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My friend Neal and I are both avid cinephiles. Last week we were directing our snobbery to a film I can’t even remember anymore, but I think Tom Cruise was in it. Anyhow, we got to talking about actors. I argued that a single actor’s performance cannot redeem an entire film. Neal argued that an actor could, and supported his case with Klaus Kinski. And it goes without saying that Neal is always right.

Klaus Kinski, most famous for his films with Werner Herzog and his “Jesus Tour”, always steals the show. It’s almost impossible to take your eyes off him during his brief scene in David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago. Kinski manipulates his face like few others. Drawing the most subtle and nuanced emotions from contorted expressions that exceed the films dialogue.

His collaborations with Jess Franco are among his most under rated works. The kinetic body language of his Jack The Ripper accompanied with eyes that appear to dilate on command makes his portrayal of the serial killer the most haunting and terrifying. Likewise, Franco puts the same qualities of Kinski to use in his classic Venus In Furs. And I am convinced that elements of Kinski’s performance in Venus in Furs were resurrected for his work in Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht.

Kinski’s later work in exploitation even deserves attention if only for the seriousness of his portrayals. His work as the psychotic landlord in David Schmoeller’s Crawlspace (1986). is as comic as it is disturbing, and I believe both qualities overlap, blurring any sort of dramatic analysis. On set, as was often the case with Kinski, art and life began to overlap. Schmoeller even made a “making of” documentary, Please Kill Mr. Kinski, about Kinski during the production of Crawlspace.

I didn’t admit it then, but I’ll admit it now, Kinski can make any film watchable and memorable. If you haven’t seen what are in essence the essential titles mentioned above, you may want to begin your Kinski experience with the Werner Herzog titles. Thanks for setting me straight Neal.