Judge Daryl Loomis feels he's the kindred spirit of Dabney Coleman.
Klaus Kinski's final, disturbing masterpiece.
The strange case of Klaus Kinski (Fitzcarraldo) ended in 1989 with the release of Paganini. Those familiar with the actor's work know that, depending on who made the particular movie, there were two versions of Kinski. The first was the Kinski directed by Werner Herzog (Aguirre: Wrath of God), who could reign in the actor's animalistic intensity to draw out some incredible performances. The second side was the Kinski directed by virtually anyone else. With very few exceptions, these performances were unhinged, confrontational, and bizarre. Imagine what you would have, then, if instead of a professional director trying (and mostly failing) to control Kinski, the actor is not only the director, but also the writer, editor, and star. You would have insanity and, in fact, you would have Paganini (sometimes known as Kinski/Paganini). The true cinematic vision of Kinski is a genuine oddity, one of the strangest biopics you're likely to see, and after years in obscurity, finally available from Mya Communication and Belmondo Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Composer and violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini (Kinski) is despised by the establishment, but loved by their wives. He's a rock star, a philanderer, and a sleazebag, but boy can he ever saw a fiddle. He plays so well that many believe he made a pact with the devil to perform like he does, and he does nothing to dissuade them from their beliefs. No matter what they think, though, they come out in droves to watch him and, after the concert, women cannot control themselves around him. But Paganini is a man of contradictions. Underneath that nasty exterior hides a doting father and a sometimes loving husband who truly loves his art and all the accolades that come along with it.
For the release of Paganini, we have been blessed with both versions of the film: the 84-minute, heavily edited theatrical cut and Kinski's so-called "versione originale," which runs fourteen minutes longer. While the theatrical version is technically the main feature of the disc, any Kinski fan is much more interested in his version which, like his infamous autobiography, All I Need Is Love, shows what happens when a crazy person gets to realize a long-standing dream.
Kinski tried for years to get Werner Herzog to direct his script. I'm positive he'd have done a fine job with it, but Herzog saw the script as totally unfilmable and, seeing the results, I can't really disagree. That doesn't make it any less a sight to see, though, as it's a film well worth rubber-necking over. It's little more than an extended montage that shows people talking about how the composer is a blasphemous, womanizing fiend, Paganini playing the violin while women masturbate, Paganini doting on his child, or Paganini's various sexual exploits. Kinski has essentially no dialog for the entire film and, instead, has other people narrate the story and extoll his virtues. Are they talking about Paganini or are they talking about Kinski? Often, it's hard to tell and, since Kinski claimed to believe he led a parallel life to Paganini, he likely implied that they were talking about both people at once.
The theatrical version is re-edited to make a little more linear sense and to cut out some of the harder material, but in that form, it's a terribly anemic film. It's not that I'm in love with watching long and gross scenes of Kinski having sex, but the film doesn't have much going for it outside of Kinski's vision. The elimination of that vision may make the film easier to watch on a traditional level, but it damages the film terribly. There's not really a market for this thing outside of Kinski fans, nor was there at the time of its release (though Kinski would probably yell at me while punching my face for saying so), so I have a hard time understanding the purpose of the re-edit. It's "versione originale" or nothing in my book.
So, as negative as I may sound about Paganini, why have I been waiting so long to see Kinski's cut of the film and why do I completely recommend it? First, it's the actor at once at his most outrageous and his most personal. He put his wife-of-the-moment, the gorgeous Debora Caprioglio (Paprika), in the role of Paganini's wife and his young son, Nikolai Kinski (Aeon Flux) in the role of the composer's young son. While in character, he acts like a total cad and acts like he did in real life, blatantly cheating on his wife and attending to his son. Second, parts of this movie are absolutely hilarious with their weird cutaways and absurd narrations. Third, the music is awesome. Who knows how Paganini really sounded when he played, but the performances by Salvatore Accardo, who also wrote the incidental music, are fantastic. Finally, because Kinski starred in so many movies, he actually had an eye to cinema and, deeply flawed as Paganini may be, there are some gorgeous moments scattered throughout the film. It may be strange, sexually graphic, and off-putting, but that is exactly what Kinski wanted on the screen, and it's hard to begrudge him for that.
The 2-disc set for Paganini from Mya is definitely a mixed bag. Both versions of the film are presented in full frame. I don't know if it was actually filmed in a wider aspect ratio, but it doesn't appear that much is lost if it was. Of the two, the theatrical version looks far better, and that makes sense given its relative availability. The print is fairly clean, with a decent grain structure and only a little bit of damage. The natural lighting means that the darker interiors are a little harder to see and the colors can only be so vibrant. This problem is magnified greatly in the complete version, though. That print is highly damaged and it's very difficult to see in those interior scenes. Plainly, it looks terrible. There is plenty of improvement in the sound mix for both versions. Neither is great, and both have plenty of background noise to contend with, but both are generally decent. We have English, Italian, and French mixes to choose from, but all of them are dub tracks, so take your pick.
The extras are solid, but not without their problems. On the first disc, we have the best feature, an hour long look at some behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the film. It's really interesting to see Kinski in action as a director and to take a look at some scenes that didn't make either of the versions, but Kinski speaks to his cast and crew in multiple languages and there are no subtitles so, for most of the time, you'll have no idea what the guy is saying. Likewise, the original press conference from the Cannes Film Festival is in French with no subtitles, but here it's more acceptable since it's basically five minutes of Kinski flipping out and screaming at the press. The features continue onto the second disc, which gives us nearly an hour of deleted and extended scenes. They look a little worse than Kinski's version of the film and some of the scenes are silent, but there is plenty of interest here. A photo gallery and the original trailer round out the set.
Paganini may well be the single most arrogant movie ever made. This is the ultimate vanity project as we witness Kinski preening and peacocking for the camera while women go into orgasmic hysterics because of his sheer awesomeness. Still, it's a rarity that fans of the actor have wanted released for a very long time. Now that they have it, I'd love to be able to whole-heartedly recommend the set, but the questionable technical details and high price tag make doing that difficult. I recommend that even the most passing fans of Kinski see Paganini, but I can advise a purchase only for the most avid collectors of the actor's work.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mya Communication
• Alternate Cut
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