An interview with Revenge of the Stolen Stars actor Barry Hickey

When I reviewed Ulli Lommel’s film Revenge of the Stolen Stars recently (see Klaus Kinski’s ghost gets to do whatever he wants), the actor Barry Hickey contacted Du dumme Sau! to add some comments about working on the film.  Since then there’s been the short interview with the lovely Joycelyne Lew (see A few words from Joycelyne Lew on working with Klaus Kinski) who played the maid Suki.  Now Barry Hickey (who played Klaus’ nephew in the film) has agreed to talk to Du dumme Sau! about his experiences with Klaus and Ulli and the making of Revenge of the Stolen Stars:

When you went to the audition for Revenge of the Stolen Stars, did you know that you’d be starring alongside Klaus Kinski?

No. The director said it was going to be Tony Curtis, but weeks later, after returning from the Philippines, when we came to my “uncle” scenes Tony had checked himself into the Betty Ford clinic I believe and the search was on for his replacement. 


Prior to working on the film, were you aware of Klaus Kinski’s previous work and reputation?

Very much so. One of my favorite films in college was Fitzcarraldo directed by Werner Herzog. I’d heard a story about Klaus I can’t verify… That he performed in an enormous soccer stadium in Berlin, I believe. Just him on a stage with a small piano for a packed crowd. He came onstage, took his seat and waited and waited and waited until you could hear a pin drop. Then he played a few notes from Mary Had A Little Lamb or its German equivalent. He thinks he hears someone in the audience make a sound. Stops his performance and waits for dead silence again before continuing. I’m told his attempt to play the one short song took several hours. But such was his control and mastery of the crowd as a performance artist.  [Du dumme Sau! note: this sounds like a variation on the Jesus Christ Erlöser event!)

 
Is it true that he would not shake hands with you when you introduced yourself to him?

No, he would not. He tried to avoid any kind of conversation with me since he would be playing my dead uncle and I was not supposed to discover his presence until the scene we’d shoot the following day.
 

I hear rumours that Klaus used to try and sell other actors his lines (presumably the ones he refused to say himself), did he try and sell you any of his lines?

No, no lines. And the lines he kept I couldn’t hear anyway.

Joycelyne Lew told us about how Klaus, ahem!, made a nuisance of himself when she was around – are there any other fun stories about Klaus on or off set?

He was enamored by women. I did hear a hilarious episode from an actress who co-starred with him in Crawlspace and what he attempted to do to her under the covers. I’ll leave the rest to your readers’ imaginations.
 

I understand that because Klaus refused to do so many things (he didn’t want to sit down anymore, he didn’t want the boom near him, he didn’t want to talk loud, he didn’t want to say certain lines, etc) the storyline had to be changed somewhat – what was the original story supposed to be before they made Klaus into a ghost? [Du dumme Sau! note: Ulli Lommel says himself in the interview on the DVD that he had to make Klaus into a ghost as he refused to sit in order to do continuity shots; the idea being that “as a ghost he can be wherever he wants to be, there’s no continuity or nothing because ghosts don’t have continuity”!)

Ulli Lommel always intended the uncle as a ghost. But he was also supposed to be a guy with a great sense of Irish humor. Comical almost. Ulli has a great sense of humor and he really wanted to lean towards slapstick comedy in the picture. Originally the film was supposed to be an upbeat adventure yarn. But Klaus’ take on my uncle totally turned the mood of the picture, unbalanced it. With our budget and deadline to deliver we were sort of stuck.

I understand that aside from the problems with Klaus there were other problems on the film – the guy demanding $10k to use his property for filming when he had previously said it was free of charge, all the different shooting locations, etc – did it feel chaotic working on the film? 

It was my first feature, my first starring role. Chaotic? Not really. Ulli is very low key. Our crew the same. We had a lot of fun on the sets in the United States. Ulli’s wife at the time was Suzanna Love. She co-starred in the film with me. She had a young Katherine Hepburn air about her. They told me stories of their adventures in New York with Andy Warhol and Jackie Onassis… Ulli isn’t impressed by celebrity. He loves to be around genuine articles.  Tom Jones who was an associate producer on Revenge also played the film’s butler. He’s Australian with a fantastic checkered past. Ulli loved being around him. Tom walked with a limp from being speared in New Guinea years earlier. Very colorful and a great friend. Ullli too, I might add. He is devilish, really. We did shoot a ton of locations. When Ulli signed Klaus there was a scramble to shoot in Mexico because we were non-union. If we wanted Klaus, it had to be Mexico. I literally left Ulli’s house after a scene and drove straight to Mexico with an older buddy Ray and Roger, the money guy. I found a realtor who had been a famous bullfighter. He knew the “Johnny Carson of Mexico” living high in the hills overlooking Tijuana and we rented his house for two days. Klaus came down in a limo with Joycelyne Lew, the makeup artist. It was my first time meeting her and she ended up snagging the maid role as Suki in the picture days later. Yes, there were some problems at the end of the shoot. We sent the camera and equipment truck and Klaus and Joycelyne down the mountain and left a near empty rented U-Haul full of wood for them. It was a run for the border. Other places – Agoo and the Banaui Rice Fields in the Philippines, Malibu, California, the basement of the Alexander Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the former Rudolph Valentino suite upstairs, the Golden Gate bridge and exterior streets of San Francisco which we shot on the fly without permits. We even flew to Colorado Springs. I managed to get the local symphony to appear in my opening scene where I am a Timpani player. Ulli and I flew with a small crew to Colorado Springs. There was an enormous blizzard when we arrived. Our symphony cancelled and I ended up playing Timpani in a string quartet. [Du dumme Sau! note: These scenes seem to have been removed from the film and the only reference to Barry’s character Gene playing timpani is when Klaus’ character Uncle Duncan says he always liked the way he played the drums]

Were you aware of how successful Ulli had been himself as an actor (with Fassbinder) and his previous films?

I was aware of Ulli and Fassbinder. I wasn’t a big fan of Fassbinder’s films. I was more intrigued by Ulli and the constant predicaments he put himself in.
 

And what about the subsequent films you worked on with Ulli Lommel?  How did working on your other films compare with this experience?

I never knew what to expect with Ulli. He did several pictures, often incorporating German actors that were visiting Los Angeles. He’d write scenes around them and film. He’d bring me in as an FBI agent or cop or ask me to produce a little with him. I enjoyed a small film he did called Royal Affair – about the end days of Princess Grace of Monaco. I don’t know what ever happened to that one or another – Lethal Orbit with Casper Van Diem. Our last picture together was Tornado Run. A humorous piece about that was that our lead actor Jeff Rector demanded more money to finish the film. Ulli hired his identical twin brother Jerry to step in and finish the picture for less cash. I often wonder what sort of picture Ulli would make given real money and support. He hired me to write the screen version of Mario Puzo’s (The Godfather) Fools Die. I wrote six drafts before we were satisfied. Ulli really knew the craft and we put together a solid, but dark script. There was a $400,000 payoff to me if the film was financed. Then the project got twisted when we discovered another producer had been given the same rights by Puzo. It would have been a legal nightmare so Ulli had to abandon the picture. It very much reminds me of Casino and even Leaving Las Vegas, both done long after our attempt.
 

I see you have now written several novels and screenplays, do you feel this is more rewarding than working as an actor?  Tell us about what you’re doing now.

My third novel comes out in April. It’s called The Glass Fence. After that is Waking Paul Bunyan followed by The Mermaid Latitudes. Then I hunker down for a four book Young Adult series. I do enjoy novels tremendously. Unlike film everything is my fault and I can accept that. But I have to tell you that my 15 years in Hollywood, not just as an actor but working at the studios and networks and writing and producing while still singing all the time is what has given me the confidence to go it on my own. I do want to give Ulli Lommel a great deal of credit here. Despite what the reviews may say about Revenge of the Stolen Stars, Ulli never gave up. He worked with what he had in front of him. He was always inventive and creative. Unlike Klaus Kinski, he was gracious and kind. Almost like an older, mentoring brother to me. He and I had dozens of great adventures in Hollywood in the eighties and nineties. I can’t say I enjoyed it all, but I am blessed for the lessons learned about life in general. 

 Thanks for being so gracious and kind yourself, Barry, and for telling us about your experience of working with Klaus and Ulli.  Du dumme Sau! wishes you lots of success with the novels and your other projects!

Barry Hickey’s website includes details of his novels, his albums and videos: http://www.barryhickey.com/

Behind the scenes photograph of Barry Hickey with Klaus Kinski and Juan Luis Curiel (the Mexican Johnny Carson) used with the kind permission of Barry Hickey

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Klaus Kinski gets thrown out of a window

A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe aka Nobody’s the Greatest; Un genio, due compare, un pollo; Nobody ist der Größte; Un genie, deux associés, une cloche (Dir Damiano Damiani, 1975)

Basic plot: Joe Thanks teams up with Steamengine Bill and his girlfriend Lucy when he hears that $300,000 of government funds have been stolen by Major Cabot.  The money rightfully belongs to the local Indian tribe.  Joe has worked up a complex plan to get the money back – For the local Indian tribe? For himself? Who knows? He calls on Bill and Lucy for their help but with so many confusing double-crosses, twists and turns it’s never clear who can be trusted.  Try and work out who is the Genius, who are the Partners and who is the Dupe!

Cast: Doc Foster – Klaus Kinski; Joe Thanks/Nobody – Terence Hill; Lucy – Miou-Miou; Steamengine Bill/Bill Locomotiva – Robert Charlebois; Major Cabot – Patrick McGoohan; Sergeant Milton – Raimund Harmstorf

Filming location: Monument Valley, Utah, USA

Release date: 16 December 1975

Availability:  The Nouveaux Pictures issue of the DVD is currently available from Amazon for about £6.25 including postage.  The DVD has some interesting, informative biographies and film notes provided by Ian Fryer.

The film in full – *SPOILER ALERT*:

I must admit I found this film quite difficult to follow, mainly because it’s impossible to actually cotton on to all the twists, turns and double-crosses – unless I’m really thick (Hey! It’s always possible!) you just cannot work this film out, so I’d say don’t bother trying.  I’d suggest you just sit back and enjoy the view – there’s the great scenery to look at, Klaus Kinski looking menacing, sexy and silly all at the same time, and last but not least Terence Hill, who is a nice bit of eye candy for one and all.

The film starts with an extended pre-credit sequence played out at Thomas’s Trading Post.  Tom is in a state of utter paranoia out there alone in the wilderness, hearing noises, imagining that he’s being watched or pursued.  Maybe he’s not so paranoid after all because a character called Jellyroll finally reveals himself and scares the bejesus out of him. 

The double-crosses feature throughout the film and even during this sequence I found myself wondering at times whether Tom and Jellyroll were friends or enemies.  In fact, it’s difficult to know if Jellyroll is anyone’s friend.  But Jellyroll turns out to be quite key to the main plot as well so although I began by wondering how this was all relevant to the main story, it dawned on me later that it’s just a delay in the hermeneutics.  So do pay attention and, anyway, the cinematography during this sequence is so good you will want to watch it attentively.

The main gist of the story is that Major Cabot has stolen $300,000 of government money from the Indians.  Joe Thanks has heard about this and decides to steal the money from Cabot.  He has help along the way from Bill and Lucy and Jellyroll and the men from the Western Railroad Company.  But along the way everyone appears to be double-crossing someone or other.  For example, Jellyroll appears to be in cahoots with Major Cabot at one point and you never know whether it’s people playing each other off, seeing who winds up on top, before truly revealing their cards.

The theme of racism crops up right from the beginning of the film (we hear the rumour that Major Cabot might just possibly have put poison in the Indians’ wells) but thankfully those characters who are openly racist – for example, Major Cabot and Tom – are eventually made to pay in one way or another for their misguided behaviour.

Steamengine Bill is the son of the former chief of the local Indian tribe but he is in denial about his heritage and refuses to acknowledge it.  To the extent that he derides the Indians himself as if this distances him from them and proves that he cannot possibly have Indian blood in him.  He claims that he is a white man with “a sun-burnt face”.  Lucy does not understand why he is so ashamed of his background:  “What’s wrong with being an injun?  So your father’s got feathers and your mother was white, so what?  Black, white, red, what difference does it make?  We’re all somebody’s children.”  For now he claims that he doesn’t run with any pack – he’s a “lone wolf”.

The idea of “the genius” occurs in this opening sequence too – Jellyroll tells Tom that he and Major Cabot have “both got the evil genius in ya”.  Later Steamengine Bill will, with reference to himself, speak of “the loneliness of genius” (with the right gang behind him, he claims he could “screw America”) and he will tell Lucy, “Now you realise who the real genius of the situation turns out to be.”

But all the while, because he seems to be the only one who really knows what is happening and the only one who really knows “the plan” (if there is one), Joe Thanks appears to be the Genius.  When it comes to the film’s ending, the matter is debatable of course as, despite all his plotting and scheming and hard work, he ends up without the money and without the girl.

Lucy is Steamengine Bill’s girlfriend but she also loves Joe Thanks and can’t work out which one of them she loves the most.  This love triangle forms one of the sub-plots to the film and ties in with the double-crossing element of the story too.  Bill doesn’t want Lucy to leave him for Joe and yet he offers to sell her to him for a price; Joe says Lucy is “priceless” and it’s therefore impossible for him to make an offer – but once they have their money, Joe offers Bill his share for Lucy and Bill turns it down.  He realises at that point that money is not everything and that he doesn’t want it.  So Lucy gets the best of both worlds – Joe has offered to buy her and Bill has said he does not want to sell her; she can choose who she wishes knowing full well that they both love her now. 

Ultimately Lucy chooses Bill, who ends up with everything – he has reconciled himself to his Indian heritage and is part of a gang now (no longer the lone wolf); the tribe (and by association Bill too) have all the government money and the territory they conned out of Major Cabot with Joe’s and Bill’s help; and in their position they can now “screw America”.  Lucy tells Joe, “Now you know why I’m going with him.” 

But, still, I cannot decide who is who – if Bill is the Genius, then Lucy would definitely be a partner and Joe could either be the other partner or the dupe.  But Major Cabot could also be the dupe.  And “grandpa” from the Indian tribe could be the other partner.  I give up trying to work it out!

The film is full of silly jokes, slapstick humour and references to the Western genre and its stereotypes – a posh lady wants to kiss Joe Thanks because she believes he’s an “outlaw” and that her friends will die with envy when they find out; the local folks sing My Darling Clementine; everybody gathers around to see a duel in the manner that Joe Thanks describes: 

“Two fellas come out of the saloon, stand opposite each other, one of ‘em usually got his legs spread apart.  And the folks in the town get scared and they inch backwards to a safe distance.  Somebody starts playing the funeral march on a bugle in the background…”

It’s all very amusing though, especially the scenes with Klaus Kinski, who plays a character called Doc Foster.  But before I tell you about Doc Foster (save the best ’til last), I’ve just got to show you some of the supporting actors – here’s a Justin Lee Collins lookie-likie who plays a smug clever-clogs, taken down to size courtesy of Joe Thanks:

When Joe Thanks arrives in town, Justin Lee Collins and his friends poke fun at him because he’s sleeping off a rough night in the middle of the street.  JLC, instead of bearing the brunt of Joe Thanks’ annoyance, somehow puts Doc Foster in the frame when Joe is looking for someone to incorporate into one of his “risky shows”. 

Joe finds Doc Foster in the saloon, surrounded by his cronies who are so scared of him that they dare not leave unless he gives them permission.  They are playing cards and appear to have been doing so for some time; one of the men says his wife has probably given birth to their child and he wouldn’t know about it as he’s been stuck in the saloon on Doc Foster’s orders. 

One of the men says to Doc Foster: “Doc, one of these days you’re gonna have to get up from this table and go on out and see what’s goin’ on out there.”  Cool as a cucumber, Doc replies: “Not a thing going on there; never will be.  This town’s one long Sunday afternoon.”

The man who is expecting his wife to have given birth by now asks if he can go home but he’s told that Doc is “waiting for somebody.”  On cue Joe Thanks arrives, to which one of the men says: “Looks like somebody’s already here.”  Doc Foster throws a slow casual glance in Joe Thanks’ direction and calmly says, “He ain’t somebody.”  To which Joe Thanks says, “Nobody at all.”  Bringing in yet another reference to My Name is Nobody.  Very clever.

But then Joe Thanks is very clever, he plays tricks on Doc Foster constantly – starting with telling the other players that he has an excellent hand, “What happens in this game when a fella’s got four cards alike?”  “What happens is, I’m out”, Doc’s card playing friend says.  Although Doc’s angry, he’s not angry in a Klaus Kinski kinda way – he’s absolutely flabbergasted that someone would dare to ruin the best hand he’s ever had in his life.  But when he stands up to face Joe Thanks, his gun comes flying out of his pocket – Joe’s been using his coin-on-a-string device to hook the gun whilst Doc’s concentration was elsewhere.

With the gun now dangling in front of him, Doc is left humiliated – I wouldn’t say totally humiliated yet as there’s more to come – when he goes to retrieve a couple of times and each time Joe Thanks pulls it out of his reach.

But Doc can see the humour in this – or so he wants everyone to believe – so he laughs and at that Joe Thanks lowers the gun and allows him to take it back. 

Then he announces that all the folks are gathered around to see the duel – “What duel?”, says Doc Foster, but he must know what duel as soon as the words come out of his mouth as it’s now obvious that Joe Thanks has been angling after rousing the Doc into action ever since he walked into the saloon. 

Joe Thanks helpfully describes what usually happens at a duel but the Doc, who has not yet given up, replies: “Let me tell you the rest – in a couple of minutes you’re gonna be one of the deadest men that ever lived.  Outside! My time is precious!”

But you just know that although Joe Thanks plays the fool – or to use Doc Foster’s words acts like a booby – he’s very canny and a slippery eel and that unfortunately for the (in this instance) totally innocent Doc Foster, he has been selected to play a role in one of his “risky shows”.

Naturally Joe Thanks shoots Doc Foster’s gun out of his hand and at the same time shoots the hat off his head.  Joe won’t let Doc get his gun back and when Doc tries to get his hat back, it blows away from him in the wind.  Joe takes the hat and passes it around for contributions from those who watched “the show”.  Joe eventually gives Doc his hat back, minus the money but offers him a little something “for your collaboration.” The shame!  And it’s not yet over.    

Joe Thanks asks Doc, “Why don’t you just go home?”  Doc Foster, ashamed but still not submissive, says, “You’ve been lucky friend.  I got a job to do.”  Yes, he was waiting for “somebody” and it looks like that “somebody” has arrived…

…Unfortunately, that “somebody” – Colonel Pembroke – is also the same person Joe Thanks has been waiting for.  So when Doc Foster makes an impromptu visit to the Colonel’s room to make him pay for “raping” his little sister and not marrying her, Joe Thanks intervenes by throwing the Doc out of the window; although he would no doubt deserve what Doc had in mind for him, Joe Thanks has got other plans for Pembroke.   

Thanks tells Pembroke that Doc “is not a maniac – he’s an ass.”  The last we see of Doc Foster is him riding off into the sunset, legs akimbo, on back of the horse he landed on when he was thrown out of the window!

It’s not a long appearance from Klaus in this film, but it is significant – a good 15 minutes or so of him looking absolutely amazing, acting very restrained and being the fall guy.  I would definitely recommend this film.

Kinski’s acting methods:

Ian Fryer’s notes on the DVD make an interesting point about Klaus Kinski and his performances:  “Appropriately, his scenes can be seen as representing Kinski’s entire career in miniature: He looks wonderful, outshines everyone else by dint of sheer ability and screen presence, and is abruptly sidelined.”  He also refers to Klaus as having a “fascinating ugly/beautiful face” – I get the point and it’s a nice way of putting it but I don’t ever see him as being unattractive at all; I find him wonderfully photogenic and the reason I like him is because he always makes compelling viewing, even when he’s doing nothing much.

Dubbing is a pet hate for me, so Fryer is right to say that the dubbed voices ruin the performances somewhat:  Klaus “looks hip and deadly, but the effect is already ruined by the dubbing before he is humiliated by Joe.” 

For me the best thing about Klaus’ performance is the tiny gestures – the tilt of the hat, the use of his hands, the slight smirk etc.

Other information about the film: 

The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is joyful – and very similar to the soundtrack to My Name is Nobody (for British readers, the music from My Name is Nobody was recently used as the theme tune of the comedy show Nighty Night).  And apparently the film was alternatively titled Nobody’s the Greatest in order to promote the film as a sequel to My Name is Nobody, even though it wasn’t. 

Sergio Leone produced the film.  It’s a much debated point, but rumour has it that he was also an uncredited director of the pre-credit sequence of the film; it certainly seems possible stylistically.  Especially as the rest of the film has a very different feel to it. 

A very strange story is related on the DVD notes by Ian Fryer about how the film’s negative was stolen after post-production and held to “ransom”.  The producers would not pay the ransom fee so the negative was never returned:  “The film which audiences were eventually to see was reconstructed from alternative takes and a new negative struck from the only existing print.  Such a major calamity was impossible to keep quiet and prejudiced distributors against the film, which proved difficult to sell.”  Who’d be a film director/producer, eh?

Terence Hill appeared in another western with Klaus Kinski back in 1964 – Harald Reinl’s Last of the Renegades aka Winnetou IIA Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe film was both Klaus Kinski’s last Italian western and Sergio Leone’s last western. 

The film won a Golden Screen Award in 1978.


Click the image to purchase from Amazon

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Please Kill Mr Kinski – an interview with film director David Schmoeller

Prowling around YouTube one day I discovered a couple of clips of Klaus Kinski in David Schmoeller’s film Crawlspace (the “Heil Gunther” scene and the sequence where Klaus rides through the crawlspace on a trolley!) and I wanted to see it immediately.  I was not one bit disappointed when I finally got a copy of the film.  And then I discovered that David Schmoeller had also made a short, highly amusing film about his experience of working with Klaus on Crawlspace, entitled Please Kill Mr Kinski.  You can imagine why – yes, Klaus had been a very naughty boy…

I will review Crawlspace for Du dumme Sau! shortly and, believe you me, you will want to see it if you haven’t already.  In the meantime, I managed to track down the director David Schmoeller and asked him for an interview to see if Klaus really was as badly behaved as he said.  He was.  

I hope I didn’t bring back too many bad memories for David Schmoeller – he has been just wonderful and not only given me this amazing interview but also the photographs to illustrate it.  David Schmoeller, Du dumme Sau! salutes you – in a “Hats off” kind of way and not in a crazy “Heil Gunther” kind of way!

–0–

You worked with Klaus Kinski on the film CRAWLSPACE, how did the film come about, and how long did the whole process (the writing, the casting, the filming and so on) take?  Was Klaus Kinski the first choice for the role or did you have any other actors in mind at that point? 

Charlie Band [Du dumme Sau! Note: creator of Empire Pictures] called me in for a meeting and wanted me to write a script for this apartment set he had built for another movie at his studios (Empire International Studios – formerly the old Delaurentiis Studios – in Rome (the other movie was TROLL). 

Originally, CRAWLSPACE was an anti-Viet Nam War story (I was a Conscientious Objector during the Viet Nam war and served two years of Alternative Service at the Texas School for the Blind).  The first draft of CRAWLSPACE featured an MIA survivor who returned home to discover that his parents had died and his wife had left him.  This MIA survivor recreated his Prisoner-of-War camp in his attic and subsequently built bamboo traps to ensnare his enemy. 

When I turned in the first draft (and in Rome, they had already started building the Viet Nam attic POW camp), Charlie felt that America was not ready for a Viet Nam story (this was right before “Platoon”).  He suggested we make the protagonist a Nazi!  (I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!)  I said: “You don’t think America is ready for a Viet Nam story – but you DO think they want to see yet another Nazi story?”  He said:  I’ll get you Klaus Kinski.  I said:  “You get me Klaus Kinski, and I’ll make it a Nazi story.” ….and he got me Klaus… 

Kinski was the only actor ever considered for the role of Gunther.  I wrote the second draft for Kinski. 

CRAWLSPACE appears to be a combination of serious performances from Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam and Sally Brown, with other cast members playing it for laughs. Was that your intention, in order to provide comic relief and throw the drama into greater perspective?

I’ve always thought horror films were funny – or were supposed to be funny (while also scaring you or disturbing you or horrifying you).  So, I always try to make my films at least somewhat funny.  So, yes, the other characters can be considered as comic relief.

Typical Kinski-style, in CRAWLSPACE Klaus gets out the eyeliner and makes himself up (rather too expertly, I’d say), but makes a mess of the lipstick. To what extent was this written in to the screenplay, or was it improvisation?  And how much of his screen outfits was his choice or wardrobe’s? That’s an amazing selection of cardigans!

It was in the script that the Gunther character put on eye-liner & lipstick.  It was not in the script that the character would smear it – that was all Klaus – much to my delight.  We only did one take.

Regarding the wardrobe: Since Gunther had to crawl around in the dirty crawlspaces all the time, I originally put him in work clothes.  When I arrived in Rome and first met with Kinski for a wardrobe fitting, the costumer had a nice selection of work clothes in Kinski’s size.  Kinski took one look at the selections and just threw a fit – and stormed away saying he would go buy his own wardrobe.  He had lived in Rome for many years and knew the Italians had great clothes.  So, he went out and bought all those cardigans and great slacks and great everything, charged it all to the production company and kept all the clothes when he left.  I had absolutely no say in what he wore – from day to day.  But then considering all the OTHER problems he caused me, the wardrobe was a small issue.

I really enjoyed CRAWLSPACE.  The art direction and set design was very creative, particularly in Gunther’s quarters, and well expressed through great cinematography. Despite everything, I think you coaxed a great performance from Klaus.  But Klaus allegedly despised directors, so, knowing that, why did you wish to work with him?

I had seen Kinski in the great Herzog films, but I was not aware of his reputation at all.  I only discovered that after I called his agent and asked if I could meet Klaus.  The agent kind of laughed, then suggested I read a current issue of Playboy Magazine that had a detailed article about what a monster Klaus was on the set.

I had called a director in LA who had recently worked with Kinski, as directors frequently do to check out what it is like to work with a particular star – and this director just flat-out lied and said Kinski was great to work with – only later did I find out he had been just as difficult with that director as he was with me.  I never understood why that director was so embarrassed that he had had a hard time with Kinski that he would lie about it.

Why did you make your short film PLEASE KILL MR KINSKI 13 years after CRAWLSPACE?

For years I would tell the Kinski story to actors I was working with on subsequent films – and if I was having problems with any actor – or I wanted to tease them (did not happen very often), I would tell them the part about how the Italian producer was going to kill Kinski for the insurance money.  Then one day, many years later, John Pierson, who had a TV show in IFC, offered to pay me to do a video piece reflecting my experience working with Kinski – that is when I made the documentary: “PLEASE KILL MR. KINSKI (available on DVD on davidschmoeller.com).

PLEASE KILL MR KINSKI is very entertaining – I particularly enjoyed your performance and delivery.  In the film, you say that Klaus misbehaved on set; that there were 6 cases of physical attacks on cast and crew reported; that he refused to respond to the terms “Action” and “Cut”; and that you and the producer tried to get rid of him from the film. To add to that, you say the producer suggested killing Klaus for the insurance money and that there were several requests from cast and crew to “Please Kill Mr Kinski”. Peter Geyer (Klaus’s archivist and biographer) says that when it comes to Klaus people always exaggerate things to make him larger than life (what he refers to as the “Werner Herzog syndrome”). Have you succumbed to the “Werner Herzog syndrome”?  How far did Klaus actually go with his behaviour?  Is there an element of mythmaking to the stories?

In Herzog’s feature documentary: “My Best Fiend,” you see Kinski going off on one of the crew – with all these Peruvians Indian extras – watching in disbelief.  Herzog then tells the story about how two chiefs from the Indian tribes came to him the next day and offered to kill Kinski – “Because a man should not talk to another man like that.”…or something like that.  The behind-the-scenes footage of Kinski screaming at the crew member; as well as the interview footage with Kinski in my own PLEASE KILL MR. KINSKI – should be enough to document Kinski’s volatile behavior.  I didn’t exaggerate ANYTHING in PLEASE KILL MR. KINSKI.  As far as I am concerned, Kinski is responsible for all his own “myth-making.”

At the end of PLEASE KILL MR KINSKI you say that you wish had been quoted in his obituary as saying what a compelling actor he was and how great he was to watch, rather than saying that he was difficult.  This leads to a few questions, so I hope you can follow my train of thought here:  What performances of Kinski’s had caught your imagination prior to CRAWLSPACE?  Do you think he was a compelling actor and great to watch in CRAWLSPACE?  Was the end result actually worth it for you?  And if you really wanted to be quoted for saying he was a compelling actor and great to watch, why did you title the film PLEASE KILL MR KINSKI and draw attention to his bad behaviour, rather than arguing the case for him as a compelling and great actor?  (I’m not knocking the film at all, by the way, I think it’s a great companion piece to CRAWLSPACE)

As an actor on the set of Crawlspace, Klaus Kinski was an out-of-control monster.  That is how I experienced him and how everyone else on the set experienced him.  I would go to work every morning with my stomach in a knot dreading the horrible behavior of Kinski. 

He had an interesting face and on camera, he could be very compelling to look at.  He would occasionally do interesting things as an actor that made him very watchable. That was part of his overall success as an actor.  But that quality has nothing to do with his really bad behavior.  He probably would have had a much more stellar career if he had been able to control himself – if he wasn’t so prone to such bad antics.  But, I suspect he was his own worst enemy and that crippled what could have been a much more promising career. 

My prop master was British – and I think he was the one who coined the phrase; “Please kill Mr. Kinski…” – as if to politely request the demise of this tyrant we had on the set.  This same prop master had worked with Kinski on David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (I show that clip in the doc) – and he told me the story about that scene – where Kinski is on the train chained to a post – and declares his freedom.  My prop master said that after they shot that sequence, they broke for lunch – and the prop master went up to David Lean – and said: “Mr. Kinski is still chained.  What do you want to do?” and Lean said: “Leave him.” – because he had caused so much trouble…even as a bit player.  My prop master had no reason to make up this incident.  He was just telling me that Kinski gave every director trouble. (The same Prop Master also told me:  “Kinski is nothing – I worked with Elizabeth Taylor on a movie – now there is a really difficult actor!”). 

Going back to Klaus’ on-set antics I read an interview with Tané (see http://www.cinema-nocturna.com/tane_interview.htm ) in which she claims you begged her to remain on set even when not required for filming as Klaus behaved himself only when she was around. Is that true? Did she spend a lot of time dodging his advances?

I don’t remember specifically asking Tane to remain on the set – but I could have because Kinski would not go off on women – just the men.  Kinski could be a flirt – so, I would not be surprised if he pursued Tane. 

Klaus’s delivery is often in whispers. Was this part of his difficult behaviour (he apparently did this with another director, Ulli Lommel, whom he was causing problems for) and did this cause any problems, both technically and creatively?

I had very little control over Kinski’s performance.  But, I think the reason he whispers in his performances –  and also cuts many of his lines –  is because he doesn’t feel comfortable speaking English.  Kinski cutting lines was a REAL problem for me.  Scenes were starting not to make sense because he would NOT say this or that line.  I had to resort to real child’s play with him.  I would go up and say: “You know what, Klaus, I don’t think you need to say this next line…” and he was so contrary that he would say: “Yes, I do. It’s an important line…”  Again, you may say this is myth-making – but this is what it was like working with Klaus Kinski.

In the Playboy article about Kinski, it said that he was known to try to sell his lines to other actors.  I read that and thought it was funny. Amusing. And not possible. Then, one day one of my actors [Du dumme Sau! Note: Kenneth Robert Shippy] – who played Steiner (who was Gunther’s antagonist), came up to me and said that when he rode with Kinski to the set earlier in the morning, Kinski was trying to sell him some of his lines.  Go figure.

[Du dumme Sau! Note: David Schmoeller has a special skill which he uses when directing films: http://web.me.com/dschmoeller/davidschmoeller.com/Learn_Special.html]

And why didn’t you spin a beer bottle on your fingertips to get Klaus to pay attention?!!

I only learned to spin the beer-bottle on my fingertip after Kinski had died…otherwise, I would have used that unique skill I have…  That for sure would have gotten him to straighten out!

CRAWLSPACE has themes in common with some of your other films.  In particular, the themes of confined spaces, stalking, entrapment, obsession and endangerment. THE SEDUCTION features voyeurism and stalking, while TOURIST TRAP contains stalking and issues of control.  Characters control either puppets (PUPPETMASTER, TOURIST TRAP) or people.  Is this something you feel a director is doing?

I certainly wasn’t doing it with Kinski during the making of Crawlspace.  And I really don’t think a director – if he is any good – tries to manipulate an actor.  Not in the sense you describe above.

[Du dumme Sau Note: I think David Schmoeller misunderstood this question as I actually meant did he believe directors manipulate an audience, but I probably didn’t phrase the question very well]

I understand you studied theatre with Jodorowsky and Bunuel.  Jodorowsky in interview stated, “I want to devote myself to marionettes, to puppets. And I start to make circus puppets, and theatre puppets”, while Bunuel used the theme of entrapment in many of his movies.  Do you think that working with these people created an interest in these ideas, or was this a theme that you shared in common with them?

I don’t think these directors had any kind of influence on me in these terms.  I didn’t get into film until years after I met them.  I DO like “magic-realism’ – which, in part, comes from my time spent in Mexico.  I think this is what you see in my movies.  But more than this, I was a hired-gun on most of the movies I wrote and directed.  That is to say, I was given an assignment – a genre, a set, something – so, I was not writing from my heart and soul in terms of expressing something personal.  If you want to talk about “myth-making,” I think the notion that Hollywood writers are writing anything personal – is mostly myth.  For most of us, it’s a job.

You are currently working for the University of Nevada Short Film Archive, and have made a number of short films yourself. Is short film your preferred format now, or do you have plans for a feature-length film in the future?  Is there anything in the pipeline now?

I recently produced a feature film called THOR AT THE BUS STOP (see: http://thoratthebusstop.com/ ).  So, I am still eager to make feature films.  It’s just easier to afford making a short film.  I DO enjoy making short films.  But it is mostly an economic factor, not one of choice.

–0–

Well, I hope anyone reading this enjoyed the interview as much as I did.  I can’t thank David Schmoeller enough for giving me his time and I hope he gets to make many, many more films in the future.  You can buy some of his films at very affordable prices, including autographed copies of the Please Kill Mr Kinski film here: http://web.me.com/dschmoeller/davidschmoeller.com/For_Sale.html 

The Playboy interview David Schmoeller refers to is in the November 1985 issue and is entitled “KLAUS KINSKI & THE THING: Is this man of strange and explosive power really the world’s greatest actor?” (interview by Marcelle Clements).  It’s available to read on the great www.klaus-kinski.de  website: http://www.klaus-kinski.de/veroef/playboy85-1.htm

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF DAVID SCHMOELLER


Click the image to purchase from Amazon

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“KINSKI” Beat Presser Photographs Exhibition from 8 April to 3 October 2011, Münster

Some exciting news for Kinski fans, there will shortly be an exhibition of Kinski photographs taken by the photographer Beat Presser http://www.beatpresser.com/

Beat Presser worked on Werner Herzog’s films Fitzcarraldo (as camera assistant and still photographer) and Cobra Verde (as still photographer) and can also be seen alongside Klaus and Werner in the documentaries My Best Fiend (also directed by Werner) and Location Africa (aka Herzog in Africa, directed by Steff Gruber). During the filming of Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde Beat Presser had access to Kinski (or should I say Kinski had access to Beat Presser and his camera?!!) and took some of the most beautiful portraits of him, see the following webpages:

http://www.klaus-kinski.com/ 

http://www.klaus-kinski.com/kinski/index.html

http://www.klaus-kinski.com/kinski2/index.html

This exhibition, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Klaus Kinski’s death (23 November 1991), starts on 8 April at the Westpreußisches Landesmuseum in Münster, Germany.  A catalogue will be available to purchase.

Address:  Westpreußisches Landesmuseum, Kulturstiftung Westpreußen, Am Steintor 5, 48167 Münster-Wolbeck

Opening Times – Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00am to 6:00pm

The museum admission price during the exhibition is:  Adults: 4€; Children above 12 years and students: 2€.  When additional information becomes available I’ll post it on here. 

Webpage:

http://www.westpreussisches-landesmuseum.de/index.php/kinski

If your German’s rusty, check out my amateurish attempt at a translation of the webpage text:

Eccentric, rebellious, brilliant, crazy, legendary – there are many adjectives that were applied to Klaus Kinski during his lifetime. He is without a doubt one of the most influential actors and polarizing public figures of the 1960s to the 1980s. He was born Nikolaus Karl Günther Nakszynski – Kinski’s real name – 18 October 1926 in Sopot, the son of a pharmacist and a nurse. The fashionable resort of Zoppot (today called Sopot) on the Baltic Sea was part of the Free City of Danzig, the miniature State of Gdańsk, created after the First World War and was formerly long-time capital of West Prussia. In the early 1930s the family moved from there to Berlin.

Kinski began his early career as an actor whilst a British prisoner of war, which led him after the Second World War to many theatres in Berlin, Munich and Vienna and then to his first film roles. He was known to a wider public from the early sixties when he was one of the most influential figures in the Edgar Wallace films. His international career began with roles in numerous Italian productions, where he worked with Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci, but his artistic work included roles in David Lean’s Dr. Zhivago (1965) or the last Billy Wilder film Buddy, Buddy (1981), in which he starred with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Among his most important artistic works are the films realized with director Werner Herzog:  Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu – Phantom der Nacht (1978), Woyzeck (1978), Fitzcarraldo (1981) and Cobra Verde (1987). Fitzcarraldo was nominated for a Golden Globe and in 1982 the American Film magazine even ran the headline: “Is Kinski the greatest actor in the world?”

The exhibition, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Kinski’s death, is a selection of photographs taken by the Swiss photographer Beat Presser during the filming of Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde on which he worked as still photographer. The high-quality images show an impressive and versatile actor at the peak of his artistic work and bring the dazzling character of Kinski alive. They provide insights into his bordering on obsessive method of acting and at the same time convey his fascinating persona, which emanated from his work.

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In case you’re not in the Münster vicinity between now and 3 October 2011 (I wasn’t going to be but now I’ve heard about the exhibition I’m planning on going this summer…), I understand the Kinski exhibition will also visit Bogota this year.  Beat Presser must be very busy as a Werner Herzog exhibition is scheduled for the end of March in Beirut as well!  More details to follow on all of this when available.

In the meantime, Beat Presser’s book Kinski (Arte Edition) is still available through Amazon and other online book sellers:     

http://www.amazon.com/Kinski-Arte-German-Beat-Presser/dp/3932529804

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS COPYRIGHT OF BEAT PRESSER

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A few words from Joycelyne Lew on working with Klaus Kinski

 

After the actor Barry Hickey contacted me through Du dumme Sau! to comment on my review of the film Revenge of the Stolen Stars (Dir Ulli Lommel, 1986), I managed to make contact with the actress Joycelyne Lew who also worked on the film.

Joycelyne was kind enough to send me a few words for Du Dumme Sau! about what it was like to work with Klaus Kinski and here’s what she had to say:

“I was introduced to Klaus at the Chateau Marmont before we left for Mexico.  He put his arm around my neck with his fingers nearly over my breast and said, “I just love the Oriental girls – they are so erotic!” 

We traveled in a town car and he had his hand on my lap. When we arrived at the hotel, I asked where my luggage was. It seems Mr Kinski had it delivered to his room.  I found the director and asked him to put me in a room far down the hall and to not tell anyone where I was.  I pretty much hid all night in my room and the next morning he asked what happened to me.   I said, “Well, I was around.”

I had only a couple incidents during filming when he grabbed me at the table and I politely pulled away.  I know he is a great actor and even a legend, but I was just trying to do my part as an actress.

I have a proof sheet of pix we took together and he is squeezing me from behind in nearly every shot.  Being alone in a foreign country at that time, I wasn’t prepared for his behavior but he never really got terribly out of hand.  It’s just another adventure in my crazy life.”

Aside from Revenge of the Stolen Stars, Joycelyne has acted in 17 other films and TV shows.  She didn’t say anything about her other films or her current work, but looking at IMDB I see that Joycelyne’s recently had a part in a film called Nipples & Palm Trees (Dir Dylan Reynolds) which is currently in post-production.  Thanks for your comments, Joycelyne, and good luck with your projects.

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Klaus Kinski needs love on Valentine’s day

For Valentine’s this year, I got a card purported to be from Klaus Kinski, ahem!  It arrived at the same time as my boyfriend Dave.  Odd that…

Anyway, later we were watching Klaus in Venom (it’s so entertaining, do see it if you haven’t already) and Klaus said, “I don’t like that Dave”, so I guess Mr Kinski doesn’t approve of my boyfriend making me cards on his behalf!  It’s good though, isn’t it?

What else? Well, I’ve got some exciting Klaus related interview opportunities in the pipeline, so watch out for some interesting Klaus info on the blog shortly.  In the meantime, here’s a great picture of Mr Kinski from Venom (dir Piers Haggard, 1981), which I’ll review some time soon. 

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Klaus Kinski makes the bed

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!


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Klaus Kinski’s Ghost Gets To Do Whatever He Wants

Revenge of the Stolen Stars aka Six Stars to Sindanao; À la poursuite de la pierre sacrée; Diamant des Grauens (Dir Ulli Lommel, 1985)

Basic plot: Gene McBride inherits his Uncle Duncan’s plantation on the island of Sindanao, but doesn’t realise that there’s a curse that goes with it.  Uncle Duncan’s ghost tells Gene that to lift the curse he must track down some missing rubies (the Six Stars) and return these to the local tribesmen to whom they rightfully belong.  But with several others also seeking the rubies, will Gene succeed in this quest and lift the deadly curse?

Cast: Duncan McBride – Klaus Kinski; Kelly Scanlon – Suzanna Love; Gene McBride – Barry Hickey; Max Stern – Ulli Lommel; Lupe – Kitty O’Shea; Alex – Andy Lyon; Consul – James Marshall; Sukie, the maid – Joycelyne Lew

Filming location: Philippines, Thailand, Mexico, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Colorado Springs

Release date: 1985

Availability:  O, it’s available alright – but do you want it?!!  Only joking, any film with Klaus in is worth having, right?  You’ll need to get the DVD from America though and it costs about £12 plus postage from Amazon sellers.  Otherwise you can pick up old VHS tapes for about £5.  The DVD has extras on it – the theatrical trailer and a 17 minute interview with Ulli Lommel called Revenge of the Stolen Stars Revisited (see below for more on this interview).  

   The film in full – *SPOILER ALERT*:

Okay, let’s get this point out the way – does Ulli Lommel even know how to make a film?  You’d think he would, having worked with Rainer Werner Fassbinder for years (both in front of the camera and behind the scenes), but I’m not so sure.  For example, does he understand about the concept of shot reverse shot and the use of classical Hollywood continuity editing?  With four characters standing in one room supposedly having a conversation, each is shot in turn with their back to a wall – there is absolutely no sense that they are even in the same room together, let alone interacting. 

It comes as no surprise, then, to learn (from the Ulli Lommel interview) that the film was shot in several different locations – Klaus’s chess scene was shot in Mexico; the scenes with the others listening downstairs were shot in both Universal Pictures and Malibu; and then the scenes in the house were shot in the Philippines.  Or something like that.  And the choice of locations did not really address any narrative requirements; Lommel had to work around that because he needed cheap locations.  Anyone think he spent most of the budget on Klaus’s there-as-a-big-name-for-marketing-purposes appearance?  Surely not just me!

Also, during the interview Lommel mentions that he got into some problems in Mexico (aside from his “Kinski Experience”, which I’ll cover in Other Information About the Film) after a random guy offered to let him use his luxury house to shoot in “free of charge” but then later demanded $10,000 in cash for the privilege, retaining the production equipment until Lommel had handed over the money.  More expense! But what a disaster from a film director’s point of view – does this guy even know what he’s doing?!!  And to say he let Klaus trample all over him is an understatement…

Anyway, his screenwriting and direction on Revenge of the Stolen Stars certainly leave something to be desired.  I’ve been mean enough to Ulli now, right?  I’ll try and be nice.  Erm… In the interview he says he hadn’t done any acting since 1977 – that’s okay, some of the “actors” in Revenge of the Stolen Stars didn’t do any acting at all and probably never have and never will.  I’m sorry! I can’t help myself, can I?  But really, Ulli was one of the better actors in the film and it’s safe to say that he’s no Klaus Kinski.

But then, who is?  Even Klaus Kinski’s not his usual self in this film.  It seems like his heart was not in it, for whatever reason.  We all know that with a big fee and the promise of just a couple of days filming, Klaus would have no reservations whatsoever about working on a trashy film, but even Klaus can’t seem to rustle up any enthusiasm for this particular film; and he usually gives his all without discrimination. 

When a director says of his own film, “You have more fun if you just have no expectations and you just get ready for a kind of wacky experience”, you know it’s not gonna be much cop at all.  But I’m kind of perverse in this way, it’s actually made me want to see some more of these films Ulli Lommel says have influenced the film; his own films, that is.  He says that Revenge of the Stolen Stars is a kind of commentary on all the previous horror movies that he had made and that he was getting a kick out of ridiculing his own films and other people’s films too.  My advice?  Have no expectations at all – Klaus is in it, so sit back and enjoy that bit; the rest is just a joke…

So, the story – well, there is some fat guy in a hot tub for no apparent reason.  He’s supposed to be the Counsel who helps Gene McBride get a visa to go over to an island in the South China Seas after his Uncle Duncan has died.  The fat guy, who never seems to wear clothes but lounges around a lot being pampered, appoints himself the narrator of the story.  Well, I guess with Ulli’s film-making abilities someone needed to point out what was happening and the fat guy does not appear to be rushed off his feet so he’s as good as anyone really.

Slightly disturbing – there’s a scene where the camera focuses persistently on this guy getting his fat fingers “massaged” by a lovely delicate lady with childlike hands for no apparent reason – ugh!

Anyway, intermittently he explains some snippet or other through a voice-over and sometimes you have to put up with seeing his naked old man flesh as well, which is not nice.  He also cackles hysterically for no apparent reason.  Quite a lot.  And only his bottom jaw moves when he does this; it’s quite disconcerting. 

Let’s move away from the hot tub for now, the story starts with Duncan McBride (played by KK) getting into a bit of an argument with his business partner of 5 years, Malu.  Duncan believes that Malu has stolen a ruby that Duncan had already promised to some weird couple called Lupe and Alex.  Duncan’s already had a $50,000 down payment on the ruby and, to make matters worse, the ruby does not even belong to them; it’s one of the Six Star rubies – the rarest of the rare – that are specifically excluded from Duncan’s mining rights as they belong to the villagers, who (rather vaguely) “use them in their religion”. 

Duncan tells Malu that he won’t let him out of the room alive unless he returns the ruby but Malu swears he has not stolen it.  Downstairs Lupe and Alex are being asked to wait until Duncan’s “meeting” is over.  Lupe and Alex have indeterminate comedy accents so when Alex asks about the ruby he says, “But ve are still vaiting for the deliver-ee!”  They say their investors are getting nervous; I guess the film’s investors were pretty nervous too when they saw these performances. 

A painting in the background depicts two cocks fighting and it all adds to the (non-existent) atmosphere when eventually Duncan makes good on his promise of not letting Malu leave alive and pulls a gun on him.  At the same time Malu pulls a knife and sticks Duncan one.  So there’s two dead and no sign of the ruby.  Lupe and Alex will want explanations – or their money back…

But Duncan’s secretary, the lovely Miss Kelly, says she knows nothing about their deal with Duncan, and nor does Duncan’s attorney, Max Stern.  They don’t yet know either that the stolen ruby, along with 2 others, means there is a curse on the plantation and its occupants. 

In San Francisco Duncan’s bumbling nephew, Gene, is being sexually molested by his landlady Ursula for not being able to cough up his rent on time.  News that his Uncle Duncan is dead and that he’s inherited his plantation give him an opportunity to escape Ursula’s bear hugs and unwanted attentions; out of the frying pan and into the fire…

Gene travels to Sindanao via Manila and arrives to find a houseful of weirdos (Max Stern, the casual looking butler Alfred, Lupe and Alex) plus Kelly and the sexy cleaning lady Sukie.  Gene is shown to his room, which is his Uncle’s old room.  There’s an amazing portrait of Uncle Duncan on the wall.  I’d like this portrait very much:

With “the comforting image of Uncle Duncan” looking on, things start to get a bit sinister for Gene in no time at all.  First off he’s “attacked” by some bugs and creatures in the shower – a scorpion and a big spider look to be interested in his soap and then a couple of plastic beetles attach themselves to his body.  Gene responds as he responds to almost anything – with a big bug-eyed stare of amazement.  Honestly, that’s his response to everything; I would say look out for it but there’s really no need as he’s just in a constant state of bug-eyed amazement.

After that he’s bitten by mosquitoes and then almost strangled by “carnivorous house plants” (which look like seaweed to me) whilst asleep.  That’s enough for the totally inept Gene, who doesn’t like bugs, and he decides that he wants to sell up and go home.  But then he hears that his Uncle was murdered in the study and for some inexplicable reason he decides to go in there – perhaps hoping to see one of those crime scene chalk outlines of his Uncle’s body.  Instead, however, he gets to see his Uncle for one last time.

Yes! Klaus returns to the film – as a ghost!  But Klaus was of the view that a ghost would not talk loud so he decided to mumble his lines instead, which is why the sound on these scenes is so poor.  From what I can hear (and you’ll read more about this sound problem in the Other information about the film of this review) Uncle Duncan seems to have returned to tell Gene that he cannot go home yet, that elephants and tigers are most difficult to train (uh?), that he has inherited a curse as well as the plantation and that he always liked the way he plays the drums.  Er…

All the time Uncle Duncan’s ghost talks he paces the room, moves from sitting to standing position in a second, moves from one side of the room to another in a flash and drinks alcohol.  That’s what ghosts do.  Apparently. 

Anyway, he continues to tell Gene that he cannot sell the plantation and that he must find the 3 rubies; one of them has been sold to Prince Kali in Bangkok; the other one he gave to Shale Maron; and the most precious one was stolen by Malu.  But all three must be found and returned to the villagers, otherwise the curse will remain.

Uncle Duncan has to know that Gene is the biggest dope in the world, so he could have at least given him more pointers on how to find the rubies.  But it just seems that he really can’t be bothered so he disappears, wishing Gene, “Good night.  Sleep well.”  

And that’s your lot.  Klaus is gone.  The next day Gene goes to see the villagers with Miss Kelly and they tell him that he needs to return the 3 rubies to them before the curse can be lifted, as the rubies are rightfully theirs, and they give him a talisman for good luck; the talisman will grant him one wish should he need it during his quest to find and return the rubies.  He then heads off for Bangkok with Miss Kelly, who in the most unbelievable aspect of the story seems to be rather interested in Gene.  It’s a good job, otherwise Gene would not stand a chance in hell.  Now that Gene and Kelly have joined forces, I propose to rename them, in the style of celebrity uni-names, as Gene Kelly.  Okay?

Meantime, Sukie, the “totally innocent but by no means pure” cleaning lady, who wears a shortie French Maid’s outfit and frilly knickers, makes the terrible mistake of dusting in the sacred room she is not supposed to enter – the room where Uncle Duncan’s ashes are kept, along with a gong and two mummies.  Don’t ask.  The terrible mistake does not go unpunished and she is subsequently chased around the room by invisible insects and bitten to death by them.

You might think this is something to do with the curse of the rubies but when Alfred asks Max why the curse has not affected them, Max tells him that the curse just does not exist.  Hm…

Gene Kelly arrive in Bangkok.  There’s stock footage of interesting landscapes, buildings etc.  I’m guessing it’s stock footage; it looks too interesting to be part of the film.  Gene Kelly asks where he can find the Singapore Bar where the Madame Shale Maron has her brothel.  Kelly is not allowed in the brothel as she’s female, so she creates an alter ego for herself – Russ Conrad.  Not very convincing, uh?

“Russ” has to fight off the advances of a very friendly prostitute (who looks remarkably like the dead Sukie in a different outfit, but I could be totally wrong here) whilst Gene has to smoke opium with the murderous Shale Maron, who has already fallen under the influence of her stolen ruby and kills her clients rather than bothering to give them what they’ve paid for.  Gene’s wearing stupid black leather trousers, so you could say he’d deserve to die but apparently he’s our hero so I’m not supposed to think that way.  I’m trying but it’s hard not to when he’s down to his underwear and still doing the bug-eyed look that means everything and nothing.

Now Lupe and Alex choose their moment to arrive (Lupe also dressed as a man with a drawn on moustache) when Shale Maron decides to try and stab Gene with her ruby encrusted client-killing knife.  The screams of Gene alert “Russ” and Lupe and Alex who force their way into Shale Maron’s room and try to fight her off.  Kelly punches Alex and swipes the knife (and ruby number one) from his sticky mitts. 

Then Gene Kelly escape back to their hotel where they do a bit of smooching.  Gene still has the bug-eyed stare even when he’s kissing.  Yuk!

The next day Gene Kelly simply walk up to the Palace of “the evil and frankly kinky Prince Kali” (that’s what the narrator says, but I’m not sure what’s evil or kinky about him, frankly) and ask where they can find him.  Yes, simple as that.  He’s in the basement and they’re able to just walk down there unchallenged by the “rather lax security”.  As do Lupe and Alex, but they’ve bothered to “disguise” themselves by wearing masks so they can go unnoticed.  Ahem! 

At this point I should say that Lupe and Alex are obviously very light travellers – they have precisely one outfit each throughout the entire film; Lupe seems to have purloined hers from the wardrobe of the It Ain’t Half Hot Mum set and Alex seems to have a cut-price fancy dress version of a Bond villain’s outfit.  This ties in with the Bond villain always being a foreigner too; Alex has this vague and ridiculous non-specific accent to identify him as being “foreign”.  I guess Lupe must also be “foreign” as she says tout suite at any opportunity. 

The Prince Kali may be “frankly kinky” but he makes life easy for everyone by wearing his ruby on his turban.  He says he’s a magician and a psychic and then promptly turns Kelly into a pig, Lupe into a snake, Alex into a goat and Gene into a chimpanzee. In a fight which kicks off over Prince Kali abusing his powers, and his advisors demanding that he turn everyone back into their former solves again, the Prince’s turban falls off and the idiotic Gene, who has been returned to his former state – which is not far off being a chimpanzee really – manages to pick up the turban and ruby number two, along with Kelly the pig. 

Back at the hotel, Gene uses his talisman to make his wish – the wish is to turn Kelly back into her former self.  Kelly returns to her former physical self but continues to squeal like a pig for a bit.  She seems to think that maybe the villagers will just accept the two rubies as they don’t know where the third is and she proposes that they go back to the island and put this ridiculous idea to them – Du dumme Sau!

At the plantation Alfred is next in line for the curse.  Quite frankly he has done very little so it would not be much of a loss.  He suddenly sees the missing third ruby on a chair in the bedroom, then suspended in mid air, then on the bed, then suspended in mid air – it’s playing with his feeble mind but he’s too stupid to see through it so he climbs on the bed in his filthy looking worn down shoes (could Ulli not even stretch to a pair of decent shoes for the unfortunate Alfred?) to see if he can reach the ruby and somehow gets his empty head caught in between the blades of the ceiling fan.  Naturally he’s a goner.  But given that the blades move at a snail’s pace and that he’s actually caught in between the blades and hasn’t had his head chopped off or anything, I’m not quite sure what injuries he has sustained.  He has a little blood coming from his mouth and he looks dead behind the eyes – but that’s nothing new where Alfred’s concerned.  The fan must be strong as well as he’s still hanging there and it’s still spinning around (very slowly) when he’s discovered some time later.   

Gene Kelly return from Bangkok, having discovered from the villagers that they must find the third ruby by midnight.  Gulp!  At the plantation, the rather mysterious attorney, Max Stern, awaits them.  Why he lives at Duncan McBride’s plantation, I really don’t know.  But in Gene Kelly’s absence he’s clearly had time to think and seems to believe that he created Duncan’s “empire” and should have inherited something upon Duncan’s death.  He wants Gene to sign the plantation over to him for $1,000 and a flight home to San Francisco, but Gene’s not interested.  A storm’s coming and he wants to make sure the house is secured – what?!!  Since when did Gene know what side was up, let alone speak sense? 

Anyway, as Gene Kelly find Alfred’s lifeless body hanging from the ceiling, Max pulls a gun on them and announces that Malu did not steal the ruby; that he hid it in “a special place”.  Moving off into the “sacred space”, whilst making his dramatic announcement that he has two bullets in the gun – one each for Gene Kelly – a strange figure appears behind Max holding a glittery crossbow and promptly shoots Max through the back of the neck with an arrow. 

The mummies that guard Uncle Duncan’s ashes suddenly spring to life and attack Gene Kelly.  One of them is a bit saucy and rips Kelly’s blouse; it doesn’t have to rip Gene’s shirt as it is, yet again, inexplicably open to the waist.  He’s a funny chap, that Gene.  Anyway, he decides to rescue Kelly by banging the gong.  Uncle Duncan always liked the way Gene played the drums, remember?  At that the ashes urn breaks open to reveal… the third ruby!

Lupe and Alex go to see Ursula, the cheeky landlady who takes payment in kind.  Dangerous if you ask me.  They want to know where Gene is but he has paid his back rent and headed off to Colorado Springs.  They head off there tout suite only to find that he’s already been and gone, possibly to Acapulco.  Gene Kelly is on the beach there and Kelly senses that something is wrong when she finds Alex’s monocle in the sand.  Suddenly out of nowhere she remembers that Uncle Duncan owed Lupe and Alex $50,000 and she suspects they may be back to collect now.  She’s right, of course, and they demand their money but Gene does not have it; he has sold the mansion and he doesn’t have $50,000. 

How will Gene Kelly pay off Lupe and Alex then?  IMPORT! EXPORT! announces Alex in his ridiculous comedy voice.  He’ll cancel out the debt but only if Gene Kelly help out on a project involving emeralds in Rio de Janeiro.  Good lord, please tell me there is NOT a follow-up to Revenge of the Stolen Stars!!!

Kinski’s acting methods:

This is an exciting moment for me – this is the first time I have ever seen Klaus with his hands in his… wait for it… back pockets!

That’s all you’re getting from this film as Klaus isn’t in it for terribly long (approximately 4 to 5 minutes tops) and with such a restricted role there wasn’t much chance for Klaus to display his usual acting techniques.  I do love the fact that after editing down so much footage of Klaus doing whatever he wants as a ghost, he appears to say the name Gene a lot for no apparent reason:

“You can’t go home, Gene.  Not yet.  I am dead, Gene.  Some of us… can’t rest in peace.  I’m sorry, Gene.  I didn’t mean to make your life miserable… You can’t go back tomorrow, Gene.  This is not a game, Gene…” etc. etc.

Another favourite moment is when Klaus asks Gene, if he’s had such an exciting time in Sindanao, “So why are you going back?”  Maybe it’s just me, but the unexpected hand gesture he makes at that point made me laugh out loud.  I understand that Klaus had his own idea of what ghosts do and don’t do but him reaching out with his arm all of a sudden and rolling up his sleeve was just unexpected for me. 

Other than this, it’s pretty sad to watch Klaus in this film – he just looks so tired and terribly, terribly bored. 

Other information about the film:  The interview with Ulli Lommel is quite hilarious.  If you’ve not seen it, here’s a partial transcript:

“I didn’t want to work with Klaus Kinski because he had such a bad reputation and I didn’t want to have to put up with somebody crazy on the set like him.  But then his agent said, ‘Don’t worry, he has completely changed.  He has mellowed.  He’s a different person.’  And I didn’t trust that so I said I wanted to meet him. 

I met him at the Chateau Marmont hotel on the Sunset Strip and he was so nice and so sweet and so gentle.  And I said, wow! you know, maybe he has changed.  And so we started shooting with him in Mexico – [the chess scene] was the first scene and he immediately, when we were about to do the first take, he showed his other side.  I mean, like, instantly. 

And he said, ‘Oh my god!’, he said, ‘What’s this light doing?  I can’t do this, the light! The light!’  I said, well, what light?  There are lots of lights here and we can’t do this without lights.  ‘Yeah. No! No!  I can’t take it.  I can’t take it.  You’ve got to take off this light!’  So we took off this light and he’s, ‘This light over here, oh my god! No, I can’t take it, I can’t take it!’  So I said, in the end you’re gonna be in the dark.  He said, ‘I don’t care! I don’t care, I can’t take it! I can’t open my eyes, I can’t open my eyes!’  I said, but Klaus, you made 150 pictures and, you know, this is nothing – we  work with a few lights.  And he was, ‘Oh, no, no! Take off all the lights, take off all the lights!’  So we ended up shooting with a few inkies … we made sure they didn’t hit him too much in the face.  And that took about 4 or 5 hours to do the re-lighting and everything. 

So we’re getting ready to do the first take with him finally and he says that the boom man holds the boom pretty close to him… to get a good sound, and he says, ‘Oh my god! What’s this?  What’s this?!!’  And I said, Klaus, come on – it’s the boom.  Haven’t you seen this before?  It’s the boom.  ‘Oh, no, no!  It has to go.  I can’t have it!  I can’t have it here!’  So, I went to the sound guy and I said what else can we do and he said, well, I can put a little mic near the chair so it’s invisible there.  And so it took a while and then he had this little mic that he put under the chair and so we’re getting ready to do the shot and, wouldn’t you know it! Klaus hit the chair!!!  And the sound man went, ‘Oh my god! Stop, stop, stop!’  I said, Klaus, what are you doing?  The mic is there.  ‘Well, then put it somewhere else!’, he said.  So it went on and on and on like this with him.  And I knew then already that we were in big trouble…

After the first take, which we finally got, we needed to shoot this from another angle and I said to him, okay, Klaus, you have to sit down there again in the chair while the camera’s taking from a different angle.  ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I don’t want to sit down there again.  I said, well, you have to – the script continuity.  We have to get you from another angle.  I mean, come on!  He said, ‘No, I can’t sit in this chair; I wanna walk.’  I said, but you can’t walk; we’re doing the same scene again, different angle, you have to sit where you sat before.  ‘I can’t do it!  I have to walk!’

So I went to my assistant, I’m about to lose my mind.  What am I gonna do with him?  And she said, well you’re just going to have to reason with him.  I said, I’m tired of it.  I don’t want to talk to him anymore.  And then I said I have an idea – we’ll make him a ghost and as a ghost he can be wherever he wants to be; there’s no continuity or nothing because ghosts don’t have continuity. 

So I went to him and said, look here, Klaus, we’ve found the solution – you’re gonna be a ghost.  ‘A ghost?,’ he said.  I said yeah, because as a ghost you can do whatever you want; there’s no continuity, nothing.  So he looked at me and says, ‘Oh my god! You’re a fucking genius!’  [Ulli laughs]  And then he said to me, ‘You’re the only director I’ll ever work with and I’ll tell all the producers from now on it’s only Ulli Lommel I’m gonna work with!’  And I said, yeah, right…

And so we kept shooting but it was a total nightmare and towards the end of the day, we shot already 12 or 13 hours, he comes to me and says, ‘I’m feeling really good now.’  I said, well, that’s fine, Klaus, and I saw though that he finished one bottle after the other of whisky, champagne, vodka and cognac.  And there were all, like, real props, you know.  I mean, there was real cognac in there, real whisky… And he was getting awfully drunk and so I finally said to everybody, okay, let’s call it a day; we’re gonna go home and continue tomorrow.  ‘What?!!’, he said, ‘I can’t stop right now!  I need to continue; I’m just beginning to feel it.’  I said, Klaus, we’ve been working for 15 hours now, everybody wants to go home.  ‘No, no, no, no, no!  I need to continue, I can’t go home!  You can’t have me tomorrow; tonight, I want to shoot tonight!’  So I went to everybody and I said, look, maybe we should just get it over with – we’ll shoot all the scenes with him until we’re done and then we never have to put up with him again.  And then we’ll take off tomorrow and, if necessary, the next day too because we had him for 3 days. [Author’s Note: this bit of the anecdote made me laugh out loud when I heard Uncle Duncan saying to Gene, “Trust me, Gene, just listen and do what I say, or the curse will be with you.  Forever!” As Werner Herzog would say, Pestilence!]

And so everybody said okay, we’ll do it and so we kept on shooting and shooting and shooting and he got more and more drunk and drunk and drunk and less and less continuity.  He did whatever he wanted to do, no more lines that were discussed; he invented all the stuff.  It was impossible to end it in the end; it was just a total nightmare. 

And I think after about almost 30 hours of non-stop shooting with him he just dropped dead.  And that was it.  We still had a couple of scenes to shoot which I didn’t shoot and everybody was kind of exhausted.  And so they carried him back to the hotel and I was really glad that it was over, because he was such a pain in the ass. 

Then we took 2 days off and on the second day off I was on the beach in Mexico and he came to me and said, ‘I just want to tell you, you know, it was really great working with you and you have so much imagination!’  [Ulli laughs]  And I said, well, thanks Klaus – it’s very kind of you.”

I can imagine that a lot of this is true but I think it’s also probably true to say that some of Ulli’s anecdote smacks of what Peter Geyer calls the Werner Herzog Syndrome, which is, as he says, that whenever it is about Kinski, you have to come up with a great story simply to make Kinski larger than life.

Note that Ulli Lommel says Klaus was due to film for three days; in Christian David’s great (but sadly not translated into English!) book Kinski, die Biographie (Aufbau, Berlin, 2008) it states that Klaus went to Mexico with Lommel on 6 December 1984 and stayed the night at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, filming in a villa in Tijuana for two days, with a good salary (of course); and Klaus’s co-star Barry Hickey (a reliable source of info?  who can say…) backs this up in an interview where he says Klaus was paid $75,000 for 2 days’ work.

Speaking of Barry Hickey, you may want to check out this absolutely amazing interview with Barry Hickey by Dan Taylor (of The Klaus Kinski Files http://thekinskifiles.blogspot.com/ – look at these, along with all the other resources on The Guide to Klaus Kinski).  The Barry Hickey interview, which is just about the funniest thing I have read since Kinski Uncut, can be found here http://dantenet.com/er/Kinski/hickey.html Barry Hickey recounts how he got involved in Revenge of the Stolen Stars; how Klaus was the third choice for the film after Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine had to politely decline (or whatever); and how Klaus made a nuisance of himself on set in many, many ways.  So the story goes…


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More Klaus Kinski Film Pictures

Time is not on my side this week – Revenge of the Stolen Stars is not yet finalised and I won’t have time now until early next week.  Verdammte Scheiße!

So, in an attempt to make sure I upload new stuff regularly, I’ve scanned some more French film trade cards and a couple of postcards – hope you like them.

Here’s a famous shot from the film Nachtblende (dir Andrzej Zulawski, 1975), with Romy Schneider – I’ll get around to reviewing this some time soon as Klaus is excellent in this strange film:

A French film trade card for Aguirre Wrath of God (Dir Werner Herzog, 1972):

I’ll review Aguirre one day but the Herzog films deserve some serious consideration, so they’ll be saved for later.  In any case, the Herzog films get a lot of attention; the smaller more obscure films are the ones we need to know more about, right?

This is the French film trade card for Grand Slam (Dir Giuliano Montaldo, 1968) – I’ve not yet seen this film but fully intend to as I saw a clip on YouTube and Klaus looked absolutely amazing in it!

And, finally, here’s the French film trade card for Coplan sauve sa peau (Dir Yves Boisset, 1968), which, again, I have not seen:

Although Klaus does not feature in the photographs on this card I understand he has a key supporting role and I guess he gets it on with Margaret Lee (as per usual)!

More next week…

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The Fitzcarraldo Replica Boat and Klaus’s cabin

I accidentally left this out of the Berlin Guide to Klaus Kinski, so I thought I should post it now.  This small-scale replica steamship from the Fitzcarraldo film – which was only used for a couple of shots as they really did move the real steamship over the mountain – can be found in the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin http://www.filmmuseum-berlin.de/ 

We went there to see if the Werner Herzog Collection (apparently he’s donated his papers, worksheets, photos, scripts etc to the Museum) was available for viewing yet, but there was not a sausage in sight.  And it still says on Werner’s website that it will be available in 2010:  http://www.wernerherzog.com/collection.html 

Anyway, it was very disappointing to note that neither Werner Herzog nor Klaus Kinski were well represented in the Kinemathek (at least when we went there), as if Fitzcarraldo was all they ever did for German cinema. It’s a gross misrepresentation and very sad indeed… the boat was good, mind.

Also, I found out about this some time ago and I’ve got to mention this – you can rent Klaus’s cabin if you have enough money to spare ($1,500 a week):  http://www.vrbo.com/63781  I want to go to there!

On a final note, check out a couple of other webpages – the Online Guide to Klaus Kinski http://dantenet.com/er/Kinski/k2contents.html and the Klaus Kinski Files http://thekinskifiles.blogspot.com/ – for even more Kinski-ness that you’re bound to enjoy.

I’ll be posting my Revenge of the Stolen Stars review this week – and that’s a threat, not a promise!

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