Book Reviews: Klaus Kinski, Beast of Cinema

klaus kinski beast of cinema edited by matthew edwards
Klaus Kinski was an amazing character actor with distinctive facial features who was best known for taking on any role available regardless of the quality, as well as his outrageous behavior during productions and his working relationship with director Werner Herzog. He would often take on second-rate European films for a large paycheck, resulting in his performances often upstaging what was a substandard production. His onset outbursts and reputation were well known. Kinski and Herzog’s collaborations covered five motion pictures and no other director was able to fully capture the range of Kinski’s talents. His career spanned over 30 years and 135 film and television credits and while his performances in the Herzog movies where some of his best, he did manage to frequently stand out even in bit roles. Klaus Kinski, Beast of Cinema is the first book to really dissect and analyze his performances in various films that he appeared in during his long career, using a combination of twelve critical essays, seven interviews from some of the cast and crew that he worked with, and more than fifty reviews of his more obscure pictures.

This analysis is an in depth and intriguing study of Kinski the performer, the man, the persona, and how all of these were sometimes blurred. The authors explore certain movies through a variety of psychological, physiological, ideological, physiognomic, and philosophical concepts from several of the seminal figures in each field. Some of the essays examine them using different cinematic movements and styles, or they simply take a more thorough look into the history of a specific motion picture and try to answer a question that has been posited regarding it.

The first essay from Joana Moura looks at Kinski and Werner Herzog’s long history of working together and why that happened, using the history of post-war Germany and the psychological concept of recovering one’s masculinity. Patricia Castello Branco discusses how Kinski incorporates Edmand Burke’s physiological sublime in Aguirre through his physical performance. David Williams talks about Nosferatu and its break away from traditional horror conventions and the presentation of real evil, while also reconnecting the forgotten German cinema history after World War II. Roberto Cavallini investigates three of his Italian B-movies and how he developed the Kinski method after working with Herzog, as well as each director’s use of his face in order to tell the story. Padraic Killeen compares the anarchist character that Kinski played in Doctor Zhivago to a possible ideological commitment to anarchism that he had in real life.

Lance Duerfahrd looks at his physical acting in the spaghetti westerns and how it may have increased due to the dubbing. Fernando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns evaluates the polysemic possibilities of two twin Italian films that were made back to back and the dualities between the characters that he portrayed and his performances in each. Tyson Wils weighs in on the three pictures he made with Jess Franco and Harry Towers, specifically how his performances and personal reputation were used in the production, marketing, and distribution of these. Alex Andersson focuses on La Chanson de Roland and its use of the cinematic styles of French Nouvelle and German Expressionism, particularly on how Kinski’s gaze was used to achieve portraying the subject as an object. Benjamin Van Loon uses three B-level horror films to break down Nietzche’s concepts of the genius, as it relates to Kinski’s life and choices of work. Tonya Howe asks the question of why Crawlspace is not a cult movie and how it never properly followed standard genre guidelines, providing a historical background on the production and how it has been received by critics. Finally, Matthew Edwards probes Paganini and Kinski’s obsession with the violinist and their personal parallels, while also considering what the film could have been before it was heavily edited.

The seven interviews are with actor Peter Berling, director David Paulsen, actress Flo Lawrence, production designer William DeSeta, director David Wickes, actor Barry Hickey, and cinematographer Harry Mathias. All of them provide some insight into the man, on set incidents, his behavior, and what he was like outside of the public eye. They are also asked some other questions dealing with the rest of their individual careers. The reviews attempt to provide a more objective look into each of the more obscure titles in his filmography, while offering up a resource for fans that haven’t seen them before.
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If you touch my music, I'll shoot your fingers off.

This is a rather fascinating journey into the work and life of Klaus Kinski. While possibly being a little too scholarly for some fans, for many it will provide them with new insight into the actor and each film when revisiting them. Personally, I know that this will lead me to looking at each of these pictures with a totally different perspective, observing things I may have previously missed. I preferred the essays that stepped away from his work with Herzog, delving into the areas and genres that aren’t normally discussed regarding his career. Since there are essays from twelve different authors, there does tend to be some overlap in the discussions and resources that are used. This leads to some repetition, which is the only complaint that I would have. It still ends up being a valuable addition to a serious film fan’s collection or for use in a scholarly setting.

This book was published by McFarland and can be purchased online at or by calling their order line (800-53-2187). It is also available as an ebook from all major ebook providers, for a complete list of providers see

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-Raul Vantassle