The Mouth of Madness: Kinski Jesus Christ Saviour

If you´re a German actor with an ambition to become notorious outside your homecountry, it helps to be (or act) blond, very evil and very, very mad. In short: It helps if you are Klaus Kinski.

The opening sequence of Werner Herzog´s obscene but funny "Mein liebster Feind/My best fiend" shows Kinski on stage in one of his most legendary and disastrous performances. Nicknamed "The Jesus Show", it was Kinski´s most ambitious project.

He planned to do a world tour with him telling the story of Jesus Christ according to Klaus Kinski. The brilliantly and fiendishly titled "Kinski Jesus Christus Erlöser" imploded in an explosion of rage and ended right there during the first perfomance.

In leaving out any punctuation the German title is a twisted moebius-strip of meanings. "Kinski Jesus Christ Saviour", who is who and who is saving whom?

A few weeks ago "Jesus Christus Erlöser" had its debut at the Berlinale and is now released theatrically. The film is a documentary by Peter Geyer, who painstakingly assembled most of the existing footage of this particular evening in 1971.

Kinski had rented the "Deutschlandhalle", a huge stadium/arena to do his one man performance. Dressed in blue, lit by a white spot on a gigantic empty stage, he tried to tell his story of Jesus Christ, the revolutionary. Not the Jesus of organised religion. He only came so far before hecklers in the audience started to piss him off. And he was very easy to piss of!

It´s here where the film gets really interesting as it shows a passionate, temperamental artist who has worked hard to gain a reputation of being a raging lunatic.

The hippie audience, oblivious to anything but their worldview, obviously paid to see the mad Kinski they saw in the talksshows (keep in mind that this was before the Herzog films). So they continued to interrupt him and wanted to "discuss" with Kinski even before his performance had actually started! Audience participation at its worst!

They evoked the madman and he delivered in spades! Here is an edited clip, which is actually the opening of "My best fiend". I decided to use it because it is subtitled.

"Jesus Christus Erlöser" is 84 minutes of time travel into a world that doesn´t exist anymore. For starters we don´t have any personalities like Kinski and any actor who would rent a large auditorium to tell his Jesus story would probably make millions as a TV-evangelist. Oh, and nobody had photo-mobiles back then.

This is actually the first docmentary about Kinski that makes you feel for him!
Let´s face it: Herzog´s "My best fiend" is a freak-show! It´s a cowardly, post-mortem exploitation of the Kinski cliche. It answers more un-asked questions about the director than his subject. Of course it´s hilarious and entertaining, but at the same time it is hardly more than pure spectacle.

In Beyer´s film we get to see a man with a vision who is misguided by his ego and unable to switch off his act. (Why did he play before thousands of people when he only wanted to speak to a few?)

It is also a very telling document of the interaction between audience and performer. The generation of ´68 who tries to come to terms with the fascism of their parents, rears its ugly head when it tries to shout down something they don´t care to understand. Instead they want to see the clown dance, because they paid for it.
And outside, around this time, the RAF (Red Army Fraction) released their manifesto "Das Konzept Stadtguerilla" ("The Cityguerilla Concept"). A call to arms for both sides...

1 comment:

Brett Gerry said...

I recently watched this film - I agree that the audience didn't even give Kinski a chance, and would suggest that it might have been linked to the socio-political situation in Germany at the time. Here's my review: http://bit.ly/bjEcgR