My Best Fiend

Werner Herzog

Germany 1999, 95 min.

“One should judge a man mainly by his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real.” – Klaus Kinski

Werner Herzog is admired for being the only director who was able to work with the late and very eccentric Klaus Kinski. This simple statement is filed under “trivia” in the Internet Movie Database, but trivial is not the first word that springs to mind when you watch Herzog’s filmic exploration of his love-hate relationship with the deceased actor.

The German director started working on his new documentary when he visited Peru last year to produce a docudrama about a 1971 plane crash. Herzog and Kinski were originally supposed to have been on that doomed flight, but luckily the film crew got bumped off the plane immediately before take-off. “We were prepared to go under together,” Herzog comments. But the pair survived the demanding trip to Peru, where they shot Aguirre, the first product of a partnership which lasted over five very different but thematically related films. These include Nosferatu, Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde, all dealing with obsessed drifters fighting lost causes in far corners of the world.

One should judge a man mainly by his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real

The relationship between Herzog and the megalomaniac Kinski has already been treated in Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (1982), which documents the filming of Fitzcarraldo in such a superior fashion that it actually outshines the original film. In that respect Mein liebster Feind hardly covers much new ground, but the sheer entertainment value of the sometimes quite tall tales told in the film certainly warrants your time.

Herzog starts out by visiting his childhood home, a Munich flat which today is inhabited by a bourgeois couple. They follow the filmmaker on a guided tour that turns scary and hilarious at the same time. Kinski reportedly smashed the whole bathroom to smithereens. “You could sift the marble through a tennis racket” Herzog remarks, which sounds believable when you watch the explosive Kinski on the set of Fitzcarraldo (the DP kept the camera rolling between scenes).

Although Kinski claimed to have a special bond with the Amazon Indians participating in the film, the Indians actually offered Herzog to kill the raving actor. An act which Herzog came very close to committing himself, but Kinski grasped the seriousness of the threat and obeyed orders instead of skipping the shoot – as was his custom. Herzog disclaims many of the more unreasonable myths relating to the late actor, but nonetheless portrays his old friend/enemy with love and affection.



Modern Times Review