Sun, 05 Nov 2000

Klaus Kinski, Werner Herzog: A 'friendship' made on film

By Bruce Emond

JAKARTA (JP): Klaus Kinski's reputation can truly be said to have preceded him.

The German actor was notorious for his ornery, tempestuous personality, given to terrible, violent rages and the insistence on having things his own way. Directors refused to have him on board, and other actors trembled when they found him in the cast.

Despite it all, he formed an enduring professional relationship -- and an ambivalent personal one -- with director Werner Herzog. They first met in untoward circumstances in 1955, when the 29-year-old Polish-born Kinski found himself at the Herzog family's apartment. The story goes that Kinski went into a crazed fit, destroying all the furniture in the apartment over a period of 48 hours, with the 13-year-old Werner one of the hapless onlookers.

The teenager apparently did not hold grudges. In 1972, Herzog, already acquiring a name for his brilliant use of film imagery and apocalyptic, grandly conceived plots, cast Kinski in Aguirre, Wrath of God. The actor, with his wide-eyed, wild appearance, is ideal as the head of the Spanish Conquistadors setting out to find the famed riches of El Dorado.

It was the story of his career: Kinski until his death in 1991 was always at his best playing societal outcasts driven by bizarre visions -- and delusions -- of their own sublime design.

The two men joined forces in five other films -- Nosferatu, The Vampire, Fitzcarraldo, Woyzeck and Cobra Verde. With the exception of The Vampire, all of the films are being shown in a tribute to Kinski and Herzog at this year's Jakarta International Film Festival (JiFFest). The festival, which opened on Friday, will last until Nov. 12.

In addition to the films, there is Herzog's 1999 documentary My Best Fiend Klaus Kinski, telling of a "fiendship" in which both came close to killing each other at times, and a photographic exhibition of the two men by Beat Presser, held in the "Serba Guna" room at Usmar Ismail Film Center (PPHUI, opens 3:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. weekdays/10 a.m to 9:30 p.m. weekends).

Three of the films, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu and Cobra Verde are being shown on Monday (Aguirre was shown on Saturday, Woyzeck is scheduled for Thursday and My Best Fiend Klaus Kinski is on Saturday).

Nosferatu (Djakarta Theater, 5:30 p.m.) is Herzog's 1979 remake of Murnau's classic, made 50 years before, telling of Dracula on the loose in the 18th century.

Kinski is the world-weary count who evolves into a force of evil in the life of another man (also in the cast are Bruno Ganz and French actress Isabelle Adjani). Britain's Time Out magazine faulted Herzog's "inspired seriousness ... the impressively detailed historical recreation tends to undermine -- not underline -- the deliberate silent-screen formality of acting and (minimal) dialog", but praised the "luminous photography and excellent performances". Kinski, fittingly, was called "indescribable".

Fitzcarraldo (Djakarta Theater, 10 p.m.) is the stuff of film lore, its 1982 problem-hit production the subject of numerous articles recounting Herzog's endeavors out in the wilds of the Amazon.

Klinski is Fitzcarraldo, an Irish rubber baron who dreams of pulling a steamship over an Amazonian mountain in his bid to establish an opera house in the jungle (and the big news was that Herzog accomplished the same feat with the ship for the production). Along for the trip is onetime Italian starlet Claudia Cardinale, still a stunner, as the whore-with-a-heart who gives him moral support in his dream.

Some critics were harsh about the production, with the New Yorker's Pauline Kael sniping, "It's hard to know quite what Kinski's Fitzcarraldo is because he's not like anyone else in the world -- except maybe Bette Davis playing Rutger Hauer". However, Alan Brien in Britain's Sunday Times said "the centerpiece of the film, the transporting of the entire ship by a pulley system ... is almost as dramatic, enthralling and heart-stopping on screen as it must have been in real life. Herzog is clearly another alias for Fitzcarraldo, and it is difficult to decide how far the film is an allegory of its own making".

Cobra Verda (PPHUI, 8 p.m.). Time Out called the 1988 production of the Bruce Chatwin novel The Viceroy of Ouidah "another (story) of Herzog's doomed outcasts in an alien environment".

Cobra Verde (Kinski) is a farmer who turns to crime in 19th century Brazil. He is eventually caught and exiled to Africa to help in the slave trade. The British magazine noted that "Herzog's taste for spectacular exotica comes to the fore ... however, the film's greatest shortcoming is its inability to stir the emotions".

Monday's Film List

The Music of Satyajit Ray (TIM 1, 7:05 p.m.):

A 45-minute documentary exploring the musical influences in the works of the world-renowned Indian filmmaker, made in 1984. In English with Indonesian subtitles.

Mobutu, King of Zaire (TIM 1, 9:15 p.m.)

A 1999 Belgian documentary on the life of excess of Mobutu Sese Seko, who became president of Zaire and robbed the country blind for 30 years. In French with English subtitles (135 minutes).

Harimau Tjampa (TIM 2, 7:45 p.m.)

A 1953 classic by acclaimed Indonesian director Djajakusuma, part of the festival's retrospective of his films. A young man learns martial arts to avenge his father's death, but ends up in prison. In Indonesian with English subtitles (97 minutes).

Public Enemy (TIM 2, 9:45 p.m.)

A 1989 movie by Satyajit Ray, the work details a crusading doctor who finds out the water at a local temple is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. His effort to close down the well causes a family rift and his labeling as a "public enemy". In Bengali with Indonesian subtitles (100 minutes).

Set Me Free (Jakarta Theater, 7:45 p.m.)

A joint Canadian-Swiss-French production about a young girl's coming of age in Quebec in 1963. The product of an unhappy marriage between a Catholic woman and a Jewish man, Hannah finds her escape at the movies. In French with English subtitles (94 minutes)

Kambing Kampung Kena Pukul/Short: Summer Wind (PPHUI 5 p.m.)

The first is a 30-minute documentary on human rights violations in Aceh (see article by Dini Djalal).

The short by Lono Abdul Hamid tells of a man trying to change his fate but obstructed by those around him.

Omnibus: The Man Who Discovered Oasis/Short: In the Memory of Laura (PPHUI 9:30 p.m.)

The 50-minute British Omnibus documentary is the story of a punk rocker from a working class background who grew up to discover Primal Scream and the Gallagher brothers.

The short is about a marriage counselor who convinces himself that a King's Cross prostitute is his deceased wife, who has come back from the dead to give him a second chance.