Tonight I was finally watching Werner Herzog's sublime Fitzcarraldo, having waited for it since a life-changing encounter with Aguirre, Wrath of God several years ago. I'm not using the term 'sublime' loosely, since I know its fashionable nature in academic circles. But if you go with the philosophical notion of the sublime as that which makes us realise the edges of our conceptual ability to rationalise an experience, the encounter which forces us to confront a vastness so beyond our own limitations that we come to comprehend and, perhaps, derive some pleasure from the realisation of our own nothingness; well, the Fitz and Aguirre are clear examples of cinema's infrequent ability to offer a sublime experience. There's the massive confrontation between labour and nature, the battle of will and world, and the sheer daring of Herzog himself, working in a pre-CGI world and somehow getting funding for these films. Can you imagine a director nowadays getting the greenlight for a film which sees the greater part of its screening time following a madman dragging a steamboat over a mountain? And, of course, requires said steamboat to actually, you know, be dragged over said mountain?
The greatest part of both these films is, needless to say, Klaus Kinski. I first came across Klaus when I watched the B-grade horror flick Crawlspace about a decade ago, while huddled in a first-year uni sharehouse beset by a violent winter and a hippy-glam-rock band as neighbours prone to start rehearsals in the wee hours (regardless of the thin walls separating us). I don't recall much of Crawlspace, but I remember it as it was the first film during which I made a comprehensive narrative map. I was thinking about the trajectory of film storylines at the time, and decided to annotate a variety of randomly selected films in order to compare the number/duration/significance of particular scenes and therefore learn something, god knows what, in the process. As it happens, the first free-to-air film to appear after this decision was, well, you guessed it.
After watching Fitzcarraldo, I did some hunting on Kinski and came across this. It's a short piece made by the director of Crawlspace detailing the experience of working with the nutbag, with special interest for the way the Italian investors for the film sought to kill Kalus for the insurance money. It's very funny, but might only be so if you've seen a few of the actor's films. I'd recommend Herzog's My Best Fiend, amongst the best docos I've ever seen, focusing on the turbulent relationship between the director and actor. It's a stunner. Look for it.