Play you like a violin.

(Part of today’s White Elephant Blogathon hosted by Paul Clark.)

Famed German actor/full-tilt psycho Klaus Kinski only directed one film in his lifetime. Ostensibly a biopic about violinist Niccolo Paganini, Kinski Paganini is really more a frenzied act of grotesque creation, a wild and senseless cascade of fevered, sexual images that bludgeon the viewer into thinking A) something profound here is being said and B) all these images relate to each other and add up to something. The validity of both claims is questionable.

So of course I dug it.

The main influence here is clearly Ken Russell in the ’70s. Imagine one of Ken Russell’s freewheeling composer biographies (say, The Music Lovers) as a rowing team. Now imagine that the boat capsized and the right half of the team was thrown overboard, unrecoverable… yet the left half carries on, rowing that boat. Kinski Paganini is akin to watching that rowing team try to soldier on: a lot of energy is being expended to go around and around in circles for some indiscernable purpose, and while the act itself seems strange and pointless, it’s also weirdly mesmerizing.

Clearly Kinski feels a kinship with Paganini. In telling the violinist’s story, he’s also telling his own (fitting, then, that this was his last film). And apparently, Klaus’s story involves him getting ass. Lots and lots of ass. Women tend to find his Paganini irresitible; in this universe, the omnipresent sound of his violin causes every woman, from scullery maid to proper lady, to wet themselves is unquenchable sexual desire. And if by some bizarre chance a lady isn’t charmed into sex frenzy by Paganini’s music or his animal charisma (which wafts off him like fog rolling off San Francisco Bay)… well, it doesn’t really matter because Paganini’s probably going to rape her anyway. He’s a misunderstood genuis artist with a God complex and a permanent hard-on.

With that last sentence, am I talking about Paganini or Kinski? And in the context of the film, does it matter?

Paganini lurches and stumbles through one setpiece after another, with little attention paid to coherence - here’s Paganini playing, here’s Paganini fucking, here’s Paganini with his son (played, of course, by Kinski’s young son), here’s Paganini defying the artistic establishment, here’s more fucking, here’s some horses fucking. But much as Paganini seems to inspire mesmeric attention from all he encounters, and much as Kinski’s career was defined by his ferociously magnetic personality, Paganini rivets the attention through sheer brass-balls lunatic energy. You simply can’t not look away, and whether this is coherent or true to the life of Paganini or just an ego-trip for Kinksi or whatever become besides the point. All those years of working alongside Werner Herzog seem to have taught Kinski something - that often times the notion of “ecstatic truth” is more important than anything else. Would that more biopics looked like this crazed concoction.

I could go on, but there’s only so much that rational analysis can do in a case like this. At some point, you’re going to have to meet the crazy head on. So I give you my hand-written unexpurgated notes on Paganini, written on the fly while watching the film. Hopefully, these can give an idea of what the act of watching Kinski Paganini is like.

  1. steveosteve posted this