Kinski Uncut

Dwight Garner reviews Klaus Kinski's autobiography "Kinski Uncut".

Published August 2, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

"Why am I a whore?" That's the question the late German-born actor Klaus Kinski asks himself early in this wildly raw and misanthropic memoir, and it's a query with multiple meanings. "Kinski Uncut," which is finally being issued in an unexpurgated English version after becoming a cult favorite overseas (it has been published in six languages), is an almost satirically dark tour through the primordial ooze of Kinski's inflated ego. Brimming with buggery, bigotry and mindless violence, it reads like a (muddled) Celine novel as updated by Keith Richards' dark twin. It's unlike any celebrity bio ever put to paper.

Kinski's Cassanovian pursuit of sex ("I need love! Love! Nonstop!") gives the book its narrative push -- from roughly the age of 10, he feasts on nuns, teenagers, the teenager's mothers or whatever sack of animate female flesh falls into his path. Unfortunately, Kinski's whorishness extended into his career, too. While he appeared in a handful of memorable films ("Nosferatu," "Fitzcarraldo," "Aguirre: The Wrath of God"), the haunted-eyed actor also made literally hundreds of schlock-filled quickies, sometimes as many as 11 per year.

Kinski doesn't provide much New Age analysis of how he found himself locked into such a bitter, isolated spiral. Chapters on his impoverished upbringing in prewar Berlin, where he stole food to survive, and his conscription into the German army in World War II offer meager clues. His various wives and his daughter, the actress Nastassja Kinski, receive only the barest mentions.

Kinski spends more time blasting directors he's worked with. Werner Herzog, with whom he made his best films, is called a (take a deep breath) "miserable, hateful, malevolent, avaricious, money-hungry, nasty, sadistic, treacherous, blackmailing, cowardly, thoroughly dishonest creep." Steven Spielberg offers Kinski a part in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," but he turns it down because the script is "moronically shitty." David Lean "has a red Rolls-Royce Cabriolet, which, aside from the satyr [Kinski's latest sex toy], is what interests me most about making 'Zhivago.'"

Needless to say, this kind of nonstop venom isn't for the squeamish -- and maybe it's not for anyone. But "Kinski Uncut" does have a kind of raffish, gothic, back-lit charm. A compendium of sick thrills, it is -- if nothing else -- a fail-safe antidote to a shelf of bright, happy, as-told-to biographies.

By Dwight Garner

Dwight Garner is Salon's book review editor.

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