best film:   Aguirre, the Wrath of God is Werner Herzog’s grand masterpiece and Klaus Kinski will forever be linked with Herzog so this is his best film as well. Aguirre is so forceful – it feels like it is twice as long (in a good way) as its modest 95-minute running time. Kinski has actually been in some sneaky good films outside of his renowned collaborations with Herzog (Doctor Zhivago, For a Few Dollars More, The Great Silence) but it is Herzog’s own Fitzcarraldo that gives Aguirre the closest run for its money here in this category. Herzog’s haunting Peruvian jungle escapade is one of the most ambitious of all-time – certainly a trait shared with runner-up Fitzcarraldo (filmed ten years later, and back in Peru). Cinephiles have to admire the big swings both Herzog and Kinski.


best performance:  Aguirre, the Wrath of God with again Fitzcarraldo the easy choice for the next best.  Actually, it is that trio of performances at the top that put Kinski so high up on this list despite the truncated achievable filmography. It is impossible to picture an actor half as eerie (and just flat crazy) as Kinski and to pull off Don Lope de Aguirre. He is terrifying – lost in his monomania.


Aguirre, the Wrath of God – the first, and best, of the five (5) Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski alliances – sort of the Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina of the of the New German Cinema movement.


stylistic innovations/traits:  Born in 1926 in what is now Poland, Klaus Kinski grew up in Berlin and become one of the true rare bird of acting artists of the twentieth century. His eleven (11) archiveable films are a little light (he was in well over one hundred films – pretty much the Nic Cage of his day taking on most of what was offered to him and often ending up in pretty mediocre films). Kinski was self taught and some sources talk about his personality issues/disorders – but whatever the diagnosis – his larger than life personality on screen certainly bled over into his personal life (caught in documentaries during and after his life). Kinski’s bug eyes and distinct features make for a perfectly odd vehicle for Herzog’s explorations on obsession and ambition. At his best, Kinski was simply hypnotic as a performer – impossible to takes your eyes off of. One could describe him as unnerving, mesmerizing, and disturbing for sure. He was a fine character actor in Italy and Hollywood during the 1960s (he chews the scenery in Doctor Zhivago) but it is his partnership with Herzog that he will be remembered for. Kinski could really only play a madman – but madmen make for such riveting viewing and there is really nobody better.  He gives one of the best male acting performances of the 1970s (Aguirre) and 1980s (Fitzcarraldo).


Fitzcarraldo – in most of the Herzog collaborations, Kinski plays an off-kilter, pioneering protagonist set on a nearly impossible task (and accomplishes the feat) – Cobra Verde works the same way.

directors worked with: Werner Herzog (5), Douglas Sirk (1), David Lean (1), Sergio Leone (1), Sergio Corbucci (1). One cannot overstate the importance of his work with Herzog. The other names here are directors that Kinski worked with once a piece with probably because he was so tough to handle. It is just a little misleading to mention them because Kinski is not crucial to any of these films (Corbucci’s The Great Silence the exception). In his five films with Herzog,  Kinski is the film’s soul – almost always on screen.


Wagner’s Rheingold and some stunning exteriors do much of the early heavy lifting in Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) before Kinski’s Count Dracula shows up (26 minutes into the film). Ebert’s comments on Kinski is hard to unread: “To say of someone that they were born to play a vampire is a strange compliment, but if you will compare the two versions of Nosferatu you might agree with me that only Kinski could have equaled or rivaled Max Schreck’s performance.”


top five performances:

  1. Aguirre, the Wrath of God
  2. Fitzcarraldo
  3. Nosferatu the Vampyre
  4. Cobra Verde
  5. The Great Silence


Kinski gets the extreme close-up spaghetti western treatment – not from Leone here – but from Sergio Corbucci in The Great Silence. They are both awesome – but at 5’7 and 5’8 Jean-Louis Trintignant and Klaus Kinski are not exactly John Wayne and Lee Marvin from a stature standpoint in this western (Alan Ladd and Jack Palance in Shane were even smaller so whatever – haha). This is Kinski’s strongest work away from Herzog, though he also has some fascinating scene-stealing moments in The Most Important Thing: Love (1975).


archiveable films

1958- A Time to Love and a Time to Die
1965- Doctor Zhivago
1965- For a Few Dollars More
1968- The Great Silence
1972- Aguirre, the Wrath of God
1975- The Most Important Thing: Love
1979- Nosferatu the Vampyre
1979- Woyzeck
1981- Buddy, Buddy
1982- Fitzcarraldo
1987- Cobra Verde