"Together we were like two critical masses which result in a dangerous mixture when they come into contact—something that became highly explosive," Werner Herzog says in My Best Fiend, his hilarious, ludicrous 1999 documentary about his relationship with actor Klaus Kinski. "It went so far that one day, I seriously planned to firebomb him in his house. This was prevented only by the vigilance of his Alsatian shepherd."
Just so we're clear, Herzog's dead serious when he says this—despite what a loving tribute to Kinski Fiend ultimately is, the director makes no effort to conceal exactly how fucked up their friendship was.
Herzog made five films starring Kinski, including two of the filmmaker's best narratives, 1972's Aguirre, the Wrath of God and 1982's Fitzcarraldo. But Herzog's always been better at documentaries than dramas, and My Best Fiend is like a perfect middle ground between those genres: Though true, the exploits of the wild-eyed Kinski (and Herzog's equally insane reactions to them) feel like the stuff of fiction, even as Fiend lets Herzog focus on both his melancholy memories about Kinski and his chipper, optimistic worldview. ("The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don't think they sing—they just screech in pain," Herzog says of the Peruvian jungle on the set of Fitzcarraldo.) In talking with others who were lucky (or unlucky) enough to work with Kinski, Herzog finds similarly great insights: One extra on Aguirre describes Kinski as "aggressive," "diabolical," and "not quite normal" before showing off a 27-year-old scar that he got when Kinski swung a sword at his head.
When the Oscar nominations were announced last week, Herzog found his documentary Encounters at the End of the World up for Best Documentary; unbelievably, it's the first time in the director's 47-year-long career that he's been up for one of those golden trophies. He deserves to win for Encounters, but My Best Fiend is as good of a reminder as any as to just how ridiculously overdue such an award is.