By Steve Vivona
In this country when we think of great actor-director combinations we think of Martin Scorcese and Robert DeNiro, John Ford and John Wayne, and John Huston and Humphrey Bogart. In Germany they'll tell you its Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski.
The pair did five films together. Separately their body of work is impressive, but together they made magic, and their films together are considered classics of European cinema.
The relationship that spawned films such as "Aguirre: The Wrath of God," "Fitzcarraldo," and "Nosferatu," was often contentious and hateful.
They were both perfectionists, but Kinski was often prone to fits of maniacal rage that threatened to shut entire productions down. Herzog was the steady one who learned at an early age how to manipulate Kinski's instability into a memorable performance on film.
Kinski died in 1991 and Herzog decided to recount their relationship in the documentary, "My Best Fiend," (an apt title if there ever was one).
In it Herzog returns to many of the locations where they shot their greatest films. In rare behind-the-scenes footage the audience is treated to Kinski's tantrums, especially a memorable one on the set of "Fitzcarraldo."
We're also treated to footage of a kinder, gentler Kinski. It's not Herzog's intention to paint him as a total lunatic, but merely document his friendship with this complex and temperamental artist.
Their relationship dates back to postwar Germany in the 1950s when Kinski took a room at the same boarding house as Herzog and his mother. Thirteen at the time, Herzog watched the young Kinski struggle to establish himself as an actor.
Despite his penchant for unpredictable behavior Herzog knew that someday he wanted to work with this man. The documentary takes us through each film they did together and along the way we're treated to interviews with Kinski's co-stars, many of whom speak highly of the man.
It seems with this film Herzog is trying to make sense of their relationship as he explains it to the audience, and revisiting the places where they shot their films is obviously a cathartic experience for him.
"My Best Fiend" is not a hatchet job on Kinski, but a fascinating look at an often-bizarre relationship that produced magical results.
Anchor Bay's excellent DVD presents the film in a widescreen aspect ratio that is enhanced for 16 x 9 TV's, and includes a trailer. Viewers can either choose a dubbed English version or a German language version with English subtitles.