Following on from Interview with Kinski Biographer Christian David Part One here’s Part Two!
DDS: Christian, are you a Kinski fan? What made you want to write the book?
Christian David (CD): I really don’t know whether I’m a Kinski fan or not. To be honest, when writing the book I focused on not becoming a fan, thus ensuring a professional distance in order to write a useful book, and not just some adoring homage or hagiography. It was clear for me though, that I wanted to write my book for all the Kinski fans out there.
They had been the ones keeping the memory alive, even when Kinski was considered by some as an over-the-hill-actor and a man of yesterday. The fans have continued to discuss his films and performances, and also his private life, of course. My book was a gift to them, and I’m glad that so many of them liked what I had researched and written, and spoke favourably about my book. So I’m actually a fan of all the Kinski fans…
Besides, I wanted to write about this man named Klaus Kinski whom I had gotten to know by interviewing his friends, lovers, colleagues. Which was definitely somebody other than the usual sex-crazed maniac attacking journalists and disrupting film shootings. I know this cliché of “Kinski, the crazy guy” is quite popular, and above all entertaining and funny. But it is a very one-sided approach to this man, resulting in a completely false, nearly perverted image. Several people I interviewed were very happy to finally rectify this. For example Kinski’s longtime friend, then journalist and now television producer – of Inspector Rex fame – Peter Hajek would only talk to me about Kinski on the condition that I would abstain from the usual, silly stereotypes…
Back to your original question. Now, and having the book behind me, I allow myself to be a bit a Kinski fan. I don’t need to distance myself from him any longer. And whenever I watch a film and Kinski is in it, there is a smile on my face as soon as I read his name in the opening credits. I just like this guy.
DDS: I like that! Did you ever meet Klaus?
CD: Not to my knowledge… I leave it for the readers to decide whether this was an advantage or disadvantage for someone writing a biography. One could argue that this ensured a healthy distance between the biographer and the object of his work. But, of course, a certain proximity would have improved my credibility. I would have been considered a personal witness. Which on the other hand would have certainly lessened my objectivity. Anyway, I had to cope with the fact that I had never personally known Klaus Kinski. So I chose the position of a detective researching facts, checking details, talking to witnesses, visiting places where Kinski had lived, and all that stuff.
DDS: As your research developed and you found out more, what impression did you form of Klaus Kinski as an individual? Do you think you would have liked him if you had known him well?
CD: I’ve contemplated that many times, although it was completely irrelevant for writing this biography; I’d never expect a wonderful artist to be an equally wonderful human being. It would be naïve to wish for connection between an artist’s talent and his human qualities. Again and again, great art has been created by immature, idiotic assholes, whilst decent, honourable people have produced mediocre, boring things. And vice versa. Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, and later Milos Forman’s great film, was based on this disquieting fact. On a larger scale, works of art should never be judged by the personality of its creators. Nowadays this happens a lot, even going so far that art works reflecting certain social problems are immediately deemed important, even though aesthetically they might be totally banal. But this is a terrible, dangerous trap, because aesthetic, artistic values are replaced by time-dependent moral or ethical standards. I reject that strongly. Applying such an approach artistic talent gets overlooked and devaluated.
This also applies to Klaus Kinski. To me, what counts in the first place is his talent as an actor. And his unquestionable, exceptional talent was due to his great sensitivity, nurtured by all kinds of experiences; certainly also by his wrongdoings. Undeniably he could be a terrible pain in the ass. Not because he was a sadist, a psychopath, or suffering from a borderline personality disorder as some have suggested. It was rather his deeply instinctive behaviour pattern that made him do things he may have even partially regretted later. Sometimes he did something because he just felt like it, period. Which occasionally made him appear quite unpredictable and erratic. And it also angered him when he was expected to follow other people’s rules or expectations. Hence the numerous scuffles with directors, journalists, or talk show hosts.
Routine is an element of life which was disdained by Kinski. Even in some badly paid, obscure and trashy Italian film production he showed an acting presence. As if he was directed by David Lean or Sergio Leone, rather than by Sergio Garrone or Joe D’Amato. He was an actor because he needed to be one, and he honoured his profession by sticking to what he considered his own personal minimum standard. And he didn’t allow anyone to question this, as such a behaviour seemed disrespectful to him; Kinski wanted to be respected, and any lack of respect incited his rage.
Journalists expecting him to simply follow the established ping-pong-routine of interviews – with the interviewee dutifully answering any question, even questions revealing the interrogator’s deficient degree of preparation – this challenged Kinski’s intelligence and good will. He was never inclined to tolerate such behaviour towards him. It not only enraged, but also hurt him. Probably this had to do with his childhood, with the sense of having been abandoned by his parents, who both had died prematurely. I’ve read a lot of highly personal letters written by Kinski and I came to the conclusion that this man was actually very soft, highly sensitive, thin-skinned, and vulnerable. He therefore girdled himself with an armour of harshness, unyieldingness, and arrogance in order to prevent further psychological injuries. Understanding and accepting this, I cannot help but like Klaus Kinski.
And yes, I think I would have gotten along with him. And if not, I certainly would have known how to ensure my well-being. Werner Herzog knew how to deal with Kinski, at least most of the time, as did Sergio Corbucci, Manfred Purzer, and Just Jaeckin. Basically, and as incredible as it may sound, Kinski was a loving, caring individual. Those who really knew him confirmed that independently. Otherwise he would never have enjoyed friendships spanning two or three decades.
And of course he was a ladies’ man. He chased women, but those were different times. We shouldn’t be so pretentious to apply our current standards to how men and women interacted with each other back in the 1960s or 1970s. Feminism has since changed our attitudes. Although back then sexual liberation was the ruling dogma, at least in Europe and North America, women were still in a weaker position than men, even from a legal standpoint. Major issues like contraception or abortion underwent deep changes at that time. Sex was the yoga of the late 1960s; nudity lost its social stigma.
For quite some time Kinski enjoyed a promiscuous lifestyle and many women were fond of him. They liked this intense, sensual, exciting guy. He didn’t have to force them to sleep with him. They fell for him. On the other hand, from a woman’s point of view, Kinski was merely seen as a welcome bedfellow, but not more than this. One actress told me off the record, that he was a great lover, but he wasn’t husband material; she would have married someone else. This actress had a longer affair with him that was also documented in Kinski’s autobiography.
DDS: What are your favourite Klaus films?
CD: Naturally I love all the Herzog-Kinski collaborations. Especially Fitzcarraldo, which to me is the absolute peak in their common undertakings. When at the end Kinski smokes a cigar and smiles an unusually uncynical, broad, relaxed smile, being accompanied by his beloved Italian opera music, this is such a moving moment. Fitzcarraldo has actually lost everything he wanted to achieve, but he has finally found himself. And he has also found the love of his live, in the character played by the great Claudia Cardinale. In those final moments we realise what both Herzog and Kinski believed in – that whatever you do in the so-called real world, and wherever you might travel to find the land of your dreams, it’s the inner journey really making the difference. To all theatrical actors I’d strongly recommend Woyzeck, with an extremely restrained and intense Klaus Kinski. Then of course Nosferatu, a visually stunning recreation and homage to Murnau’s original silent film. And certainly Aguirre, with the unforgettable soundtrack by Popol Vuh. Cobra Verde is a bit problematic though, I think both Herzog and Kinski would have preferred not to have done it; watching it carefully you can sense all the exhaustion and stress involved.
DDS: And aside from the Herzog/Kinski collaborations?
CD: I absolutely adore, as everyone seems to do, The Great Silence /Il grande silenzio, Sergio Corbucci’s deeply pessimistic western, which is brilliant in all aspects. This was also Kinski’s personal favourite. The whole setting in the snowy Italian Alps, the depressing, hopeless atmosphere, and the disillusionment at the end… as if Corbucci had exactly foreseen how the dreams of the 1968 Summer of Love would end too soon. I can’t count how often I’ve watched this film. Kinski and Jean-Louis Trintignant are terrific, and Ennio Morricone’s dry music is simply perfect. Dating from the same period, Riccardo Freda’s A doppia faccia is another of my absolute favourite Kinski films. It’s like an Italian giallo version of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up, very interesting, and with truly terrific music by Nora Orlandi. Kinski is so fearful and nervous in it, desperately searching for his wife. Well, if your wife is the incredibly sultry Margaret Lee, this is so totally understandable… And finally among my absolute favourites there is Andrzej Zulawski’s L’important, c’est d’aimer. The film which made me discover Kinski as a great, unique actor. Again a film I’ve watched countless times, both on the big screen and on DVD. And one gets the chance to see how Kinski would have played Shakespeare’s Richard III. It’s a shame that the project with Roman Polanski didn’t materialise. Also in this film, Kinski interacts so well with Romy Schneider. Then there is the stunningly beautiful music by Georges Delerue. And Ricardo Aronovich’s nervous, intruding camera work is terrific.
Other movies… well, there are too many! But I’d like to mention those I’d consider fine films and at the same time ideal for studying Kinski’s talent. From the 1950s I’d immediately pick Helmut Käutner’s strangely romantic biopic Ludwig II. Käutner was one of the great, today almost forgotten German film directors, one of only a handful of German post-war filmmakers who tried to see film as an art, not just a way of earning money. That’s also the reason why Käutner hired the great Douglas Slocombe as his cinematographer. And Kinski is absolutely marvellous here, you can see how great and convincing an actor he was at the age of only 28. I’m sure he would have gotten an Oscar if he had been American, and in Britain or France or Italy he would have risen to stardom immediately. Not so in Germany unfortunately…
I could go on for hours, so allow me to just mention a few other fine Kinski films I’d consider essential, without going too much into detail: from all those German Edgar Wallace versions, I take Die toten Augen von London, Das Gasthaus an der Themse, and Das indische Tuch, all directed by the great Alfred Vohrer. Another very interesting film is Der rote Rausch, shot in Vienna and directed by Wolfgang Schleif, with Kinski in an early starring role as a psychotic serial killer. Then there are the Italian westerns, above all Damiano Damiani’s gorgeous Quien sabe?, but also Kinski’s supporting genre debut in Sergio Leone’s For A Few Dollars More, then his – absolutely fascinating – gay character in Giorgio Capitani’s Ognuno per se, Antonio Margheriti’s very impressive …e Dio disse a Caino, or Alfonso Balcázar Granda’s and Francisco Celeiro’s El retorno de Clint el solitario, where Kinski shows up with his long Jesus hair, and in a very unusual passive mood given that once more he was cast as the bounty hunter. We should also not forget Giuliano Montaldo’s clever heist movie Top Job; Luigi Bazzoni’s Le orme, masterfully photographed by Vittorio Storaro; Alexander Whitelaw’s quite original Lifespan; Manfred Purzer’s underrated Das Netz; Serge Moati’s surreal Nuit d’or; Just Jaeckin’s ambitious genre-mixture Madame Claude; Georges Lautner’s slick and gripping Mort d’un pourri, with Kinski as the prototypical ruthless capitalist; Raphaele Billetdoux’ daring La femme-enfant; Billy Wilder’s sentimental Buddy Buddy; and certainly Piers Haggard’s very well cast Venom, with Kinski trying to contain Oliver Reed. And regarding the trash and exploitation genre, I’d go for Jess Franco’s unexpectedly tame Justine; and his fine El conde Dracula; Fernando Di Leo’s strange La bestia uccide a sangue freddo; Sergio Garrone’s sleazy La mano che nutre la morte and Le amanti del mostro; Joe D’Amato’s gory La morte ha sorriso all’assassino; and David Schmoeller’s funny Crawlspace… Well, I’m sure to have forgotten some films other Kinski experts would consider. I expect to be stoned by them when they see me.
DDS: Which of all the female actors who worked with Kinski are your favourites?
CD: Without a doubt Claudia Cardinale. Their chemistry in Fitzcarraldo is fantastic and unsurpassable. I think both knew exactly that they were one of cinema’s great, great couples. Herzog was lucky to have them. Nothing comes close to this pairing of two quite diverse and, at the same time, convincingly devoted lovers.
And then from an earlier period, I’d go for the sensual charisma of Margaret Lee. I think her being cast as Kinski’s missing wife in Riccardo Freda’s A doppia faccia was the decisive factor and made the plot understandable. And watching them together in several 1960s productions, you just know they got along very well even when the camera was not rolling.
DDS: What was the most interesting thing you discovered during your research?
CD: I found it absolutely fascinating how much truth Kinski’s autobiographical books contain. That was incredible, as everybody thinks that he just invented everything. On the contrary, the books are full of actual events and real people, often disguised and given new names, but nevertheless true. Often I met people whom I knew from these books, and sometimes I only later discovered that they had been mentioned by Kinski. Even small anecdotes had not been invented. For example, the one about the nurse in the hospital where Kinski was recovering after falling from a horse. I have two witnesses who independently confirmed that this nurse had existed and, yes, Kinski had really had a short affair with her. It sure helped his convalescence so he decided to immortalize her.
As Kinski had only his memoir and no notes to rely on for his books, it’s incredible how well he remembered that many things. Very often the descriptions of events and persons are unbelievably factual. But he took great care in protecting many of his friends’ identities; he even changed street names when he considered that necessary. His really close lifelong friends are all in the books, but mostly in disguise.
The rule for Kinski’s autobiographies is: Whenever you think that something was made up by him, it’s actually true – and when you believe something must be true, it’s probably been made up. For example, when Kinski describes his last tour of recitations as an unmitigated success, it was in fact the complete contrary. On the other hand, Kinski tells us about the wife of a stockings manufacturer with whom he lived in Vienna and this is absolutely correct. This woman really existed, she was indeed the wife of a rich stockings manufacturer, and they really did have a very intense, very sexual love affair lasting for several years. It ended shortly before Kinski married Ruth Brigitte Tocki; and of course during those years Kinski wasn’t totally faithful.
The woman was of high importance to Kinski. When he lived in Vienna in subleased rooms, had no money and no career, she was crucial in supporting him financially and morally. And as she also was an actress, she understood his needs maybe better than anybody else. Without that woman Kinski quite possibly would never have had his comeback. He was often suicidal in those years and she encouraged him not to give up too soon. I would have loved to mention her name in the book and say a little more about her. But due to legal reasons I wasn’t allowed to do that.
There was a daughter I couldn’t get into contact with, and she could have challenged my book legally accusing me of invading her privacy. I had to use the same pseudonym Kinski had invented for her, “Anuschka”. But I wasn’t satisfied with that. So I used a little trick. I put the real name into the book, but in a different context; I sort of adapted Kinski’s own strategy. Which, by the way, Kinski was only capable of doing so brilliantly because he actually wrote his biographies himself. There was no ghostwriter involved, not even for parts of the manuscripts. The author was Klaus Kinski, and he cared even about the tiniest details, struggling with his then editors.
That was another thing I discovered with great astonishment during the research. And this also made me choose the style I wanted to use for my book. It was important to me not to imitate him, to get stylistically as far away from him as possible. I never wanted to outKinski Kinski. I went for a rather matter-of-fact, analytical, occasionally tough tone. I thought the more relaxed my writing was, the hotter the subject would appear.
DDS: What else did you find interesting?
CD: Quite certainly the fact that Klaus Kinski wasn’t just a compelling actor, above all he was an artist. Acting was merely his occupation. He was so gifted, he could have been a great writer and journalist, a filmmaker, a painter, or even a philosopher if he had had the chance to enjoy academic training.
His infamous conflicts with people trying to interview him were rooted in a deep scepticism towards the nature of human communication. Kinski never accepted established patterns, but always questioned them. This is exactly the material great thinkers are made of. And had he been ten or twenty years younger he could have become a great rock star – Jagger and Bowie have reinvented themselves constantly, just like Kinski did during his career. But unlike them whose careers flourished in a time of moral, sexual, and even artistic liberation, Kinski had to endure the war (even becoming a prisoner of war), and later a rather dull German post-war period. It is so telling that his talents were only appreciated in the 1960s and after leaving Germany. Before that, he had to wait, and hope, and wait again. Which of course was very humiliating.
And I find it interesting that probably even today things wouldn’t be easier for a younger Kinski trying to be accepted as a great, fascinating actor in Germany. Unfortunately, the really fine film actors tend to get completely overlooked in Germany. They have real difficulties getting cast in interesting, starring roles. Their potential is ignored and neglected, and sometimes they’re even belittled. I haven’t been able to really understand the reason behind this, but it’s a sad fact.
Take Christoph Waltz, for example. Although an Austrian, he spent many years in Germany where he played in loads of TV productions, but he never got to be a real, popular star. He was never invited to any of the popular talk shows, he was rarely asked to give interviews. The brilliant, fascinating talent Waltz constantly displayed simply wasn’t understood. He had to wait for Quentin Tarantino to be finally discovered. And now he is an international superstar, a unique character actor working with the biggest names in the business.
Even now, there are fine German actors who would absolutely deserve great fame. But they share the same experiences Kinski and Waltz had to live through. Whereas there are some second-rate or even third-rate actors who are considered big stars in Germany. Beyond Germany’s borders they’re irrelevant, but in Germany they’re major league players – scripts are adapted to please their pitiable standards; TV series are specifically created for them; accolades are poured over them. An attributing factor to this is the dominance of German television. Popular German actors are TV actors. You can be stunning in a film, maybe loved at international festivals, but in Germany only insiders or film critics would know your name. That’s why so many good actors have to do television work; otherwise they’d be nearly jobless. And in those TV productions they frequently get used and after some time thrown away, to be immediately forgotten.
This is sad, and the only way of avoiding all that is trying to establish oneself on an international level. Armin Mueller-Stahl had done that in the 1980s; Franka Potente was lucky enough to do that in the 1990s; and a recent example is Daniel Brühl, who was recently cast as the legendary Austrian racing driver Niki Lauda in an upcoming Ron Howard film. Kinski did the right thing in going to Italy, and later to France. Certainly he was unhappy with his career in the United States. The film with Billy Wilder unfortunately wasn’t the huge success everybody had hoped for. But he’d never have gone back to Germany, and he was right not to do so.In Germany at that time he was seen as merely the decrepit remnant of a better past. They had caged and buried him under tons of old, bizarre clichés. Except for Werner Herzog, none of the leading German directors would cast him; not even Fassbinder. Those directors were just sheepish petty bourgeois afraid of being confronted with a headstrong actor like Kinski. That’s the reason why so many of their films turned out so boring. Maybe Kinski wasn’t artsy enough for them. Or he was too difficult, too demanding, too uncomfortable. But aren’t the arts all about a bunch of unconventional people with highly problematic manners?
Maybe these directors feared being overshadowed by Kinski’s fame. Yet the basic obstacle was the small-mindedness of these filmmakers. They should have begged him on their knees to be in their films. As they should have done with Romy Schneider; Curd Jürgens; Helmut Berger; Mario Adorf; Horst Buchholz; Udo Kier… They worked in Britain, France, Italy, the United States, but not in German films. At least Kinski wasn’t alone. Anyway, going back to Germany wasn’t an option, so Kinski stayed in California. I bet he would have freaked out if some fine German directors had called him and offered him something interesting. Sadly it didn’t happen.
DDS: Was there anything you unearthed that you were unable to include in the book?
Yes and no. My German publisher told me to respect certain legal boundaries. Going too much into detail about other people’s sexuality, drug consumption, or medical condition can be dangerous. Especially in Germany, where some courts rule rather strictly. It’s unbelievable, but in Germany in the past five years at least three biographies had to be retracted and they completely vanished. And a novel was forbidden, just because some woman had claimed that one of the characters was merely a fictionalised version of herself. That woman was of course totally unknown to the broader public. So my editor and I didn’t want to fall into this trap, as there are always people trying to use any occasion for getting attention.
By the way, Kinski had to face a similar situation when preparing the first US edition of his autobiography. Lawyers sent him a lengthy list with all kinds of silly questions regarding the persons mentioned by him. Hence I found it quite amusing. But there are always possibilities for inserting hints. If you read my book carefully enough, you’ll understand what I mean. Generally I’d say that Kinski for the great part of his life enjoyed a full, rich sex life. And of course he knew that smoking cigarettes or drinking red wine weren’t the only drugs available. And I think this is also what makes a great actor; to know what real life is about, rather than just living in some aloof Hollywood bubble and thinking you’re superior.
On a larger scale, every book has its limits. Whether it has 100 or 400 pages, the author must decide what to put into it. And what to leave out, as sad as it may seem to both the author and the readers. On the other hand, books must be readable and readers tend to shy away from 1000-page biographies. Not just because they are overwhelmed with all the stuff they would have to face, but also the price would be reasonably higher. For the reader as well as for the publisher too. My first draft would have resulted in an 800-page book. So we had to cut it down. I had to select what to include and what to exclude, which wasn’t that easy.
Of course I thought that everything was worth mentioning. I tried to condense the material, and I was confronted with tough decisions. Often I wondered whether readers would want more or less information about the films, plays, unrealised projects. Whether they wanted more or less, longer or shorter quotes from the interviews I had conducted. For some time I was playing with the idea of a supplement containing the interviews. And then there were the footnotes. There could have been many more, but this would result in pages that only absolute enthusiasts would appreciate and study. And then I would have to cut the actual text even further.
So there had to be some sort of compromise as I was dealing with a diverse readership. I knew some of them would already be well-informed Kinski enthusiasts, whilst others would be absolute novices. And I had to satisfy all of them. I tried to do my best. As I’ve mentioned before, when my book was praised by Kinski fans I thought maybe I had done a good job.
There was one specific event I couldn’t include for the reasons I mentioned initially. Probably it would have been quite spicy or spectacular. But it was a he-said-she-said-thing, and there was only one person left who could, of course, only have told her own side of the story. Verification of what had really happened some forty years ago between a man and a woman was therefore impossible. Given all this I gladly decided to leave it out.
Generally, the book’s readers basically get to know everything I’ve been able to research. There are no big secrets I’ve kept for myself. The difference between them and me lies probably in the experiences I had during my research – in actually meeting close friends of the man, and not just reading about them. And I have read so many private, deeply personal letters written by Kinski. This was an experience which had a strong impact on me. It had a major influence on my view of who Klaus Kinski actually was. There he was: the human being, not the star, not the myth, not the maniac. I could not pass on this experience directly to the readers. But I could tell them about Kinski; I could describe his state of mind, his aspirations, fears, and joy. So I did just that. The rest is up to the readers. I’m only the medium.
DDS: Do you have any interesting stories you can share?
CD: I got hold of a letter, written in the early 1980s by a 16 year old girl from a small town in Bavaria. She had written to Kinski, saying how much she adored him, and expressed her wish to meet him. And in the letter she had very bluntly offered him the opportunity to have sex with her, even using the German word for “fuck”. That letter was really something Kinski could have mentioned in his autobiographies. Nobody would have believed that a teenager had wanted to sleep not with a young, hip rock star, but with a man more than forty years her senior, and had actually expressed that in a letter to her idol. Unfortunately I couldn’t find her, and I don’t know whether her dream ever came true. But in case she reads this interview, I’d love to hear from “Ina”. Which isn’t her actual name, but she would recognise herself.
Then there was this house in Berlin, where Kinski had lived. I went there to study it and take pictures. In the basement was a shop, and I suddenly felt the desire to step in. I had no rational reason for doing so, but I wanted to see whether the salesperson incidentally knew who had lived in the house. I was careful and asked: “I understand some famous man once stayed here.” She replied indifferently: “Yeah, that resistance fighter. Not in this house, though, but rather in the other one, down the street.” I gave it another try: “No, actually I’m not talking about the resistance fighter. I think there was this famous actor who resided right here in this building.” Suddenly she looked at me and said: “A famous actor? Are you referring to Kinski?” I was surprised and replied: “Sure. According to what I know, he lived here nearly fifty years ago.” She smiled: “Of course, that’s true. And I was staying in this house at that time, too. I remember everything, including him. And I know his book. He exaggerated in some aspects.” She continued to talk, and unexpectedly I had new material for my book. Later I wondered whether she had really told me everything she knew about him.
A similar thing happened to me in Vienna. I had managed to enter an old apartment building in order to check the place where Kinski had lived in a subleased room. In the staircase I met this older couple. Judging from their age, they could have lived there decades earlier. So I gave it a try and asked whether they knew that an actor named Klaus Kinski had once had a room there. Both looked at me smilingly, and the man said: “Yes, of course we know that. He was a very strange guy. He was very loud, always shouting, even at night. With him, we had constant noise in this house.” And while the man was talking, I felt like being taken back with a time machine. Suddenly it was 1958, and Klaus Kinski could storm down the stairs at any given moment. Any time difference had vanished. I felt really strange. It was as if the past was suddenly becoming the present. I experienced that a lot of times, and I took it as an inspiration for my writing. I felt as if Kinski was just around the corner waiting for me.
Sometimes I envisioned things in my fantasy, initially to fill gaps in Kinski’s biography. And later it regularly turned out that I had instinctively hit the mark. As if Kinski had told me in what direction to go and research. I don’t know whether this sounds ridiculous or not, and I don’t care. Intuition helped me a lot in searching and finding the right path, period.
After the book had been published, I was approached by an older guy from Berlin. He had been active in Berlin’s post-war gay community. And he had known Kinski – that was very clear – and was quite satisfied with what I had written about the young Klaus. And he made me understand how difficult it was back then to live out one’s sexual desires at a time when everything that didn’t conform to social norms was disdained or even punished by the authorities.
We should be grateful for living at a time that leaves us greater possibilities of expressing our desires. At least theoretically. And we must be careful to prevent all kinds of authorities from limiting our freedom and our personal well-being. And we must not obey at all costs. Censorship is one thing, but self-censorship may be even much more harmful. Although we’re told all the time that the constraints put on us serve a greater purpose, let’s not trust those hypocrites; Klaus Kinski never did.
DDS: What do you think of Kinski’s Paganini? I love it!
That’s a difficult one, given that this project had been Kinski’s lifelong dream. I was quite critical of this film in my book. And I thought that the film seemed pale compared to what Kinski had originally envisioned. But then I saw two films which made me sort of rethink my position. Those two films maybe came close to what Kinski had had in mind. I’m speaking of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette from 2006, and Terrence Malick’s recent Tree Of Life. Both Coppola and Malick avoided the traditional story-telling approach; they were more interested in creating a certain atmosphere, and depicting their characters’ moods, always putting the significance of images above dialogues. And they abandoned what has become so foreseeable in recent years, namely the idea of how a script should be constructed.
I think Syd Field’s famous concept of a three-act structure is certainly fine for sit-coms, and it’s a comfortable basic concept for storytelling novices. But in my view this technique leads to a reduced complexity – it’s a simple solution – whereas really ambitious films in order to be inspiring must rise far above that. At the end there shouldn’t be a resolution, as Field suggested, but rather excitement and amazement. A great film’s end is not really the end, but a new beginning. The viewers should sort of hijack the film, take everything they’ve seen with them, and start enriching it with their own conflicting emotions. The film ultimately doesn’t belong to the director, but to the viewers, may they love or hate it. Great directors know that, and they anticipate that in their films. Contrary to what the three-act structure declares, they do not provide you with easy answers, but leave you with open questions. They prefer ambiguity to clarity. Coppola did that, although Marie Antoinette isn’t her best film, to put it mildly. In contrast, Malick’s Tree Of Life is a masterpiece, albeit quite controversial.
Seen from that perspective, Kinski was far ahead of them. He had already tried doing in the 1980s, what only became a still daring, but viable way of cinematic storytelling more than twenty years later. Paganini may not be the great film Kinski had dreamt of; the production’s circumstances were problematic, given the hostile conditions. But Paganini is the ultimate proof for Kinski’s singular artistry; it is the most audacious part of his legacy.
DDS: If Kinski was alive today, would he have a career? Would directors hire him?
CD: Kinski’s tragedy was that he died too early. The 1980s weren’t a particularly pleasant decade for him. It was the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Even E.T. was so depressed that he tried to get away from this world as soon as possible. A period of bad hairstyles and conservative restoration, crowned with the so-called triumph of divine capitalism. There was really no place for somebody like Klaus Kinski, no way. But I’m totally convinced he would have been seriously rediscovered in the 1990s.
There would have been new, younger directors keen on working with him. I bet he would have loved and embraced their talents, their enthusiasm. I can so totally see him working with someone like Tarantino. Imagine Kinski as Hans Landa, the Nazi villain in Inglourious Basterds. He would have been fantastic. In my view, Kinski would be the only actor who could potentially have matched Christoph Waltz’s portrayal of that character. Fluent in English, German, French, Italian, combined with the usual devilish politeness and the chilling cynicism, Kinski would have been an iconic Landa. And in Tarantino’s dedication and crazy visual fantasy he would have found his new Sergio Leone.
DDS: Thanks so much for this truly informative interview, Christian. I’ve really enjoyed it. To close, do you have anything else you want to say?
CD: Yes, in case anybody wants to contact me, please get in touch via Raechel. Thanks a lot – it was a pleasure talking to you. And you and your readers will be the first to know about my next book.
DDS: That’s brilliant news – do send us an update when you’re able to tell us anything about your new book!
– 0 –
If you wish to contact Christian David, post a comment to me and I’ll email you outside the site to arrange to forward any messages on.