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Kinski Uncut

Published in the UK after a considerable delay caused by numerous libel writs and lengthy court cases, Kinski Uncut - the autobiography of the late German actor Klaus Kinski - achieved considerable notoriety even before it was printed. In his life Kinski had been an enigmatic figure: his films rarely received UK cinema distribution, though insomniac TV junkies occasionally encountered a badly dubbed Kinski appearing in the sort of film that BBC 2 show at 2AM; information about his private life was restricted to knowing that he was model and actress Nastassja Kinski's father. On the rare occasions he has been interviewed by journalists intelligent enough to be able to spell 'Kinski', Andrew Eldritch has expressed a deep admiration for Kinski's acting ability and his contemptuous approach to the film industry and his own career. More than enough reason for your correspondent to spank the GPS corporate credit card when coming across a copy on a recent guerrilla raid on Waterstones.

I was not disappointed.

This book is staggering. Kinski measures out his life, not with coffee spoons, but by a string of wretched sexual encounters. For Kinski appears to have rivalled Casanova and Don Juan in his womanising. The text proceeds via a series of disconnected sexual liaisons interspersed with narcissistic claims to Kinski's pre-eminence as an actor. Kinski's prose style is, perhaps fittingly, thoroughly crude, though it undeniably has a deranged energy. Heaven knows what sordid Germanic phrases forced the translator to reach for his dictionary and select "bodacious butt". Kinski's rampant whoring seems to bring no happiness to himself and untold misery to those around him. Several of his lovers commit suicide, each of his three marriages are failures and he ends up estranged from his three children.

Born in 1926, Kinski spent his childhood in conditions of extreme poverty living in Berlin during the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism. [Writer's Note: we have since heard that this section of the book is pure fantasy: Kinski's family were relatively well-off and middle-class. The later revelations should be treated accordingly.] That he was living in one of the most cataclysmically intense periods of 20th century history appears to have escaped Kinski; the book is devoid of any analysis of the causes of his family's poverty and there is, almost unbelievably, no mention of Nazism whatsoever. The onset of the Second World War finds Kinski hitting puberty with disastrous results as he first commits incest with his sister and then consummates an Oedipal complex.

Kinski's acting career takes off after the war, initially in the theatre after a breakthrough performance of Cocteau's La voix humaine and it is in passages describing his theatrical work that the book finally achieves some semblance of style. Kinski appears to have achieved considerable success and controversy in Germany through a series of solo poetry readings (unlikely as this may seem to the 90s reader). An incendiary performance in front of 20,000 at the Berlin Deutschlandhalle which results in a full-blown riot is described with searing brilliance. Kinski's crazed intensity in full flood must have been a sight to behold.

Kinski's deprived childhood left him with two obsessive desires: for love and money. Love he sought, but never achieved through his libido. Money he sought and received in spades through his film work. Utterly contemptuous of the film industry and of directors in particular - the word 'director' is rarely written without annotations such as "the word makes me sick" - Kinski nevertheless saw the potential for making vast sums of money through selecting films purely by the fee on offer. The results of this policy are a film career which at best can be describe as patchy. For every cameo in Doctor Zhivago and For a Few Dollars More there are dozens of appearances in appalling tenth rate trash. Kinski took delight in turning down name directors: that a proposed film in the early Sixties with Frederico Fellini never happened is a huge loss, that Kinski turned down a part in Speilberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark to appear in a Japanese sex film Fruits of Passion is merely sad.

Only with the equally crazed Werner Herzog did Kinski really achieve his potential through a series of fanatical but brilliant films (Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde) constructed around Kinski's monstrous energy and Herzog's crazed vision. Paradoxically, it is the success of these films that show that Kinski was no actor at all: he could only play himself.

Judged against almost every recognised literary criteria this book is a failure: structurally it is incoherent, it offers no insight into Kinski's thoughts and motives, and the prose is a disgrace. It is said that Lord Byron's scandalous memoirs were burnt on his death by his doctor in order to protect the great poet's reputation. Perhaps it would have been better had a similar fate befell Kinski's autobiography. And yet, completely mesmerised, I read the book in a single sitting and ended up stunned, confused and agitated. A reaction that our brightest authors rarely achieve. Cautiously recommended.

Kinski Uncut (The autobiography of Klaus Kinski) is published in the UK by Bloomsbury Paperbacks, RRP £7.99, pp 322.

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