Killing Klaus Kinski
I know. It may seem like a stretch to label this stunning single-take short film a video essay. But if the substance of the video essay is to ponder the impact of films in an audiovisual format; if the bottom line of this practice is to find artistic ways to reflect on visual art; if the essence of the videographic method is to reorder existing visuals to create new insights… then this short film certainly fits that bill.
Director Spiros Stathoulopoulos recreates one of the most fabled production stories of film history, that of Fitzcarraldo (1982). The on-set struggles between director Werner Herzog and his leading man Klaus Kinski are the stuff of legends (and of a feature documentary). Stathoulopoulos takes excerpts of Herzog’s own oral history of the film as a jumping-off point for a dizzying long take in which he imagines a plot amongst the indigenous crew members to kill the maniacal German lead actor.
In doing so, this film offers a whole new perspective on this well-known story of artistic hubris. Even though the off-screen voice is Herzog’s, the visual (and narrative) perspective is that of the Amazonians whose lands are invaded by a film crew. This is no longer a battle between two strong-willed white people, but a conflict wherein a western artistic project unbalances the spiritual ecosystem it wants to use as a backdrop. Herzog’s poetic ramblings about the cruelty of nature are put into sobering perspective by turning the camera on the people that live with this purported cruelty on a daily basis – and have done so for centuries. Stathoulopoulos’ approach raises fascinating questions on artistic responsibility and on the (often limited) perspectives of media history writing. And isn’t that what a video essay is supposed to do?