My Best Fiend

My Best Fiend (1999) movie poster

(1999) dir. Werner Herzog
viewed: 11/22/08

Werner Herzog is an interesting director.  He’s attracted to interesting material anyways.  How “good” a filmmaker he is, I am willing suggest, is debateable.  But his material often elevates his films beyond their structural and editorial flaws.

His best film that I’ve seen in recent years is Grizzly Man (2005), a documentary whose biggest flaws were Herzog’s self-insertion, narration, and his own take on the material.  Still, the material was fascinating.

In My Best Fiend, that issue is besides the point.  The film is a documentary of his own relationship with his acting muse Klaus Kinski, with whom he made six feature films, including Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), and Fitzcarraldo (1982).  I saw Aguirre: The Wrath of God when I was in high school and at some point, I think I saw his version of Nosferatu, which Kinski probably needed only the bare minimum of make-up for, such a freakish face he had.

This film starts off with Kinski ranting on a microphone at an audience, some schtick that easily demonstrates his meglomania and mad, aggro approach to life.  When Herzog was working with Kinski in Peru for the Aguirre shoot, the conditions were pretty intense: swollen rivers, confused native extras, and an ambitious concept about a doomed search for gold and the fountain of youth.  The setting is there for drama.  And drama there was.  But only one snippet was actually caught on camera.  The rest is reminisced about by Herzog.

Herzog is a sincere and deep thinker.  He sees the humanity and humor in things, but he doesn’t really evoke them in his films the way that one would hope for.  One of the highlight lines of the film is when he admits that the native tribesmen who were working as extras offered to kill Kinski for him.  It’s a simple story amidst the run of the whole, but it’s the best laugh in the whole thing.

The guy was a weirdo, Kinski.  His talents are potentially debateable.  I haven’t seen much of his work in recent years, but he seems like a head-case.  Maybe we just needed to see him ranting more, raving more.  Herzog’s relationship with Kinski was interesting, but Herzog barely uncovers enough to make it so.

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