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Culture

Klaus Kinski – “I am who I am”

An exhibition dedicated to one of Germany’s most well-known and controversial actors opens on Thursday in Berlin. Kinski usually inspired either love or hate; he was impossible to ignore.

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Klaus Kinski - a polarising figure

The Nicolaihaus of the Berlin City Museum has brought together around 500 exhibits—photographs, movie posters and audio documents—to paint a picture of the life of the explosive, and wildly talented, actor who died in 1991 at the age of 65.

Klaus Kinski must be included among the most radical personalities of the theatre and film world. The self-destructively excessive, extroverted and unapologetic actor left a flaming mark on the international scene, both for his artistic genius and his scandalous personal life.

Beginnings

Klaus Kinski began his life as Nikolaus Günther Nakszynski in Zoppot, now a part of Poland, in 1926. This son of a nurse and a pharmacist took up his rebel role early—the young man was in constant trouble with the law.

Kinski began acting during imprisonment in a British POW camp after World War 2, playing female roles on an improvised stage. His career began in 1946 with a small role in Berlin in "The Rat". Just years later he was unleashing mass hysteria and attracting thousands with his readings of works from Rimbaud, Goethe, Wilde and Baudelaire.

By the late 1940s, Kinski started making films in addition to his stage work. The next decade was spent honing his craft—pouring his raw emotion and life experiences into his work.

The Perfect Villain

Klaus Kinski in Cobra Verde

Talent matched by a Temper

His physical appearance, the bulging eyes and creepy smirk, ensured his being cast as the perennial villain. The 1960s was spent on a wild roller coaster ride from one film to the next—he made 60 movies in ten years. His great films of the decade, like "Dr. Zhivago" or "For a Few Dollars More, are mixed with flops and just plain bad cinema.

Kinski said he didn’t care. "I’m doing this crap for money," he once said, "for nothing else."

Kinski’s personal life was also marked by excess. Although married and the father of three children, including actress Nastassja Kinski, he showed little respect for women and had, by his own account, at least 162 sexual encounters with a variety of people who passed into, and then quickly out of, his life. His ferocious talent was equalled by a ferocious temper.

Career High

Werner Herzog und Klaus Kinski

Der Regisseur Werner Herzog, links, und der Schauspieler Klaus Kinski in einer Szene des Dokumentarfilms ' Mein liebster Feind' auf einem undatiertes Archivbild. Nikolaus Guenther Nakszynski, so der Geburtsname Kinskis, seit fast 10 Jahren tot, bewegte sich zeitlebens auf einem schmalen Grad zwischen Genie und Wahnsinn. Der exzentrische Schauspieler und Rezitator waere am 18. Okt. 2001 75 Jahre alt geworden. (AP Photo/HO) --zu APD8663--

Critics generally consider his best work to be that which he did with director Werner Herzog in the 1970s. Kinski worked with the director on classics like "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" as well as "Nosferatu" and "Woyzeck". The films brought him international acclaim.

Kinski spent the last decade of his life in northern California, near his son. Until his 1991 death from a heart attack, he lived in a modest house made of wood where he pumped his own water and grew his own vegetables.

His last film and directorial debut was "Paganini", completed in 1989. It was a commercial and critical flop.

The exhibition "Klaus Kinski – I am who I am" runs until June 9th.

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