The Mondo Esoterica Guide to:

Klaus Kinski

  About Klaus Kinski:

Klaus Kinski was born Nikolaus Karl GŁnther Nakszynski, in 1926 in the city of Sopot, now part of Poland, and moved at a young age to Berlin. During the Second World War he fought for Germany and was later held in a PoW camp in England where he developed a love for acting. After the war, Kinski became a stage actor, often performing one-man shows of Shakespeare and the poet Vermillion, he was soon notorious for his wild mood swings and obsession to perfection. Kinski's first cinema appearence came in the war film Morituri (1948), although he did not work in cinema again until the 1950s when he made an important appearance in Children, Mother, and the General (1955) which brought him to the notice of Werner Herzog, a soon-to-be film director who had lived with Kinski for a while as a child.

Kinski continued to play a number of German film roles throughout the early 1960s - including Dr. Mabuse vs. Scotland Yard (1963), Edgar Wallace horror The Black Abbot (1963) and early Karl May Western Winnetou: Last of the Renegades (1964). His break into mainstream cinema came with small but important appearances in David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More (1965). He went to star in a mass of Spaghetti Westerns, including Bullet for the General (1967), Sartana (1968), Il Grand Silenzio (1969) and And God said to Cain (1970). With his growing Euro-cult fame, Kinski was cast in a key role in the Jess Franco/Harry Alan Towers production Marquis de Sade: Justine (1969) and the legendary Spanish director would later cast him in three other films; Count Dracula (1970), Venus in Furs (1969) and with a leading role in the unexciting Jack the Ripper (1976).

The beginning of the 1970s saw Kinski's last stage appearances as part of his Jesus Tour in which he played Jesus as raving psychopath and basically raved and insulted the audience, often walking off the stage when he felt the applause was insufficient. Lasting fame for the tempremental star came from 
Werner Herzog, when the director cast Kinski in the lead role of the magnificant Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972). Over the next 15 years, Herzog and Kinski would work together 5 times; in the impressive Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979), the interesting Woyzeck (1979), the exciting Fitzcarraldo (1982) and finally the relatively unimpressive Cobra Verde (1987). Despite offers from many of the top directors of the time, Kinski continued to work in exploitation cinema including some of the last Spaghetti Westerns and a variety of low budget war films, he even claimed to have turned down a role in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) in order to star in the better paying Venom (1981) alongside Oliver Reed. His final film Kinski Paganini (1989) was a self-penned and directed biography of the legendary violin player. He died in 1991 of a heart attack.

Klaus Kinski is one of the true enigmas of cinema. Although famous for his wild mood swings and temprament, many of the directors he worked with said that he posed no problems at all - it often seems that Kinski only threw his tantrums when he knew that he could get away with it and not get fired from a production. Strangely he often seemed drawn towards exploitation films, and often boasted of turning down offers of work from Fellini, Pasolini and Ken Russel because the money was poor - yet Werner Herzog points out that his films often paid even less. The most tantalising production of Kinski was not a film, but his autobiography All I Need is Love - a pornographic detailing of his encounters with hundreds of women, including a variety of famous actresses, it is believed to be amost entirely fictional. Herzog, whom Kinski apparently consulted during the writing, says that the actor was afraid a simple autobiography would be overlooked by most people and so he wanted something that would create a stir and get attention. At the same time it seems to tell of the life Kinski wished he had lived, his middle class upbringing replaced by extreme poverty, and his life filled with adventures and risks and a lot of sex.

Ultimately Klaus Kinski will remain a mystery, but he has left an indisputable legacy of powerful performances in films ranging from cheap exploitation to pure art, that always seem to steal the scenes and dominate the movie, no matter how small they are.

   DVD Reviews: Films starring Klaus Kinski

A Bullet for the General (1967)            
Anchor Bay USA Region 0 DVD
Kinski has a small but important role in this strong, well shot film with a good cast, direction and highly politicised plot.
Recommended to fans and newcomers alike.
Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)            
Anchor Bay UK Region 0 DVD
The first Kinski/Herzog partnership, and one of the most beautiful, artistic films ever made.
Highly recommended to all.
Churchill's Leopards (1970)            
Wild East USA Region 0 DVD
An enjoyable if rather slow and generic European WW2 film with Kinski well cast as a German officer.
Of interest.
Cobra Verde (1987)            
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
The last Kinski/Herzog partnership is a rather poor film with a uninspired direction but a good lead performance.
Not recommended.
Fitzcarraldo (1982)            
Anchor Bay UK Region 0 DVD
Herzog really moves a boat over a hill in this exciting but rather impersonal film, with another outstanding Klaus Kinski lead role.
Five For Hell (1969)
Koch Media Germany R0 DVD
Kinski plays yet another sinister Nazi in this action packed Italian war film.
Five Golden Dragons (1967)
Passworld Italy Region 2 DVD
Kinski gives a good but brief performance in this well made Edgar Wallace thriller, shot in Hong Kong.
For a Few Dollars More (1965)
Paramount German Region 2 DVD
Kinski gets a relatively limited role alongside Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone's iconic Western.
Highly recommended to all.
Grand Slam (1967)
Blue Underground USA Region 0 DVD
Kinski has a co-leading role but cannot liven up this dull, over-long heist film.
Not recommended.
The Great Silence (1969)
Eureka UK Region 0 DVD
Kinski gets the lead role and lots of screen-time in this impressive Spaghetti Western.
Recommended to SW fans, and a good one for Kinski fans.
Jack the Ripper (1976)            
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
A strong turn by Kinski is the stand-out in this dull film with unimpressive direction.
Only for massive Kinski fans or Franco completists.
Lifespan (1974)            
Mondo Macabro Region 0 DVD
Kinski gets a short but key role as a mysterious 'Swiss Businessman' in this incredibly well written science film.
My Best Fiend (1999)            
Anchor Bay UK Region 0 DVD
Lots of archive Kinski footage in Werner Herzog's tribute documentary, although it offers little new information.
Not recommended.
Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)            
Anchor Bay UK Region 0 DVD
A creepy performance by Kinski as Count Dracula in Herzog's eerie and dreamlike adaptation of the classic silent movie.
Highly recommended.
Salt in the Wound (1969)            
Wild East USA Region 0 DVD
A curious if rather indecisive European WW2 film with Kinski in the lead role as an American soldier convicted of murder.
Partly recommended.
Shanghai Joe (1972)            
X-rated Kult Germany Region 2 DVD
An interesting idea becomes a rather generic Spaghetti Western, Kinski gets a brief but important role as a hired killer.
One for Spaghetti Western fans only.
Venus in Furs (1969)
Blue Underground USA Region 0 DVD
Kinski gives a decent performance but limited screentime in one of Jess Franco's best films.
Recommended to Franco fans.
Winnetou 2. teil (1964)
UFA Region 0 DVD (Karl May Collection III Boxset)
An interesting early performance from Kinski in this adventurous German Western with a near-epic tone and some big action.
Woyzeck (1979)            
Anchor Bay UK Region 0 DVD
Klaus Kinski takes the lead role in this interesting and faithful adaptation of the German play by Werner Herzog.
Partly recommended.


Further Reading

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All text in this site written by Timothy Young - December 2005.
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