie?  Certainly, it’s not due to his charming screen presence.  Kinski never made any secret of the fact that he loathed most of his films and that loathing is usually painfully apparent on-screen.  Nor can my fascination be linked to the quality of the films he made.  With the exception of a few Italian spaghetti westerns and a set of films he made with Werner Herzog, the majority of Kinski’s films are of little interest beyond his performance in them.  Kinski’s film career was largely made up of playing countless murderers, rapists, and psychopaths.  By most (but certainly not all) accounts, he committed even worse behavior offscreen.

Yet somehow, Klaus Kinski has captured not only my imagination but the imagination of film buffs around the world.  A very good friend of mine has confessed to me that she finds watching Kinski in a bad film to be an almost erotic experience and I have to admit that I do as well.  Kinski had one of those faces that was so ugly that it was almost beautiful and, watching him onscreen, it’s hard not to feel as if the you are literally watching cinematic exorcism.  It’s as if the fictional characters that Kinski creates are little more than his real-life demons being captured on-screen.  A lot of actors specialize in playing insane but Kinski seemed to actually be insane.  Even today, watching his performance in Augirre, The Wrath of God on DVD, it’s hard not to feel as if Kinski is going to jump out of the TV at any minute and proceed to destroy your living room while screaming insults in German.  Even nearly 20 years after his death, Klaus Kinski remains mad, bad, and dangerous to know. 

I have to admit, I’ve always had a weakness for the whole fantasy of the bad boy with the wounded poet’s soul and, even middle-aged and ugly, Klaus Kinski was the ultimate bad boy.  Whether or not Kinski had the soul of a poet is another question and a difficult one to answer.  However, if you’re going to solve to riddle of who Klaus Kinski really was, that’s the question that must be answered.  And probably the best place to start your investigation is with Werner Herzog’s 1999 documentary/tribute, My Best Fiend.

Herzog directed Kinski in five films, beginning with the classic Aguirre, the Wrath of God in 1972 and ending with the unfortunate Cobra Verde in 1987.  The spirit of their collaboration can be seen in the fact that Herzog was rumored to have directed Kinski at gunpoint in Aguirre (though Herzog denies this) and that Kinski eventually physically assaulted Herzog during the filming of Cobra Verde.  In both the contemporary press and his own controversial autobiography (entitled Kinski: All I Need Is Love) Kinski regularly declared Herzog to be “an idiot.”  Herzog, for his part, regularly declared that he would never make another movie with Kinski just before signing him to another role.  Despite all this however, Kinski’s best performances were given in his movies with Herzog and no other actor has ever proven to be as perfectly suited to translate Herzog’s worldview as Klaus Kinski (though Nicolas Cage came close in last year’s Bad Lieutenant).  My Best Fiend is Herzog’s attempt to understand his late muse.

The film opens with a classic Kinski image.  We see a young, long-haired Kinski, standing on stage.  He’s in the middle of one of his infamous one-man shows and has decided that the audience is not paying proper attention to him.  He responds to this by literally attacking the audience. 

We soon learn that shortly after this footage was filmed, Kinski agreed to star in Aguirre, the Wrath of God.  Over archival footage of Kinski scowling and screaming in the Amazon, Herzog talks about both working with Kinski as an actor and about filming Aguirre in general.   (Even if you’re not interested in the twisted life of Klaus Kinski, My Best Fiend is fascinating as a behind-the-scenes look at filmmaking.)  Herzog talks about how Kinski regularly threatened to leave the production and how he responded by threatening to murder Kinski if he did.  Members of the film crew are interviewed.  They create a portrait of a monstrous man who, at one point during filming, shot off a cameraman’s thumb for no discernible reason.  And yet, as all of this is presented to us, Herzog also shows us clips of Kinski’s amazing performance in the movie.  Much like Herzog, we are forced to wonder how such a loathsome human being could also be such a gifted (and, in his admittedly warped way, sensitive) artist.

Though most of the film is devoted to Aguirre, Herzog does offer up anecdotes about his other collaborations with Kinski.  He tells how Kinski would regularly threaten to have him killed and he admits to often fantasizing about killing Klaus Kinski himself.  He goes as far as to mention that, during several film shoots, members of the crew would frequently (and seriously) offer to kill Kinski for him.  He also tells of the hurt of continually reading the latest Kinski interview in which Kinski would, without fail, refer to his director as being an untalented hack.

And yet, the portrait of Klaus Kinski that emerges here is not exactly negative.  Even as Herzog tells us that he often wanted to murder Kinski, he finds the time to visit the apartment where an undiscovered, penniless Kinski once lived.  He talks to people who knew Kinski when he was younger and they offer up stories of a young man who, while undeniably arrogant, was also refreshingly honest in his refusal to compromise his own unique vision of the world.  Herzog interviews two of Kinski’s costars, Eva Mattes and Claudia Cardinale.  Both Mattes and Cardinale describe Kinski as being gentle, calm, and supportive while dealing with them.  Mattes is especially touching as the amount of affection she felt for this supposed madman is obvious in every word she says.  Kinski, himself, is seen assuring Herzog that all the insults and extreme negativity in All I Need Is Love is simply a ruse to convince people to buy the book.  In short, Kinski is simply giving the people what they want. 

As much as I loved My Best Friend, there were still some things that I wish the movie had spent more time on.  Beyond a few tantalizing hints, we learn little of Kinski’s life before he first met Herzog (though we do learn that Kinski had spent time in a mental hospital where he was diagnosed as being schizophrenic) and even less time is spent on the hundreds of films that Kinski made without Herzog.  While this makes sense as the film is about Herzog’s relationship with Kinski, it also creates the impression that Kinski was an unknown before Herzog cast him.  This simply is not true as Kinski was already had something of a cult following as the result of appearing in several Italian spaghetti westerns.  As well, Herzog doesn’t go into near enough detail about the Cobra Verde shoot that eventually led to the end of his collaboration with Kinski.  Perhaps its understandable that Herzog would prefer to concentrate on obvious triumphs like Aguirre and Nosferatu but it’s still hard not to feel that he’s allowing his own ego to get in the way of telling the full story of his relationship with Klaus Kinski.

However, any and all flaws are rendered moot by the film’s final scenes.  We first see Kinski, during the shooting of Fitzcarraldo, angrily screaming and shouting at a crew member.  This is Kinski at his worst (though Herzog insists this is actually a rather mild example of Kinski’s anger), a raving madman who seems to intent of inspiring his audience to rise up and destroy him.

This is followed by a scene in that same Peruvian jungle where Kinski, smiling almost beatifically, gently plays with a butterfly. 

After seeing that scene, it leaves me convinced (as it did Herzog) that there truly was the soul of poet lurking underneath the monstrous facade of Klaus Kinski.