One of the most devious, and delightful, films I’ve encountered in recent years is Incident at Loch Ness, a film that, if it isn’t the subject of a cult, should be. I mean, my gawd, it has Crispin Glover in a microsecond cameo. The real brilliance of this fake documentary is having Werner Herzog in the lead, a man whose filmography reveals a constant violent collision between fact and fiction, with the relationship not always moving in the direction you might think. Anyone wanting to see just how utterly bizarre things are in Herzogland should look no further than My Best Fiend, his 1999 documentary about his working relationship with actor Klaus Kinski.
The film opens with unexplained footage: Kinski performing before a huge audience, ranting maniacally, going out of his way to alienate everyone within sound of his voice. What this is (which is never mentioned in the film), is part of a tour Kinski did playing Jesus Christ as a psychopathic megalomaniac. Based on the evidence of the rest of the film, Kinski might as well have been playing himself. The picture Herzog presents us with is of a man given the rages that could last days and be triggered by the tiniest of imagined slights, of a character so volcanic he threatened to destroy all around him. And then there’s Herzog, unflappably filming Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, movies whose production and ambition were as insane as their protagonists. In other words, Kinski appears to be playing extroverted versions of Herzog himself in these pics. One understands, therefore, why the Peruvian natives who were extras in the latter film hated Kinski but feared Herzog, reasoning that, as the quiet one, he was probably more dangerous. But one also understands why they offered to kill Kinski for Herzog, and why he later regretted not having taken them up on it.
Yup, that’s the kind of behind-the-scenes narrative we have going here, which makes the most troubled Hollywood production seem like the smoothest of sailing. There’s still more, though, that’s going on here. Just as it is often hard, with Herzog, to know how seriously we are to take him, or how much we can trust his veracity, so it is with Kinski. To what degree are these apocalyptic tantrums entirely genuine? To what degree are they part of a persona called “Klaus Kinski” that the actor is creating for public consumption? (And one might include here some of the disturbingly outrageous statements Kinski has made about his mother and daughter, statements not mentioned in the film.) There are no definite answers to those questions here, except perhaps in some of the anecdotes recounted by Kinski’s co-stars that reveal an unexpected generosity and gentleness of spirit. And there is also the film’s haunting final image: a long, close-up take of Kinski playing with a butterfly that flutters around his head, shoulders and hands, taking off only to alight on him again, treating this bizarre man as if he were just another flower.
More questions than answers, certainly, but a film-about-film like no other.