In a special feature running all this week, Alex Williams counts down his Essential Actor / Director Partnerships…
Through history, there have been partnerships that, because of some mystical, unknown chemistry, have created something so great that is it destined to ring through the ages. Lennon & McCartney, the Curies, Tango & Cash. No list of such partnerships could ever claim to be exhaustive and, with that in mind, I have eschewed some of the more familiar partnerships, (Scorcese and De Niro, Ford and Wayne etc.) as these are so universally loved that they need no airing here.
Film, due to it’s very nature, is a collaborative process. The arguments about ‘auterism’ aside, it is a long, multi-faceted process which demands the coming together of a large number of people to force it to completion. Within this, there are those director/actor teams that become so synonymous with one another that they create an institution unto themselves…
Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog
Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972)
Nosfteratu the Vampyre and Woyzeck (both 1979)
Cobra Verde (1987)
In Kinski, Herzog found someone who not only matched, but also surpassed, his own fiery temperament. But, with the raging and (often) violent confrontations, came some of the best films in history.
Beginning with 1972’s Aguirre, Wrath of God, the two men would work together on five films together in total. Herzog had met Kinski years previously when the young Kinski was renting a room in the Herzog family apartment. Kinski’s often wild and strange behaviour left a mark on Herzog and when finally in a position to begin filming Aguirre, Herzog sent the script to Kinski, quickly receiving an enthusiastic response.
Shot on a budget of $370,000 in the Peruvian rainforest, the cast and crew had to make their way through thick, untamed rainforest and ride the Amazon River currents on wooden rafts made locally by the native inhabitants.
In the role of Don Lope de Aguirre, Kinski plays the second in command of a group of forty conquistadors sent deep into the jungle on an expeditionary mission to find a path to El Dorado. As they proceed further and further into the wild, the group falls more and more under the sway of the unstable Aguirre with death, paranoia and madness swiftly following.
Quite soon into the shoot, Kinski’s aggressive and maddening behaviour began to appear and, as the gruelling shoot progressed, only became more pronounced. It is from this that one of the most notorious anecdotes in film history arises.
Late one night, whilst he was trying to sleep, Kinski became infuriated at the noise coming from a tent where cast and crew were playing cards. To remedy the situation, Kinski took a gun and fired three bullets into the tent. With the top of one extra’s finger missing, Kinski began to pack up his belongings, telling Herzog that he was leaving the film. Not one to be outdone, Herzog then told Kinski that if he tried to leave he would shoot him in the head eight times and save the last bullet for himself. Persuaded, Kinski relented and the film was completed.
Released to immediate critical acclaim, the film became the jumping off point for a relationship that was as successful as it was drenched in madness.
The pair re-teamed for two films in 1977- the first had Kinski’s terrifying take on Dracula in Nosferatu the Vampyre, a loose re-make/homage of F.W. Murnau’s legendary 1922 take on the Dracula tale – Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.
The same year also the release of Woyzeck, which began shooting only four days after the end of filming on Nosferatu. Kinski features as a soldier slowly losing his mind in this adaptation of Georg Buchner’s unfinished play of the same name.
1982’s Fitzcarraldo had Herzog and Kinski back in the jungle, this time with Kinski as the quixotic title character who travels into the jungle to claim land for his future rubber plantation. One scene in the film called for a steam boat to be pulled several hundred metres over a large hull by pulley and hand which, true to form, Herzog did in real life. Burden of Dreams, a documentary shot at the time of filming by Les Blank, covers the arduous progress of the production.
1982’s Cobra Verde would be the final film in the pair’s acclaimed work together. Kinski stars as the titular title character, as he progresses from rancher to outlaw to slave trader and beyond.
Herzog’s 1999 documentary My Best Friend chronicles his relationship with Kinski through the terrfiying lows, the dizzying highs and the creamy middles. The director reveals the lighter, gentler side of Kinski, talks of his love for the actor and his admiration for his considerable skill.
Related: Essential Actor / Director Partnerships: Kurt Russell and John Carpenter
Essential Actor / Director Partnerships: Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson
Essential Actor / Director Partnerships: Steve Martin and Carl Reiner
Essential Actor / Director Partnerships: Molly Ringwald and John Hughes