Lifespan aka Le secret de la vie; El experimento; Il patto con il diavolo (Dir Sandy Whitelaw, 1975)
Basic plot: Dr Ben Land, a young American scientist, travels to the Netherlands to collaborate with Dr Paul Linden at the University of Amsterdam. Dr Linden is said to have made a major breakthrough in his search for the “cure” for aging and the chance of immortality. But the day after their first meeting, Dr Linden commits suicide. Why would someone so close to finding a way to increase man’s lifespan take his own life? Dr Land sets out to solve the mystery and hopes in the process to discover immortality for himself. Along the way he gets caught up in intrigue, involving the omnipresent “Swiss Man” and a mysterious woman called Anna. Where will Dr Land’s story end?
Cast: Nicholas Ulrich – Klaus Kinski; Dr Ben Land – Hiram Keller; Anna – Tina Aumont; Professor van Arp – Fons Rademakers; Dr Linden – Eric Schneider; Pim Henke – Frans Mulder
Filming location: Amsterdam and Switzerland
Release date: 5 September 1975 at the Deauville American Film Festival
Availability: The Mondo Macabro DVD is available in NTSC format right now for about £9 plus postage from Amazon. There are plenty of extras though, with a Director’s audio commentary on the film and an interview with the director, plus the original theatrical trailer.
The film in full – *SPOILER ALERT*:
I was really looking forward to this film for a lot of reasons – firstly there were a lot of connections between this film and several others that I have really enjoyed (the director Sandy Whitelaw had appeared in the Mylène Farmer music video Pourvu qu’elles soient douces and also appeared as Mr Fox in The Beat That My Heart Skipped; Hiram Keller acted alongside Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg in Antonio Margheriti’s Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye; Fons Rademakers played Mother in one of my favourite films ever, Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness; the cinematography was by Eduard van der Enden, who was the cinematographer on Kümel’s stunningly beautiful Daughters of Darkness; Tina Aumont had appeared with Klaus before in Luigi Bazzoni’s Man, Pride and Vengeance and also happened to be the daughter of Jean-Pierre Aumont who had appeared alongside Mylène Farmer in Laurent Boutonnat’s film Giorgino). Secondly, the subject matter sounded interesting and, finally, I thought it looked like it would be stylish. Also with a soundtrack provided by Terry Riley, I thought it might be a bit different.
It’s a strange film – on first viewing I was ready to dismiss it as trashy, but after 3 viewings (yes, despite what you may believe I do take my little reviews seriously enough to watch a film 3 times…) like the radiation that apparently eats away at our cells, it’s started to grow on me. As you can see from my introduction, I like connections, and Lifespan is full of them; it’s a film full of significance and I’m someone who likes to look for meaning. Given the other Klaus films I’ve reviewed, I’ve not had much of an opportunity to do that so far, but Lifespan definitely gives me something to think about.
That’s not to say that I totally agree with the director’s stated intentions and I do think it’s possible that his intentions exceed what he’s actually delivered, but that’s by the by. I actually have a fondness for this film.
Lifespan follows Ben Land on his journey from innocence – carrying out legitimate scientific research in America – to immorality – using whatever methods he has to use to progress his immortality research. Note, there is only one letter difference between immorality and immortality; T. Ben Land spends most of the film trying to make the T, so to speak.
At the beginning of the film we see Ben reflected in the canal, seemingly happy and innocent. By the end, his reflection in the canal looks troubled, and understandably so, as he has the devil’s voice ringing in his ears; Nicholas Ulrich trying to convince him to do scientific research on human beings. This journey from innocence to immorality leads Ben Land towards murder and madness.
We’re told that Land’s father is a famous plastic surgeon; this piece of knowledge is three-fold: it was natural for Land to follow his father into a field of science; those who use the services of a plastic surgeon wish to turn back the biological clock as they do not wish to “grow old gracefully”, and neither does Land; we’re also told in the director’s audio commentary that Sandy Whitelaw chose Hiram Keller for the role of Ben Land because he was ‘plastic’ – I guess attractive in a ‘plastic’ sense and also because his acting was not exactly emotive (I must say I don’t have an issue with his acting myself but I would much rather have heard his real voice; dubbing is something I’m always moaning about).
“Growing old gracefully” is a recurring theme – Linden’s correspondence to Land prior to their meeting suggests that, “Very soon all of us might be living as long as a city like Amsterdam – growing old gracefully, renewing our cells for hundreds of years.” But Linden’s and Land’s (and Ulrich’s) idea of “growing old gracefully” is not compatible with that of Professor van Arp, who believes that, “Sooner or later we all have to surrender our places to others. And the more gracefully we do it, the better.” He believes this to the extent that when he has a heart attack he turns his face away from Land who is trying to give him ‘the kiss of life’; unlike Ben Land, Professor van Arp is able to face death and take his chances, whereas Land wants to extend life and tells us that he won’t settle for anything less than immortality.
This is why he’s made the trip to Amsterdam – hoping to collaborate with Dr Linden who’s said to have made a major breakthrough in his research. But unfortunately Ben Land finds Dr Linden to be troubled (or so he says – he classifies his actions as ‘strange’, but all I seem to see is a man writing on a notepad with a pen, nothing too strange about that, is there?) as do some of Linden’s colleagues. Land overhears a couple of delegates at the conference discussing Linden: “Did you happen to see how Dr Linden paled up on the stage? He was looking up at something and he suddenly went grey.”
What was the “something” he was looking up at? Nicholas Ulrich. We’re told that Dr Linden had been working as a consultant for a Swiss pharmaceutical company to make some extra money after leaving his wife and children for a younger woman called Anna, which meant finding the resources to maintain two homes. Nicholas Ulrich is the owner of the Swiss pharmaceutical company, Alpina, and Anna is apparently his accomplice. Linden is said to have changed irrevocably after meeting Anna.
In any case, whatever the source of Linden’s trouble, the problem was serious enough for him to take his own life. The next day, Ben Land, along with Linden’s landlady Lydia, finds Linden’s body hanging in his apartment. [Just an aside, doesn’t Lydia look like The Divine David?]
For a man who later claims to be “too scared to look death in the face”, he does not seem to be at all concerned to find his new colleague dead. In fact, he decides to stay on at Linden’s apartment and to sleep “in a dead man’s bed, under the beam ceiling where he hanged himself.” When he says that he needs to be careful or Linden’s death may become an obsession you get the impression that perhaps it already is. When Lydia says she’ll pack Linden’s things away, Land shouts at her, “Don’t! Leave everything as it is!” Instead of wanting to make Paul Linden’s apartment his own, he seems to want to keep it the way it was and to live like Paul Linden lived. A bad idea when you consider how Paul Linden ended up…
Land uses the dead man’s bedside clock, which not only shows time passing but counts it off in tenths of a second – dissecting time and life. Seeing his life being counted off and eaten away before his eyes is too much for Land to handle, so he turns the hum of that awful clock away from him. The problem is, his internal biological clock continues to count away his life even though he can’t yet see it doing so. What Land wants to do is to slow down or stop the clock so he can substantially increase his lifespan – well, actually, as he said, he won’t settle for anything less than immortality.
With no Dr Linden to lead the way, Land must take the lead himself. But Land’s own research papers were only just starting to be talked about, whereas Linden was at a ‘breakthrough’. So if Land was looking for answers, the dead Linden would be the one to provide them. What would Linden have done? Or, more to the point, what did Linden do and why?
If Linden was on the verge of something, what was it? And why did he kill himself? These are the things Land wants and needs to know. This is the puzzle, the mystery that he must solve. So as his grant allows him to do any studies he wants for one year, Land decides to stay on at the University to look at Linden’s papers.
Professor van Arp, the Dean of the University, gives Land access to Linden’s reports and paperwork and is even good enough to provide him with some assistance, if you can call it that, in the form of Pim Henke – his nephew.
Whilst Professor van Arp is helpful, he falls short of embracing the idea of immortality or an increased lifespan. In fact, he’s of the opinion that those who work in the field go into it because of “a fascination with death – the desire to beat the devil, so to speak, but the devil usually wins such contests, I’m afraid.”
There is no doubt that Land is absolutely obsessed with death – and keeping it at arms’ length – but there is still some doubt as to the identity of the devil at this stage. The devil van Arp refers to seems to be death itself. Although it’s interesting to note that van Arp only says the devil usually wins such contests and not always. So although Linden did not “beat the devil” (whatever the devil was) and, in fact, succumbed to it and gave himself up to it, perhaps – just perhaps – there is a chance that Land can take the devil on and beat him at his own game?
Land and Pim find that Linden’s files are all fine up until about a year ago but then they become a little sparse – it’s no coincidence that it was also about a year ago that Linden met his young girlfriend Anna and “was never the same again”. If Land has not yet realised that Anna is a part of Linden’s puzzle, the viewer has and Land soon will. But for now all Land is left with is a bunch of reports on some mice that Linden was studying.
Pim wonders why Linden was studying mice. It should be noted that as dopey as Pim is, he seems to act as a representative of the viewer – asking questions we might want to know the answers to and getting most of those answers for us. Pim is told that mice are mammals, like human beings, and their entire lifespan is only two years, unlike humans whose lifespan is about 70 years, so Linden would be able to study and test them from youth to old age in a fraction of a human life, enabling him to report on findings much sooner than he could if he was to test on human beings.
In using mice as a substitute for human beings, the narrative introduces the first comment on likenesses and copies when the lab assistant states that mice are “like people, but I don’t see any resemblance.” In a later scene on the motorway, Pim (who is not wearing a seatbelt!) observes that a car which has been written off in a crash is the same make of car and the same colour as his, “that could have been me!”, which leads to a conversation about electronic reincarnation. Land’s friends are working on a method which involves feeding a person’s personality into a computer, recording their life experiences, creating a matrix of the person and feeding it into a new body. As Pim notes, “it would be a copy – it wouldn’t be you.” Land feels that this is “better than nothing”, which strikes me as odd coming from someone who wants to be immortal; surely that would truly be a poor alternative? But, then, this comes from the man who gradually, as the story progresses, finds himself becoming the next Linden; acting as Linden would have acted; copying Linden. In the end, he’s not Land anymore; he’s a copy of Linden in a new body.
Back to the study of the mice, Pim has been looking over the data and seems to have discovered that the mice have a much longer lifespan than expected; they appear to have existed for at least 4 years according to the paperwork and the lab assistant says he could swear that some of the mice have been in the lab for longer than 2 years. But the mice appear to be young and healthy and show no effects of their advanced age. If they are that old, it would indicate that Linden’s research has progressed to a stage where he was capable of doubling the lifespan, which leads Land to believe that they may be onto something. The puzzle, however, is not so easy to solve – Land does not know how or why the mice have lived so long; there are no notes to indicate what Linden had done to the mice.
The next piece of the puzzle Land needs to find is Linden’s research papers. But who the devil has them? Well, talking of the devil, as we were, as Land says, “People seem to mention the devil quite often.” Earlier, with reference to Professor van Arp’s “beating the devil” line, I said that in that context the devil appeared to be death itself, but throughout the film the references to the devil increasingly seem to allude to something, or someone, else.
When seeking out Linden’s research assistant, Felix Dolda, who is conducting a children’s choir in church, Dolda says they shouldn’t talk about the research ‘in the house of god’, as if there is something sinful about it. Given that Linden was and Land still is looking to achieve immortality, which could be seen to be tampering with god’s creation (if you are of such a mind), then I guess it could be seen to be sinful – and not only that, but also utterly selfish. There are further arguments against Linden’s and Land’s work and these surface later in the story.
The devil is credited with having defeated Linden. Dr Land also asks if “the devil” is responsible for the removal of Linden’s research papers. He may have been joking but it seems he’s not far off the truth. The mysterious omnipresent figure lurking in the shadows – yes, it is Klaus! – is later identified as “the devil” who did, indeed, defeat (in a sense) Linden and remove his research papers. But that comes later, for now he must remain lurking in the shadows…
Now the devil is just “toying” with Land, as he says, “leaving me just enough clues to satisfy my curiosity.” Toying is a very appropriate term, in fact, as toys and games are yet another recurring theme.
The next piece of the puzzle, enticingly put before Land to pop into its place, is the old people’s home where Dr Linden had apparently been carrying out a study. Land discovers that the study was interrupted by a severe bout of influenza and that “many of the people taking part [in the study] died”. The old people were said to have been fond of Dr Linden – they particularly enjoyed it when he tested their hand/eye coordination with boxes and blocks as “to them it was a game”. In fact, on one occasion an old lady had asked Linden if she could “play the game” and he recognised her as Mina Hoekstra, who was once the cleaning lady in his building.
But the old people’s home and Linden’s research there do not seem to hold the answers for Land, so he returns to Pim and the mice. Now certain that the mice were not being fed anything special, Land looks for reasons why the mice were living so long and why Linden hadn’t published his results.
Land had said that old people reminded him of his own death, so when “old Lydia” (Linden’s and now Land’s landlady) invites him to her birthday party it seems surprising that he accepts the invitation. Lydia has a face that is so wrinkled that she looks like she is wearing a Planet of the Apes face mask – see what I mean?
For someone like Land birthday’s must be anathema – a reminder that another year of his lifespan has been written off. But Land is not there so much for celebration, he’s hoping for an opportunity to encounter “the dark lady of Linden’s life”, Anna. I can’t imagine that Land made a good first impression, not being what you’d call ‘the life and soul’ of the party – he talks about Linden’s suicide with Linden’s family doctor, who writes it off as “a touch of the macabre” and as a warning to others, “Perhaps he was trying to tell you the price of failure.” But Land does not heed warning signs and continues to pursue his aims.
Even at the party, when he stops talking about Linden, Land’s small talk consists solely of his research into the possibility of having a lifespan of over 100 years. “But do we really want to live forever?” asks one of the guests. It’s a good question and not something that Land ever seems to consider. Even if his mentor (whose name evokes the Linden tree which lives for centuries and longer) had decided that he’d had enough of life before his “lifespan” was up, the fact that someone might not want to live forever never crosses Land’s mind.
On the other hand, he has obviously given Anna more than a little consideration. When the other guests are playing a game involving a horn and a mating call to an elephant in the zoo across the way from Lydia’s house, Land and Anna slope off to spend some time alone. Anna lets slip that on the night she met Linden they played the same game with the horn and the elephant mating call. With this identical replay Land now seems to have been well and truly moulded as a replacement figure for Linden – not only in his work but also taking Linden’s place in Anna’s life.
Land discovers Anna trying to smuggle something out of Linden’s apartment and believing it to be the research papers he has been looking for he confronts her only to find that she had been trying to retrieve some bondage photographs she had posed for. Linden had tied Anna up using a double helix knot. Because Pim is not there to ask the questions for us, Anna asks, “Isn’t that something to do with the secret of life?” Yes, these crazy scientists cannot stop thinking about work even when they are playing sex games…
Anna tells Land that some people thought Land may have killed himself as he was too old for her and was afraid she would leave him for a younger man. Well, under the circumstances she is with a younger man, but he just happens to be a younger model of Linden. And proving that point, it’s not long before Land retraces Linden’s steps with some rope and a double helix knot. Talk about programming Linden’s experiences into a new body…
Land and Pim make a discovery when they begin testing on the mice – apparently there is a coating around the cells which would protect the mice from radiation and thus against aging. Land sees this as progress in his fight against aging, but Professor van Arp is not of the same opinion. Representing the old school and the traditional, van Arp hopes that Land is wrong as for him immortality would be a disaster: “Over population and starvation; it would be the end of this world.”
Land’s argument against this is that it could be the start of a new civilisation. For Land immortality would be a blessing and not a disaster; he concedes that man might eventually have to “move off this aging planet” but that it would be well worth it if death was eradicated.
The discovery is enough to trigger a heart attack for Professor van Arp, whereas Land in his excitement at the thought of a life without death now begins to take on the characteristics of a “mad scientist”; a specific scientist – Dr Paul Linden. Waiting to accost Anna outside of the salon where she works, she implores him not to become like Linden, but it’s too late – he already is like Linden. And what’s more, in the same way that people wonder “What would Jesus do?”, Land wonders what Linden would do and then does exactly that – following Anna home to find out who she’s meeting, trying to go unobserved and watching her from the Chess Bar, exactly as Linden had done before him.
“You too, Dr Land?”, says Linden’s family doctor, “Take the advice of an old family doctor, don’t make the same mistake as Linden. Don’t ask Anna about the Swiss man.” As Land observes, “They didn’t want me to retrace Linden’s footsteps, but weren’t they in fact leading me on?”
Linden’s footsteps have great significance for Land as when he last saw Linden before he committed suicide, he had been struck by “the sound of his shoes ringing on [the] marble floor” as he left the University. In fact, the film is littered with shots of feet and shoes and I’m not entirely sure what they signify although Linden’s Gucci loafer shoes are of importance – we see them dangling in shot when he has hanged himself and later his ghost is initially identified by these same shoes which are visible below the laundry hanging in the old people’s home. Land is also later shown with, ironically, one of his feet in Mina Hoekstra’s grave (one foot in the grave, geddit?).
But back to the Swiss man – yes, it only took 43 minutes but after lots of moody shots of Klaus lurking, observing, staring – things he has a natural talent for – Klaus finally speaks! Briefly, but the best is yet to come – I promise…
Anna tells Ulrich – the Swiss man – that she’s fond of Land because “he’s so different”, which is an interesting observation on someone who is modelling himself on her dead boyfriend. I have a bit of a problem with the character of Anna, actually. Okay, by design being the sexual siren may restrict your character’s narrative purpose but Anna’s character does not make any sense. She claims throughout that she is fond of Land and that she does not want him to get involved with Ulrich’s work or to act like Linden and yet she does nothing to discourage this behaviour – she constantly leads him to the next part of the puzzle. She says she doesn’t want him to “get mixed up in all that business” because he’s “too nice”, but then she promptly sets up a meeting for him with Ulrich, knowing full well what the results will be. If she really cared for him, she wouldn’t sound so amused when she tells a colleague at the salon that she was “on top of a church tower watching [Land] make a fool of himself”.
Land, ever susceptible to the power of suggestion, listens to Anna’s story about Linden eventually moving on from the Chess Bar (because he looked so miserable watching Anna, his demeanour was said to be putting the clientele off their games and so he was barred!) to the Anne Frank House where he could continue to watch her. Naturally Land moves there too and discovers an exhibition about the SS doctors’ experiments on human beings. Not a good move – before we know it Land will be moving on from mice to men!
Land’s madness really starts to kick in now – from seeing visions of Linden playing the blocks “game” with old people in a concentration camp, to acting like the jealous lover with Anna (even though he tells himself he is only using her), Land eventually winds up breaking into Mina Hoekstra’s grave to steal a sample of her tissue with the pitiable Pim (who acts more and more like he’s in Some Mothers Do Ave Em as time goes on – “But what if dey did die of influenza?”, he says in a spot-on impersonation of Frank Spencer).
This is a whole new ball game for Land, so when Pim asks him, “Are you mad?”, the answer is now assuredly so. Ulrich, secretly watching on with Anna as Land breaks into the grave, may claim that he likes Land’s style but from his point of view such behaviour is dangerous as it could cause a scandal and put a halt to the all-important research.
Land actually believes that Linden was also testing on the old people – the results from Mina Hoekstra’s sample seem to indicate the same rings around the cells as with the mice – but we mustn’t forget that this is all assumption as there are no research files on either the mice or the old people. Is he right in this assumption? Or is it just a figment of his over-active imagination? We don’t really know.
Ulrich tells him that he is right, that Linden “killed himself too soon” without finding out that he had succeeded – Anna had already said that Linden had killed somewhere between 9 and 19 of the old people, but Ulrich now confirms this with the damning comment, “He thought they would all die”.
Going back to the “house of the almost dead” to see the only survivor of Linden’s testing, Emile van der Lutke, Land feels a sense of foreboding – is it possible that the exposure to “the horrors of the aging process” might be affecting his mind? Sadly, yes, whilst it seems likely that Linden had been testing on the old people, Land has become so sloppy in his work that he unwittingly uses the same scalpel he used on the rotting corpse of Mina Hoekstra when he takes a biopsy from Emile – and he forgets to sterilise it first.
It’s possible that Land is actually becoming aware of his own madness. Could it be the same madness that took hold of Dr Linden and made him capable of murder? Ulrich tells Land a story about how he had smuggled some research papers out of Russia, which he then contracted Linden to work on. The papers had been written by a Russian scientist called Ruschinsky – he wanted everybody to have longer lives but he had “ended his life in a mad house”, although Ulrich asserts that this was because of his politics and not because he was mentally ill. But it seems that anyone who works on increasing the lifespan winds up going mad or losing their life in one way or another. It hardly sounds worth the chance, does it?
Ulrich is another example of someone absolutely obsessed with the idea of an eternal life – he has built a new wing to his pharmaceuticals plant to help with the studies. He says this has cost him part of his life. And this is what strikes me as odd, that Ulrich, Linden and Land dedicate their “life” to trying to extend their lives but along the way they do not really appear to live – as Land says, he is prepared to work day and night on the formula until he has it right; that’s no life, is it? As the director says in an interview, “When you want to live forever, in a way you’re already dead.”
Ulrich is, of course, also mad; he has to be, he’s played by Klaus Kinski. Ulrich is rich enough to tempt the mad scientists into testing on humans with his funding of the research and he has Anna as his play thing and partner in crime, for it is crime – as Ulrich puts it, the deaths of humans they test on are “Mercy killings… to end nature’s murders.” For Ulrich, who has no intention of being “an old, rich man”, growing old is horrible and he wants to perfect the cure.
Like Land he thinks of the possibility of immortality 24/7 but he also has diversions – such as his fondness for antiques. When Ulrich first meets Land he is in his favourite antiques store trying out a mask for size; it just happens to be a mask that was used in 1937 when Faust was performed for the Nazis. The mask’s function is to reveal Ulrich as being a Nazi sympathiser, being devilish and ever so slightly kinky…
Anna tells Ben that Ulrich is “a monster” but he’s actually portrayed as more than that and Land himself believes in the end that Ulrich is the devil – he says that Ulrich made Linden sell his soul to him and now it was his turn. But deluded as ever he still believes he can “beat him at his own game”.
It’s too late now, anyway, as Anna says – “You’ll be part of his factory, just like Paul. I tried to warn you. Haven’t you understood yet? You’re going to be Ulrich’s new man. It was all set up.” She completes the puzzle by putting the last piece in its place and leaves Land to his work telling him, although he does not listen, that “the devil always wins”.
It seems to be the case and Land is called into the University by Professor van Arp who has been informed that following the biopsy Emile van der Lutke has died due to Land’s negligence and is also aware, thanks to Pim, that Land had been “grave robbing” to get the tissue sample from Mina Hoekstra. Both van Arp and the representatives from the Ministry of Science who want to question Land affirm that Linden was not carrying out research into immortality but rather that he was trying to find a cure for the common cold with an anti-influenza vaccine. It sounds like they just want to sweep it all under the carpet and avoid a scandal but time is up for Land anyway.
Professor van Arp declares that he always knew that Land was “a bit mad” but now he says he has “turned into a dangerous lunatic”. With that Land is heavily sedated and taken away in an ambulance; presumably like Ruschinsky before him.
The ending is not only “not final” – as the director says, an ending would be against the subject matter – but it’s also unclear. We see Land in hospital – he tells himself that he can’t possibly have killed Emile because he can hear him playing the piano. We then see him in the laundry room of the old people’s home and Linden’s ghost appears to him, asking him how it feels to have made his first kill. Land wants to know why Linden killed himself but he does not get his answer, Linden tells him not to worry about it and disappears.
A psychiatrist comes to see Land and tells him that the fantasies about Dr Linden must have started before Emile’s death and she wants to help him to recover. She tells him, “I’m real. My footsteps are real. The dead Dr Linden walking around and talking to you is one of your fantasies. And you see, Ben, the great danger of fantasies is that one can get trapped in them.”
Those footsteps had lead Land towards trouble and now he appears to have succumbed to madness – or has he? Land says he’s made the call to Ulrich, that he’s made up his mind to go and work for him, to perfect the serum. He takes the express to Geneva, then changes to a little red Alpine train and walks the rest of the way to the factory where he meets Ulrich – or does he? We don’t know because the film doesn’t have a “real” ending, because, in the words of Land, “How can you be satisfied with something that has to end?”
The problem with this for me is that Anna had completed the puzzle – the puzzle depicted Ulrich’s factory – and this implied that the mystery was completely solved, but it isn’t, is it?
Watch the film yourself and see what you make of it, but I’m getting even fonder of it as I write this review.
Kinski’s acting methods:
My favourite bit of the film is where Klaus asks Anna to make the bed and then without giving her a chance he says he’ll do it himself – impatient as always – and then promptly tramples across the bed (wearing shoes) as she tries to make it. The director says this bit was totally improvised by Klaus – imagine my surprise!
Hands in pockets as ever…
The mask – the director says of this: “Klaus had said to me, you must go to the museum and get me a real mask with diamonds and emeralds and then I will be able to act. And I said I can’t even afford to insure that!”
Other information about the film:
Sandy Whitelaw provides both an audio commentary and an interview on the DVD, so it’s well worth getting for that. In the interview he says Klaus did complain on set but it was only about the smell of the mice (or is that “mi-iiiice”, as Klaus says in the film?), which he said was “disgusting”. He also said the following about working with Klaus:
“He was extremely nice on the film. He said we had such good food because we had cheeses and cold cuts for lunch. I mean, he wasn’t there for that long but he was not at all bad. He was very nice to work with…
I had always loved Klaus Kinski. I had seen him in… Doctor Zhivago… I’d seen him in various little Italian movies and so, y’know, I got in touch with Kinski and he was available and he was not very expensive; he keeps on saying, y’know, “I was a whore, I would have done any movie, anything, for the money and they paid me”, but in fact, he got very little money. He was extremely nice on the set.
Erm, he arrived, he had a strong Mexican accent, then I had to say to him, “Klaus, you can’t be a Mexican bandito in this movie – you’re supposed to be a Swiss devil figure with a lab who pushes scientists to go beyond the limits…”
And so we had to work that out a bit. And he was terrific. He arrived in Amsterdam and I went to the hotel and then he took the script and he said, “This I can’t say… this I can’t say…”, so, CUT, “This I can’t say,” BOOM, CUT!
Kinski, I pared down so that he had a lot less dialogue and, er, I just managed to get what I needed…”
I kind of believe Sandy Whitelaw about Klaus behaving himself and then the bits about the Mexican accent and the paring down of the dialogue tell me something else…!
What else? The film took about 6 to 7 weeks to shoot. The hotel where Klaus stays with Anna is the Hotel Doelen in central Amsterdam, http://www.nh-hotels.com/nh/en/hotels/the-netherlands/amsterdam/nh-doelen.html Sandy Whitelaw says they booked out “the finest suite” for a couple of days – treat yourself next time you go to Amsterdam. And don’t forget to take your own mask!