The mad, mercurial Klaus Kinski appeared in over 130 films but nobody ever worked with him twice. Nobody except for Werner Herzog, that is. The impossible actor met his match in the fearless filmmaker, collaborating five times on wildly ambitious and insanely perilous projects that could very well have killed them were they not so busy almost murdering each other. These days Herzog has made himself over as a walking meme, playing up the cuddlier side of his eccentricities in what can sometimes feel uncomfortably like a branding exercise. Pretty sure he’s the only Best Director winner from the Cannes Film Festival who went on to guest star on “Parks and Recreation” before playing the bad guy in a Tom Cruise thriller.
This weekend,Coolidge After Midnite presents two of Herzog’s Kinski collaborations to remind us what a dangerous director everybody’s kooky Teutonic uncle once was. Friday at midnight brings 1979’s “Nosferatu The Vampyre,” a despairingly haunted remake of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic. 180 degrees from most suave portrayals of the Transylvanian count, Kinski takes a cue from the original’s Max Shreck by playing the creature of the night as a tortured animal whose pain still comes through his hideous prosthetic makeup. This Dracula is doomed, disgusted with himself and altogether otherworldly.
But the main event arrives Saturday at 11:30, with a long-awaited 35mm screening of the director’s legendary “Fitzcarraldo,” a great movie with a production so arduous it inspired an equally great documentary. (That would be Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams,” required viewing for anyone who likes to watch Germans scream in the jungle.) Kinski gives his warmest performance as a quixotic dreamer who wants to build an opera house in the middle of the Amazon. To do so he first must drag a steamship over a mountain from one river to another. Never one to do things the easy way, Herzog decided to shoot the film 500 miles deep into the Peruvian rain forest without benefit of special effects.
In this increasingly digitized culture it can be difficult for our over-mediated eyes to determine what’s ones and zeroes, until you see a film like “Fitzcarraldo” and experience once again the shock of the real. It’s granular detail on a massive scale, with images full of intricacies not even the most sophisticated F/X effects department could conjure. That’s an actual boat going over an actual mountain, and a big screen experience beyond compare.