The faith and the fury

A night with the one and only Klaus Kinski

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The star rains hellfire in Klaus Kinski: Jesus Christ the Savior

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Hell hath no fury like an enraged Klaus Kinski. The late German actor, who rose to prominence in the 1970s as the combusting supernova at the center of the Wernzer Herzog films Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) and Cobra Verde (1987), was as famous for his coruscating off-camera temper as for his onscreen intensity. With Kinski, there is always the near-unanswerable question of to what extent is his performance acting and to what extent is he just being himself. Are we watching someone who has totally, obsessively (unhealthily?) committed to his craft, or a petulant diva whose overinflated ego perhaps bruises too easily?

Klaus Kinski: Jesus Christ the Savoir, a recently rediscovered concert film of a 1971 solo performance, makes a riveting case for all of the above. Filmed a year before he headed to the South American jungle with Herzog, Jesus Christ finds Kinski alone on a spot-lit stage before a packed house delivering a monologue that frames Christ as a persecuted outlaw. "Wanted: Jesus Christ," he purrs, "charged with seduction, anarchistic tendencies, conspiracy against the authority of the state."

Not five minutes in the catcalls begin, no doubt encouraged by Kinski's sudden switch to the first person, making overt the already implicit and problematic association of himself with his subject. "I want my 10 marks back!" cries one audience member. "Shut up!" Kinski volleys back. When one particularly bold heckler climbs on stage to chasten Kinski for his un-Christ-like language, the actor has his security guards forcibly remove the young man and storms off stage to the audience's cries of "fascist."

Things only get uglier as the evening progresses. Kinksi returns a second time to proselytize for the continued relevance of scripture by drawing comparisons to then-current issues such as Vietnam and the growing counterculture. The audience, both fascinated and repelled by this wealthy actor whose truculent delivery and hostility toward his flock undercuts his message of nonviolence and justified outrage at the world's horrors, continues to have its say. Many times, in fact. Kinski walks away from the mic twice more in disgust at the "riffraff." It is only after the film's credits that the visibly drained thespian finally delivers his sermon in full to the remaining faithful.

What's surprising is the palpable sincerity beneath Kinski's vitriol: He seems genuinely exasperated by the unreceptive crowd, even as each successive disciplinary outburst further alienates them. Of course, such naiveté is another symptom of privilege, but rarely are the privileged as hypnotic or as loose a cannon as Kinski. God bless him.

KLAUS KINSKI: JESUS CHRIST THE SAVIOR

Thurs/16, 7:30 p.m.; Sun/19, 2 p.m., $6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787

www.ybca.org *

 

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