Klaus Kinski was one of the most controversial actors of all time. Born in Zoppot, Poland, to German parents, the family later moved to Berlin when Klaus was still a child, as the Great Depression affected the family’s ability to make a living. Famously, Kinski was then conscripted into the Wehrmacht aged just 17 in 1943, serving in the Air Force and then as an elite paratrooper.
Kinski didn’t see action until late 1944, a time when he was transferred to the Netherlands. However, his military career wouldn’t hit the height that his acting career would later do, and he was captured by the British on only his second day of combat. Kinski, being, well, Kinski, offered up a different version of events in his 1988 autobiography, claiming that this incident didn’t happen at all.
Nevertheless, the legendary auteur and frequent collaborator of Kinski’s, Werner Herzog, claimed in the 1999 documentary My Best Fiend that Kinski falsified many claims in his autobiography, including his war story.
Regardless, after the war, Kinski would hone his acting talent, and his career would first take off on the stage before he segued into the movies during the latter stages of the 1940s. His talent as an actor cannot be doubted, although, his manic offstage persona often overshadowed his skill – and for good reasons too. By all accounts, he was the most challenging actor in history, and his bizarre personality went much further than what is the norm for traditional thespians.
It’s one of the most talked-about points of Herzog’s career that he managed to work with Kinski more than once. In total, Herzog helmed five films that Kinski featured in, a Herculean feat, to say the least. Of course, 1972’s Aguirre, The Wrath of God, and 1979 effort Nosferatu are the most well-known, and afterwards, Kinski starred in Woyzeck, Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde. All are great films, but the spectre of Kinski’s personality tinges all.
The fractious relationship between the two is one of the most notorious in all of cinema, and My Best Fiend remains a must-watch for anyone wanting to dig a little deeper into the complex and very flawed character of Klaus Kinski.
It is well known that Kinski was hated by his own family, with his daughters Pola and Natassja both accusing him of sexual abuse. Stories such as these change his character from being ludicrous to outright evil and a blot on his artistic endeavours that we cannot shy away from. It wasn’t just his family or Herzog who felt the real-life wrath of Aguirre, however.
One of the most enduring stories about Kinski relates to his treatment of a critic during a formal dinner. At one point, during My Best Fiend, Herzog recalls a story in which Kinski threw two potatoes and cutlery at a theatre critic during the meal. Per Herzog’s account, Kinski was offended by the critic praising a minor role of his in a play as “outstanding and extraordinary”.
Kinski allegedly threw his vegetables and cutlery at the critic, and afterwards, he’s quoted as shouting: “I was not excellent! I was not extraordinary! I was monumental! I was epochal!”. Totally incensed by not being described by God-like adjectives, this anecdote gives you only a brief taste of the measure of Kinski’s narcissistic and violent character.
Watch the trailer for My Best Fiend below.