1985 Playboy (USA) "Klaus Kinski and the thing"
- Author: Marcelle Clements
- Publication: 1985 Playboy (USA)
Klaus Kinski and the thing
Is this man of strange and explosive power really the world's greatest actor?
I guess I'll have to call it the "thing." I can't think of a name for it. During one of our conversations, I tried to pin Klaus Kinski down for a name, and he reminded me of the fairy tales in which people die when they find out a forbidden name. "But anyway," he said, "there can be no word to express this thing, this secret. Because this secret, which is not actually a secret, it is very simple, but it includes, includes, endless, endless, almost everything, you know. The thinking about it and being conscious of all this means at the same moment changing everything, like in nature, changing and changing and changing, endless, always, never-ending movement, you see."
I don't know whether or not I'll be able to explain the "thing" to you, though I believe that I understand it perfectly after spending some time with Kinski. It is not so much any specific thing he said, any one word he uttered; it is the accumulation of many words, images, metaphors, examples that he used, but also gestures, facial expressions, tone, the settings in which we talked and, above all, the moods he can generate when all those are combined.
Kinski speaks elliptically; he calls it "telegraph style." Sometimes his meaning is clear only by inference. But in talking with him, I soon understood how skillful he is, by instinct, at leading one to leap from an image to an idea. I realize now that Kinski could have talked to me in this seemingly inexact manner about the quantum theory and I would have learned a great deal of physics. In fact, in a way, that is exactly what he talked to me about: the emission and absorption of energy in nature. This was my first important lesson about what it is the "actor" does.
So most of the time when we talked together, we referred to it as "this thing."
I know, though, that other people would have names for the thing. Some might call it talent, because it is the energy out of which artists create. But some might dismiss this "thing" of Kinski's as nonsense or would simply call it insanity. I believe it is the pain of the exposed, hypersensitive psyche. In trying to convey its essence to me, Kinski sometimes also called it the force, or the power, or nakedness, or receptivity, or the incarnation of all that is alive. Sometimes he used the phrase "participation in the universe." In the East, there is a tradition of seeking such a merging. Indeed, Kinski admits that certain of the states he sometimes enters resemble meditation and embody some of the tenets of yoga. "But," as he puts it, "I don't need anybody to tell me how to be alive."
The next thing he said was "Faster!" Or, rather, he yelled, "FASTER!"- which made my heart leap for the 100th time that afternoon, since I had only just learned how to drive. I also have a terrible fear of heights and we were, at that moment, heading toward the ocean on what seemed to me to be a precipitous mountain road. "Can't you see there is someone behind us? Why do you go so SLOW? Just GO!"
"But I'm going to drive over the cliff," I protested.
"No, no. Look, you have much room. Let him pass. I can't bear this, to have people stick on other cars' ass. Why won't they pass? It is unbearable. Stop. STOP!"
"OK," I said, lurching a few feet closer to what I thought was certain death. "Just let him pass," he said "It's true, for you it would be easy to go over the cliff."
"I knew you'd be irritated by my driving," I muttered.
"Irritated!" he said. "I HATE it!"
But he was being good-natured in his own way. By then, I'd become accustomed to his yelling. Tricks of the print medium cannot - capital letters cannot - convey the intensity of Kinski's voice when it rises, as it often does. And in the several long telephone conversations we'd had before I went to see him in Northern California, I'd been frightened by it. "Why should I do any interviews? It is all shit," Kinski would crescendo. "Why me? Because I am what they call an actor? It is me or someone else, a murderer or a conductor, or anybody, anybody, anything, that can be consumed. They consume everything - art, executions, hamburgers, Jesus Christ. It is all supermarket talk. It is consumer SHIT to fill up their pages."
"Well, that's true," I said, but I hastened to point out that this case would be different, that our talks would not have to be structured like routine interviews, that he would have freedom - "Freedom!" he interrupted, as he almost always does. "Freedom! That's what every shitty ruler promises you before he takes over!"
"Well, it might be fun for you to -"
"Fun?" repeated Kinski in a suddenly weary voice, faintly, as though he'd turned away from the phone. "There is no fun."
Later, when I knew him better, I would come to realize how little fun there was to be had in the fulfillment of his professional obligations.
"I am like a wild animal who is behind bars," he said. "I need air! I need space!" It sounded almost like a plea.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't mean to -"
"Don't be sorry," he said impatiently but not unkindly. "Don't be sorry, OK?"
You can witness Klaus Kinski having a mood Swing within a minute, within a sentence, as his mind conveys him from an infuriating image to a soothing one to a humorous one. If you watch his face while he speaks, you will see it become a mask of ire, his glance menacing as he spits out words of contempt and outrage. Then, suddenly, there'll be a smile so gentle that something will constrict in your chest. It is impossible not to respond. He's So close to the surface, I had thought during one of our first long telephone conversation. But after I'd spent some time with him, I sometimes felt there was no surface at all. I think of him now as exposed consciousness, as fragile as a human organ taken from the protective case of the body. I think that's why, between films, he lives alone, in a cabin in the middle of his 40 acres of forest in Northern California. Only his nine-year-old son, Nanhoi, comes for the weekend, twice a month. "I love him," says Kinski, "more than anything in the whole universe.
Kinski often goes for weeks without speaking to another human being. He reads no newspaper. He watches no television. "I climbed up to the roof and smashed down the antenna," he explained. He keeps few possessions. When he has finished reading a book, he uses it to start a fire in the hearth that is his sole source of heat. He cuts his own hair; he grows his own vegetables so that he will not have to drive into town. The animals in the forest do not threaten him as do people and their societies, nor do the storms, the wind, the trees. In the cabin, surrounded by vegetation through which there is no path save that made by the passage of his own body, and in his forest, he is safe. Except from the thing.
Kinski was about five years old when he first felt this thing. He says he can recall looking at a dog or a tree or a whore on the streets of Berlin and hurling his own consciousness into the creatures or even the inanimate objects, not pretending to be but becoming the dog or the tree or the whore. "Incarnating" is what he came to call it later, not playing a role. Being, not acting. He detests the word entertainer:
"What does that mean, this word entertainer? Entertain what? Who?"
He also hates the word actor and mocks the European critics who have called him "the greatest actor of the 20th Century" or "the only genius among us, the only prince of the grace of God."
Not surprisingly, he loathes all critics and refers to them as "the masturbators."
He loathes most directors, too.
"Do you think other people - directors, for example - understand this thing we have been talking about?" I asked him.
"Directors in general understand shit," he answered.
It is now part of his legend that he has turned down offers of roles from Fellini, Pasolini, Ken Russell, Steven Spielberg and others, the given reason usually being that he wasn't offered enough money. "I make movies for money," Kinski asserts, "exclusively for money." And so, most of the several hundred films in which he has appeared would be described, by any standards, as trash; others as some of the greatest of any time. Kinski says it is his terrible destiny to be an "actor" and, therefore, to appear in movies and that there is not much difference between the trash and the so-called art films. Almost always, he says, the latter are merely pretentious and, what's worse, pay less. "So I sell myself for the highest price. Exactly like a prostitute. There is no difference."
Kinski hates pretentious trash much more than the many so-called spaghetti Westerns he has made, which have brought him a large audience and, as he puts it bluntly, the most money. Of course he turned down Russell and all the others. Why, he asks, should he work with someone like Fellini, who will pay him less and who treats actors like marionettes?
He is somewhat less harsh when he speaks of the German film maker Werner Herzog. Although Kinski was already widely known in Europe for his stage and film work, it is his roles in the Herzog films that are now, in Europe and in this country, invariably joined with his name:
Aguirre (The Wrath of God), Nosferatu the Vampyre, Woyzeck and Fitzcarraldo.
Both men have been quoted as saying that they work together by a kind of telepathy. Herzog, says Kinski, gives him no instructions. "In all of my scenes," says Kinski, "I am the one who does it." But their fights are notorious, and they are said to have come to blows on the set. There is an anecdote about an altercation Kinski and Herzog had during the filming of Aguirre, when they had already spent several months in the Peruvian jungle. In the course of an argument, Kinski is said to have announced that he was leaving. Herzog has been quoted many times in the ensuing 15 years as claiming to have then pulled out a gun and said, "Before you reach the bend in the river, there will be eight bullets in your head, and the last bullet will be for me."
Kinski comments, "This story is so shitty, because he didn't even have a gun to pull! Besides, there is no gun with nine bullets! And I was the only one with a rifle."
In the decade and a half since they first worked together, the two men have sometimes gone years without speaking. But then Herzog will telephone Kinski in the middle of the night and ask to meet him in yet another strange part of the world, for yet another strange cinematic enterprise, and Kinski will agree. "He is a less big asshole than the others," says Kinski.
And Herzog, though he once diagnosed Kinski as a paranoid schizophrenic, has more recently suggested that it is all the others who are crazy: "He has an exacerbated sensibility inconceivable for the rest of us." There, Herzog is also talking about the "thing." And, in fact, Herzog has a name for it. He calls it an "instinctive formulation," and he says that what Kinski has is genius.
It is in Herzog's films that Kinski is most tormented by his thing that, in devouring him, allows him to convey an extraordinarily complete identification with his character.
The torment is not conjured on the set, as in Method acting ("Completely worthless shit," Kinski says), but is lived through as soon as he reads the script and lasts long after the film is completed. Kinski appropriates another's feelings as dons his costume. When he first read the script of Aguirre, he said "I didn't think anything. I just was Aguirre. It was as if you say, Oh, yeah. Like you remember, you remember the 16th Century, you remember yourself in the 16th Century."
His film roles imprison him. "Sometimes," he says, "my heart hurts so much, I beat it with my fists. I try to run. But you cannot run away from this. You cannot run from it. Wherever you run, it waits for you. Even when you think you have escaped it, it is there, where you have run to. It waits for you, to ambush you. It is like those vines called lianas, those tropical creepers that grow around you and strangle you. You cut off one branch, but there is another that grows. You leap over the wall of one ghetto and find yourself in another ghetto." That's why, he says, the good films imprison him as much as the bad ones. "It is only a different kind of cage."
In articles about him, there is a much-repeated quote: "I am like a wild animal born in captivity, in a zoo. But where a beast would have claws, I was born with talent." In recent years, such articles have seldom omitted the word legend. Kinski's legend is that of the masterful but embattled anarchist artist who does not seek prestige and shuns respectability. He rejects awards "if they're not changeable into cash money. It is the Nobel Prize I want," he says, laughing. "It's worth $400,000."
"You can call it my consciousness of using my talent like a whore uses her body: to pay the price."
His autobiography, not yet published in this country, was a best seller in Germany and France. It was variously described as "ordurous" and "pornographic," deemed "the work of a magician," "atrociously lucid" and was compared to Rimbaud, Céline and Henry Miller.
The account of his childhood in Berlin between the wars vividly re-creates a life of hunger, cold and filth, of six people sleeping on a maggot-filled mattress in an unheated room, of incestuous sexuality, of stealing to eat. The sensuality of the adolescent and adult Kinski is not for the queasy. Explosive, compulsive, combining brutality and tenderness, his erotic sensibility is articulated in defiant detail. "Don't you dare to judge me!" its author seems to be saying.
He recounts his desertion from the German army and his subsequent incarceration in a British prisoner-of-war camp, where homosexual favors were traded for cigarettes and where he first went on stage, aptly enough, as a prisoner performing for prisoners. Then he spent years sleeping in the parks and on the pavements of the capitals of Europe; in winter, he shared the hobos' street stoves, hands and feet protected by rags, sleeping on subway grates for their intermittent wafts of warmth. But during the day, the young actor worked on his diction and began to perform in Shakespeare, Ibsen, Cocteau and his own adaptations of Dostoievsky. Spectators went to the cabarets of Berlin where Kinski, barefoot, recited Villon's poetry and collected money afterward in his hat. From there, it seemed like a natural trajectory to the one-man "recitals," which lasted as long as four hours and for which Kinski filled the biggest sports arenas of Europe. By then, movie offers were proliferating. Kinski turned down some 40 of them, because he felt the roles did not have enough scope. Then there was an about-face. Headed for a distinguished image as a celebrated artiste, he began to accept any offer that was made, solely on the basis of salary. "I realized it didn't matter," he says. "I could not do what I wanted, anyway, in this fucking ghetto, and I wanted money, because I had never had any. And I learned that people do almost everything for it."
Then came years of sumptuous profligacy: palazzi in Rome, caviar diets and huge domestic staffs, Ferraris and Rolls-Royces given away when Kinski decided he no longer liked their colors or the way a door closed. In Italy, he was a top box-office draw and began doing "guest appearances," working on a film for a few days, one day, a few hours-which enabled producers to feature his name on the marquees and brought him the cash he needed to support his extravagances.
But by then, his pattern of deserting what he had been able to conquer was established: Adored in Italy, where he had lived for a decade, he left everything behind and moved to France. He stayed there for only a few years, long enough to become a star of the French cinema (though with Aguirre he had already conquered the French public).
Then, he moved - incongruously, it seemed to me, but perhaps not - to California. And that is where, with some difficulty, I made contact with him.
"You have to protect yourself, your body, your being," he told me. "You cannot treat it badly; you have to keep it, not only to keep it but to make it sensitive, as sensitive as possible. Since I was born I have been like this, till today. Nothing changed. Even more, even worse. Once, about 25 years ago, I was in an apartment or somebody gave me a room to live in, I don't know what, and next door, they put on the radio, so I struck the wall with my fist, but they did not put the radio down, so I took a tool and banged and banged until I made a hole through the wall." Kinski suddenly laughs. "It was like a comedy movie," he says. Then, as suddenly, he becomes stern again. "I didn't laugh then," he says. "And then I left, of course, the apartment, because they didn't let me live there anymore. When I come back here from the airport... most of the time, when I travel, I leave my car at the airport, even some weeks it costs me some hundreds of dollars; I don't care. But once, I took a taxi. I hate those, what do you call them, limousines. They stink and their drivers have been driving dead people to the cemeteries. I hate those. OK, I took a taxi, and now this guy had a radio on. First of all, he had this thing EE-AAAH-UGGHH-ACHHHHHHGGG - these machines, how can somebody all day long hear this? He must be already deaf. I don't know what. And then I say, Do you need this? I say, this machine? And he looked at me, like maybe I am crazy or whatever. I say, I just come from Tokyo, Hong Kong, long flight, I am exhausted. I said, Look, just half an hour. Do I have to listen to that crap? Can you turn the radio off?. And he was even willing. He turned around, and he said, But it's the news. I say, I don't need this. I say, I don't want to, I have never listened to it, never in my life. I said, OK? I am almost on the border. I need to stop. I have to get out of your car. And he switched it off, but saying, as though really surprised and almost sorry for me, How can you know what's going on? There, you see: THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I DON'T WANT TO KNOW!" I came to appreciate Kinski's explosions of anger at the media, at the entertainment industry, at the girl behind the McDonald's counter who says, "Next!" and expects you to respond in the same rhythm ("I will NEVER be next!"), at sluggish telephone operators, at governments, at lines in the bank, at traffic signs ("There is a sign that says, RIGHT LANE MUST EXIT. Right lane MUST exit! MUST! And I say to myself, MUST? Fuck YOU!"), at all the words and structures of our society that limit and regiment the individual. In fact, I found that no matter what mood I'd been in when I began talking with him, I always felt much better afterward. It wasn't just the words or the examples he used, though these were often colorful; it was his conviction, his tone and his delivery, his projection. And it happened every time, whether I expected it or not, whether I was prepared to analyze it or not. It was a visceral reaction to the preternatural expression of his power and his rage. This, too, was for me an important lesson about what it is the "actor" does.
Of course, I had no control over these conversations, which Kinski conducted entirely according to his fancy. It is out of the question for him to be controlled by anyone, let alone a journalist. One of he conditions of our meeting had been my promise that our talks would be unstructured and could ramble freely, but I had underestimated Klaus Kinski's disregard - indeed, unawareness - of structures and conventions, journalistic or otherwise. He followed none of he rules of the interview situation - not one, not even the most basic. "I don't want to talk too much about myself," he would suddenly declare - notwithstanding the fact that I'd come several thousand miles to hear him talk about himself - and would launch into an anecdote about Eleonora Duse or Van Gogh or Paganini, a synopsis of a Dostoievsky short story or a long disquisition about a Holbein painting or about Jesus Christ in his grave, which he had for his own reasons decided was germane to our discussion. He refused to sit in a quiet room with a tape recorder; all of our conversations took place in cars, at the beach, in noisy restaurants. But, to be precise, he didn't refuse anything: I never had a chance to ask him. He would simply announce our schedule for the day. On some days, he would call me at my motel room to tell me that he couldn't talk at all, that it was impossible for him to see me. He'd been tortured through the night by insomnia or by one of his terrible nightmares. "I am completely destroyed," he would tell me. And I soon realized that it was almost always hopeless to ask him any direct questions; if he didn't interrupt them, he argued with their wording or with their relevance, or would simply digress to another topic. Then, suddenly, he would pause, perhaps because he had come to a natural lull in his own discourse:
"You," he would say, "you don't talk," and he would request a question. But usually, before I'd gotten a sentence out, he'd be off again, because a single word in some dependent clause had reminded him of an idea he wanted to explore or dispute.
"What? What is it you want to say?" Kinski queried when he saw me open my mouth several times.
"There was something you mentioned the other day," I began, "about how money is freedom - "
"I never said that," he assured me.
"You did," I replied. "You said -"
"No, no. I never said money is freedom! I said money buys freedom. BUYS! What does that mean, money is freedom? This is ridiculous: Money is freedom. It means nothing. What do you think, that a dollar in a savings account is freedom? Maybe you have understood nothing I have said. You are trying to make me sound like an American average citizen."
His arguments in response to my questions were often semantic. Kinski hates words; he resents having to use them to express himself, he finds them untrustworthy, confining, reductive.
"Experiencing the ocean is an experience of liberty," he told me, for example. "When you talk about the ocean, is it liberty? Even looking at the ocean is not liberty. It is like a wounded bird looking at the sky and saying, Why are my wings broken? Or even worse: putting a bird cage near the window so that the bird can see the sky. But, of course, it's much better to look than not to, even if it hurts. But words - words are not enough!"
"But sometimes," I said, "you can put them together to evoke a certain feeling."
"But this is a consolation for cripples," said Kinski. "Yes, sometimes, spontaneously bringing words out can be outscreams - outscreams of joy or pain or whatever you want. Or sometimes you can describe. But you aren't there. When you are there, you are. With words, you aren't. It is true what Rimbaud said once; It's absolutely true; I proved it. He said, If you think a book is strong enough, try it at the ocean, in the wind, at the waves. If the book can resist the ocean, the elements, then it exists. Otherwise, throw it away."
The night I arrived, we'd had a conversation while driving in from the airport and at a Vietnamese restaurant, though it had been, in my view, somewhat desultory and without a tape recorder. That was before I understood that all of our conversations would be desultory and most would be without a tape recorder. But overnight, Kinski thought of some of the subjects we had discussed, and it came to his mind, he told me the next day, that this "thing" should be the subject of my article about him. We were speaking on the phone. It was one of those days when he had called to say he couldn't see me. However, he then proceeded to talk with me on the phone for about four hours. I know it was four hours, because I was turning over my third 90-minute tape when I realized my tape recorder wasn't working.
Afterward, I tried to write what he had told me when he'd started explaining this thing to me. He had given me examples, images that he thought I would grasp. The "thing" was comparable, by analogy, to the power of kung fu, he had told me. He had mentioned Bruce Lee, for example, and how it is possible to observe that the concentration, the energy that the kung-fu artist taps into begins long before the point of impact and continues afterward. He talked with me also about how this thing that enables you to create is the thing that makes you suffer, suffer so much that you hate your fate, which has driven you to it, because it is not a choice. You start doing it and then you cannot stop, and the more you do it, the more it makes you suffer. And you cannot get rid of it once you have felt it. You cannot kill it, no matter how much you hate it for making you suffer. You try to kill it, but it is like the snake with 100 heads; there is always another head.
It was the best single explanation he ever gave me. I knew this, even then, after we hung up and I played the tape back and listened to the droning buzz of the faulty connection that had drowned out most of his words. I knew I would never get this from him again and that I couldn't even ask him. He had already told me how he felt when a director asked him for another take when he had already, according to his judgement or his instinct, done the take. "Those assholes!" he had expostulated. "ASSHOLES! Do you ask a car crash for another take? Do you ask a volcano for another take? Do you ask the storm for another take?"
But none of this was much consolation to me the day I sat in my uncannily ugly California motel room, staring at the tape that had only the buzz on it. Well, I thought, I can't ask him to do another take, but maybe I can get him to repeat some of those things. You see, I still hadn't completely gotten it: There would never be any repetition.
The next day, however, I was in high spirits, despite a harrowing ride on the highway, when I finally reached the little town where he'd given me an appointment. "From there, we will go to the ocean," he had announced on the phone that morning. He had seemed in a better mood, too.
Fortunately, I had allotted two hours for what I'd been told was a half-hour ride, so I was a few minutes early despite all the time taken by my seemingly endless wandering through the incomprehensible maze of California roads, not the least part of which had been spent going around in circles because of those infuriating RIGHT LANE MUST TURN RIGHT / LEFT LANE MUST TURN LEFT signs. I had sometimes attempted to tell myself, "Must? Fuck you!" like Kinski; but whenever I tried it, other drivers would honk at me, even when it had nothing to do with them, from across an intersection. That taught me a thing or two about how people will react when you don't follow the rules by which they themselves are willing to be bound. This has nothing to do with traffic safety, you understand. But it led me to some thoughts about the price Klaus Kinski pays for his defiance of as many rules as he can manage to disobey, because of his preference for this thing.
I was mulling this over when he arrived at our meeting place. There was something wrong with his car, he told me; we would use mine. I started to get out on my side, expecting him to drive. "No, no," he said. "You will drive." I had already warned him that my driving was still somewhat uncertain, that I had just gotten my license. But he wouldn't drive a piece of shit like this, he told me, casting an indescribably scornful glance at my rented subcompact car. And in any event, he told me, he won't drive a car other people have driven. The latter fact did not surprise me much, as he had already told me that he won't read a copy of a book anyone else has read and that, in fact, one of the reasons he hates old houses and hotel rooms is that he can sense the lingering presence of their former occupants. Still, it was with dread that I got back into the driver's seat, turned on the ignition and inched from my parking space toward the road, and then stopped to see if any cars were coming.
"Further! Further!" complained Kinski, who had obviously made a quick assessment of my driving skills and had concluded that I could use some coaching. "How can you see anything? You must go on the road. Now, just go! GO!"
I floored the accelerator and drove off in a flurry of gravel. If this made me even more nervous, it seemed to affect Kinski not a bit. In fact, he simply sat back, though it did seem to me that he maintained a high degree of; shall we say, alertness throughout our ride. I suddenly remembered a passage from his book in which he describes driving his Ferrari on the Italian highway at more than 100 miles an hour, dosing his eyes and counting to ten. If he could take that, I figured he could take this, too.
At the first red light, I got out my tape recorder, set it against the windshield and turned it on. But I soon abandoned any hope of getting him to repeat anything he had said the day before. He began right where he'd left off.
"What I was telling you yesterday," he said, "this is why the ultimate acting is to destroy yourself." "I wanted to ask you -" I said.
"The more I think about it," he told me, "the more it makes sense to me. You are too far on the left. Look how much space you have on my side. An article including everything that we said, so it's not just talking about somebody that is what you call an actor. You cannot separate it."
"I wanted to ask you a question," I said.
"What?" he said, for once.
"About anger," I said. "I wanted to ask you."
"Why are you cluttering up your article?" he said. "This has nothing to do with what we have been talking about."
"You know," I said, casting a quick glance toward my tape recorder to see if the meter needle was moving and, of course, drifting into the next lane. "You know," I said, "I have been thinking about this, and you are taking over my article, exactly the way you take over your scenes in Werner Herzog's movies." "Where are you going?" said Kinski.
"Sorry," I said and careened back into my own lane.
"Of course," he said, "it's obvious that you should write about this. You cannot write in a story everything about me." "Well," I said, because I know very well that I have a tendency to clutter up my articles, "you may be right."
"Of course," he said.
We headed toward the mountains. The road became sinuous as we climbed.
"Why are you so worried?" he asked.
"I'm not worried," I said.
"You looked worried," he said. "Why? This is what you need. This is what is important to know. This is the essence this thing. This is what journalists were trying to get out of me for 20 years. And I never thought of it in this way before, but last night, because of our conversation, I thought, this is what is essential; this is the fundament. It is obvious that this is what you must write. Don't keep mixing in these other things." "But -" I started to say.
"It only confuses," he said. "What are you doing? You are too far on the left again."
"But you need a framework," I said.
"You need a framework? What is this, a framework? You don't need a framework. They told you you need this. You don't need this. You need a painting, not a frame. You are going too slow. Just go."
"Well," I started to say; but then I gasped as I was suddenly jolted backward, because Kinski, having decided the car was too sluggish on the steep road, had without warning shifted down.
"That's better," he said as we picked up speed. By the time I recovered, I had lost my train of thought. "At first, I felt this thing coming up in myself," he continued, "just really physically growing in myself and happening, but it was a jungle, so I couldn't distinguish things so much. I knew there were, in myself, the souls of millions of people who lived centuries ago - not just people but animals, plants, the elements, things, even, matter - that all of these exist in me, and I felt this. OK, this pushed and pushed and pushed. OK, that was the beginning... And through the years it became clearer and clearer, this thing; it started to separate itself. I could make it come when I had to concentrate on, let's say, a person I had to become - this thing became stronger. And took more of me. In this moment, I let it do it, because I wanted, I had to be this person. And as I was led to doing it, there was then no way back. And the more I tried to do it, the more I hated it. But there was no way back anymore; it was always going farther and farther and farther. Until one day, when I was walking through the streets of Paris, I started crying, because I could look at a man, a woman, a dog, anything, and receive it, anything, everything; there was no difference between physical and psychological. I felt like I was breaking out, breaking up, receiving everything, every moment, even things I did not see. There is no turning back from this. But this danger is the power you have. It is this same power that lets you hold an audience when you are on a stage. Then it is a concentration, the same concentration that in kung fu is used for the kick that kills or to break a table with your hand. It means that you are sure of the power and that you relinquish yourself to it."
Kinski hesitated for a moment.
"It should not be necessary to explain things," he said. "I don't know... maybe it comes from this fucking occupation that they call art. I don't know what the meaning of that is. And they call me actor, and I know this is shit, OK, because it just means that some idiot, absolutely imbecilic, cretin, illiterate director can say what he wants to me, can even harm me. So I say to him, FUCK OFF! Or I go home or whatever. And then they say, He is mad; he just happens to be an artist. These people who do not see the terrible things and therefore do not see the beautiful things, either. But I cannot dump, dump this thing. They think you can dump all this and be an actor. Then they say, Good job. Do you say Good job to an earthquake?"
Kinski paused. "I am dying of hunger," he said.
We stopped at a little fast-food place at the beach, an absurd gray structure that had been weathered to look quaint against the background of the ocean. I watched him stand at a counter and eat a chili dog, using a plastic knife and fork. "These beans are disgusting," he said. "They are hard. Look at this sign, HOMEMADE. What does this mean, home? Does it mean that the beans are even more disgusting than others? I don't understand their signs. I don't WANT to understand their signs. This HOMEMADE, it's supposed to tell you these disgusting beans are good. These fucking signs! Signs everywhere that lie."
Kinski paced back and forth along the beach while I traipsed along behind him with my useless tape recorder: There was a howling wind that whipped our hair and our clothes and that I knew would make this tape inaudible, too.
It was cold this day, already autumn. We couldn't see the horizon; the gray of the ocean merged into the sky. Even the sand seemed gray in that light. Behind us were more grays, those of the cliffs, and then the brown of the mountains. It was the only time I saw Kinski not dressed in white; he had on a bright-red windbreaker, the only splash of passionate color in the mist.
Kinski talked and I listened until I started shivering in the relentless wind.
"Let's go back," he said.
We sat for a while in the parked car. It seemed almost silent now, away from the beach.
"Why do I continue making movies?" he said in reply to a question I'd asked hours earlier. "Making movies is better than cleaning toilets."
"Do some roles leave you cold?"
"In a way, everything concerning a movie leaves me cold, and everything involves me. For a smaller one, you just give a smaller kick."
I remained silent.
"I don't know. Why have I had this life? If I knew, I wouldn't have done it. Do you know what I mean? You cannot even say, I cannot even tell myself, Why did I do it? I shouldn't have done it. It's ridiculous." "It wasn't a choice?"
"It wasn't my choice."
"So it means," he continued, "the only thing I can say is OK, shit! Just like saying Shit! to yourself. You say SHIT ten times when you hurt yourself. You say SHIT. Nobody is there. You just say SHIT. So I could tell myself, Oh, shit, why, WHY, why did all that happen to me? Why was I not a bird on the ocean? You know? Instead of this, you know? This I could say, but just to myself. SHIT! It doesn't even make sense after a while when you say Shit from morning to evening, but there was a time when I could not stop. It was like a tic. I said Shit all the time. SHIT!"
For the first time in his presence, I felt afraid. Not of him but of the furor of that younger self he was reincarnating in the small, cramped space where we sat, yet another cage to be filled with that power and rage that I finally understood to be his furor at his own fate. And I saw that same vein stand out on his forehead that I had seen on Aguirre's, and the same intensity in the set of his jaw: It was not the rage of helplessness, it was the rage of defiance.
Kinski opened his eyes, which had been clamped shut, and then looked away at the ocean. In the car, the silence seemed new. Well, it wasn't a silence. There was still the wind, the sound of a sea gull's wings flapping. It only seemed like a new silence to me, because I had watched a man say "Fuck you" to his own pain. Kinski stared steadfastly at the ocean.
"I don't know," he said.
"Why do you live alone?" I asked. "I didn't choose solitude," he answered. It was unusually brief for him. "Because in your book," I said, "you seemed capable of such love."
"Yes," he said. "Love is the salvation." He sighed again. "I didn't choose to be alone. But I cannot explain this. I could be with a woman in a bed, for weeks even and it would seem to me like three seconds. Or 300 years. There is no time sense because of things that are going on in you. I don't know, there is no explanation of this. But every time, even with someone I.... But whenever I was with a woman, I always sort of want another one. So there was always another one. I can't explain this, but it means that these women, they were not sharing my solitude. I wanted to stay with somebody, but I couldn't, it wasn't possible, because of this thing moving in myself. I had to learn this. I didn't want to be alone, but I had to learn that the dimensions of my feelings are too violent. I had to learn this. It is what I was just telling you before. Why? Why am I like this? It is the same as Why wasn't I born a fisherman? This is not a choice. There is not a why. Look at this bird there. Why does he fly to the left? Why?"
We watched as the gull flew out of our sight, toward the mountains. A few hundred feet away, on the road leading to the beach, a truck pulled up and some men got out, carrying pneumatic drills and jackhammers. They set to work, and it was the sounds of the drills and the hammers that now reached the car.
"Look at them!" exclaimed Kinski. "They are not happy if they don't hammer. They hammer, they hammer; it is unbearable. That is why you have to go away. It is not a solution, but you have to go away, to protect your feeling of life, where people won't shock you and hurt you. They hammer everywhere! Everywhere they can possibly hammer! They hammer in your brain! Hell, these idiots, they come with their hammer, where people are sitting, to hammer, to hammer, to hammer! Let's go."
I started the car without stalling it, mercifully, and drove away. We headed back toward town and I got more driving tips from Kinski and we talked some more about the thing. We've had other conversations since, but it is at the ocean that I remember him best. Even though many of his words were torn from his mouth by the sea breezes and were hurled toward the ocean or the mountains or buried in the sand, Klaus Kinski led me to grasp, with what I felt was perfect clarity, the definition of an ineffable force of nature, because he seemed to be both a part and an expression of it, even though now, when I listen to my tape, there are only fragments of speech, meaningless by themselves, and what I can hear, mostly, is only the screaming of the wind and the detonation of the waves. This is the most important lesson I learned about what it is, ultimately, the "actor" does.