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The "Madman On Duty"

Ten years after his death, the opinions on Klaus Kinski are still divided. Was he insane, or was he a genius? The Film Museum in Düsseldorf has just opened an exhibit to try to show how complex and multifaceted he was.


Klaus Kinski as the Brazilian bandit Francisco Manoel de Silva in Cobra Verde.

His critics saw him as an eccentric figure of the anti-establishment. His fans worshipped him as a brilliant and unique actor.

Either way, Kinski is a man not easily forgotten. Only he could bring across the obsession of the opera lover Fitzcarraldo. Only he could personify the adventurer Aguirre, crazed with greed and maddened with power.

Klaus Kinski was a man who did not act his roles, but became his roles. He saw himself as the reincarnation of the figures he played.

The "madman on duty"

The man with the wild blue eyes acquired the nickname, the "madman on duty" mainly through his appearances in the Edgar Wallace mystery films of the 1960s.

New German Cinema director Werner Herzog rediscovered Kinski in the 1970s. Their collaboration resulted in some of the finest and most memorable works of both men's careers: Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Nosferatu, Woyzeck, Fitzcarraldo or Cobra Verde.

To call the working relationship between Herzog and Kinski stormy would be an understatement. Kinski's tirades against Herzog are legendary. And Herzog is known to have threatened Kinski with murder to get him to complete his work on Aguirre. Herzog has documented the relationship in his well-known film My Best Fiend.

More than just loony

Kinski's work with Herzog is the focus of the exhibit "I, Kinski" at the Film Museum in Düsseldorf. Museum curator Heidi Draheim says the idea to dedicate an exhibit to Kinski stemmed on the tenth anniversary of his death in November last year.

"During our research, we quickly discovered that Klaus Kinski, as he existed in our minds - as the 'madman on duty', the Edgar Wallace actor, who played in Italo-Westerns and B-pictures - that this was not really Klaus Kinski," says Draheim.

She and her colleagues found him to be a much more captivating figure and actor, who was complex and versatile. "We wanted to do justice to this other Kinski."

Costumes and teddy bears

The exhibit is full of documents from many of the 127 movies he starred in. Film clips run on screens throughout the rooms. There are photographs taken during the shootings and original costumes. The museum also displays props and sketches from what Kinski considered his greatest work, the film Paganini, where he was director, screenwriter and played the lead role.

Klaus Kinski

Klaus Kinski auf einer undatierten Aufnahme. Gleich drei Ausstellungen in Duessseldorf und Koeln widmen sich seit Freitag, 15. Feb. 2002, Leben und Arbeit des 1991 verstorbenen deutschen Kult-Stars. Das deutsche Tanzmuseum in Koeln zeigt seltene Fotos aus den 50er Jahren, das Duesseldorfer Theatermuseum praesentiert eine Fotoausstellung des Schweizer Fotografen und Filmemachers Beat Presser. Das Duessedorfer Filmmuseum zeigt bis zum 14. April darueber hinaus Kostueme, persoenliche Manuskripte und zahlreiche Filmausschnitte des exzentrischen Mimen. (AP Photo/Beat Presser/HO)

But the exhibition "I, Kinski" was also put together with the support of his family. His ex-wife Minhoi Loanic and his beloved son Nikolai provided numerous photographs, documents and personal objects - such as his collection of Steiff stuffed animals. These displays give visitors an insight into Kinski's personality beyond the usual clichés.

"We’re also showing the totally private Kinski in this exhibit, the warm and soft Kinski," says Draheim. Visitors can see love letters penned to his son, or photos with his little dog Apollo that he’s tenderly pressing to his cheek.

"In this picture, he’s so absorbed. You would actually never imagine him like this. He was always 150-percent there, always full of tension when he was on stage or in front of the camera. And now all of a sudden, he’s a person who can also just let go, and concentrate on this dog, on its warmth, on its little heart beating. I think such moments are very captivating in this exhibit and touch you."

And it is these private moments, which leave a lasting impression on visitors. Even this young man, who says he is a huge fan of Kinski’s films, is affected by the exhibit’s human touch. "I like the pictures of him with his wife and his children, not the rough Kinski, but the soft Kinski."

"I, Kinski" shows pictures and film clips, it displays mementos and plays his recordings to give visitors an insight into the complexity of Klaus Kinski. But it doesn't clarify one major point: his secret. Was he insane? Were art and life identical to him? Or was his life his greatest role?

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