Today would have been Klaus Kinski’s 83rd birthday and in honor of the event I thought I’d share something I originally wrote about the actor back in 2003 on Valentine’s Day but have since expanded on.*
“One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real.” – Klaus Kinski
I don’t get star-struck often. There are only a few celebrities that can make me weak-kneed and slack-jawed and one of them is the deceased, but not forgotten actor, Klaus Kinski.
When Klaus appears in a film it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him. He always manages to steal whatever scene he’s in. He’s not conventionally beautiful or typically handsome but his face is a remarkable canvas that seems to exude life itself. You can see the poverty Klaus suffered as a child, the time he spent in asylums and prisons, his unhinged sexuality, passion for life and unbridled anger pouring out of his eyes and every pore of his ragged skin. Real or imagined, this is a man with an appetite for destruction who lived and loved life. The myth of Klaus Kinski the actor and Klaus Kinski the man are one and the same. And I fell in-love with the whole package.
I watched Klaus in many movies while I was growing up and I was always drawn in by his presence. He appeared in countless horror films, thrillers and great spaghetti westerns throughout the 1960s and 1970s that ran on television when I was a kid and I couldn’t help but notice him. He was unlike anyone else on my TV. By the time I was a teenager I had seen at least 10 or 12 of Kinski’s films and I knew him by name. Klaus became one of my favorite performers and I started to actively seek out the movies he had appeared in whenever they played on television.
When I discovered Werner Herzog’s films in the late 1980s my interest in Klaus Kinski turned into a full blown obsession. Herzog is an amazing director and his films with Kinski such as Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Woyzeck (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Cobra Verde (1987) are all incredible movies that managed to capture Kinski’s unrestrained personality and exploit his acting talents to their fullest. I was also lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Kinski’s autobiography in the late 80s. Reading about the actor in his own words was an eye-opening experience. His autobiography is a fascinating, lust-filled rant that is impossible to forget.
I didn’t have access to the internet or eBay back then so I had to satisfy my cravings for more Kinski by trying to locate the films he had appeared in on video at local rental shops or through mail-order catalogs. I also tried to buy posters for films that Klaus appeared in but that wasn’t an easy task. I did manage to get my hands on a poster for Aguirre, Wrath of God, which hung proudly on my wall announcing to anyone who noticed it that I was a card-carrying member of the Klaus Kinski fanclub.
In the summer of 1991 I was an impetuous and slightly naive young woman living with two friends who both worked at a local video store. I occasionally did part-time work there myself whenever I needed a few extra bucks. It was a popular place for film fanatics and it had one of the best selections of videos for rent in the entire Bay Area. Notable locals like director George Lucas and Terry Zwigoff were regular customers and filmmakers like Les Blank often visited the store when they were doing research. When news got to me that Les Blank had started visiting the store I got really excited. I knew Les had worked with both Herzog and Kinski so I tried bumping into Les Blank on the days the staff thought he might show up but it never happened. I didn’t have a car so when I got a call telling me Les was at the video store I could never get their quickly enough. Finally I got word that Les Blank had casually mentioned Klaus Kinski was staying in the area for awhile. Then another customer who owned an art supply store in town started casually mentioning that a “creepy” German actor named Kinski was coming in regularly to buy art supplies at her shop. When this all got reported back to me I flipped out! In his later years Klaus apparently spent a lot of his free time in the Bay Area focusing on his art. With this new information handed to me I became determined to meet Mr. Kinski.
I started going to the art supply store where Klaus Kinski was a regular customer whenever I could. I hung around aimlessly thumbing through books like How to Sketch a Nude for hours hoping that Klaus would suddenly appear. I don’t know what I expected to happen if I did see him. I imagined throwing myself at his feet and telling him how much I admired him even though I was sure that he would laugh at my groveling behavior. Maybe I hoped we’d end up at his Lagunitas home and get drunk on too much red wine while we talked for hours about art and cinema? Most likely I just wished that he would make crazy violent love to me right there in the art supply store and at the end of our passionate encounter we’d be covered in paints, pastels and charcoal while the other customers looked on in disbelief. Unfortunately whatever I dreamed up in my wild imagination never happened.
For a month I aimlessly hung around the art supply store waiting for Klaus to show up. The store owner was tolerant of me since I was the only person in her small shop most of the time and she was somewhat aware of my fascination with “creepy” Kinski. On one occasion I was told I had missed him by only 20 minutes. On another day I was told he had come in a day earlier. Then one afternoon the shop owner finally told me that she had not seen Kinski for a few weeks and thought he might have left town. I was devastated. But I didn’t give up and throughout the rest of the summer I occasionally stopped by the art supply store hoping Klaus would suddenly materialize there. I was sure that something of him had stayed behind amid the paint fumes and paper remnants. A hair strand? A fingerprint? A memory?
My quest to meet the elusive actor finally came to a sad end when I got word that he had died on November 23, 1991. It really pained me at the time since only weeks before I had been so close to meeting him. But now I knew that was never going to happen. I still feel close to Klaus whenever I see one of his films or watch him go head-to-head with Werner Herzog in My Best Fiend. Maybe it’s because I nearly met him? Or maybe it’s because I can understand Herzog’s appreciation and fascination with his friend since in some very small way I experienced it myself?
I’ve never stalked a celebrity before and I will never do it again. It’s not something I advocate or recommend but young women (and men) often do impulsive and silly things when they’re obsessed with a boy (or girl). That said, I have no regrets about trying to meet Klaus Kinski during that long hot summer of ’91. I think Klaus would have appreciated my harmless determination and mad devotion.
“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.” – Nietzsche
For more on Klaus Kinski I highly recommend visiting Dan Taylor’s terrific site The On-Line Guide to Klaus Kinski!
* An edited version of this piece was originally published in my Livejournal blog on Feb. 14, 2003.