At first glance, what could these two actors possibly have in common, beyond their blond hair, blue eyes and choice of profession? Not too damn much, and I’m not really going to try and argue that there is anything more. What I believe they share are simple moments of brilliant acting, so similar that I thought I would write about them and see if anyone else agrees, or has experienced similar moments in other films.
I might not have discovered the first moment but for Werner Herzog in his film My Best Fiend, a documentary of Kinski and Herzog’s often volatile (and consistently amusing) partnership. Herzog, while explaining what originally convinced him to work with Kinski, describes a moment in an early anti-war film called Kinder, Mütter und ein General (Children, Mothers and a General) that struck Herzog as brilliant. Kinski, playing a young lieutenant, is asleep at a table. Another officer is across from him. In the morning, the officer taps Kinski’s arm to wake him, and so Kinski does. It is this moment of waking that struck Herzog – the way Kinski executes this simple, seemingly undramatic moment. Perhaps if Herzog hadn’t stressed this instance it would have gone unnoticed, maybe it is Herzog himself that makes Kinski’s awakening appear outstanding.
Regardless, I too found myself impressed with Kinski, and so (many movies later) when watching Alfred Hitchcock‘s Vertigo, I found myself arrested by another simple motion that took place in a scene with James Stewart and Kim Novak. Novak’s character (thought to be possessed by a ghost) had just experienced a manic episode, and as Stewart tries to get her to remember what happened, she leans against a great redwood, her eyes closed and head shaking. Facing away from him, she says, “…somewhere in the light,” then turns to him, “promise me something.” That moment when she turns to him, she goes from having her eyes closed – suffering far away – to staring directly into his eyes with a desperate plea. The quick movement of her head transporting her character between emotional states, I could be blowing this way out of proportion, but I found her timing and precision was incredible and it immediately brought Klaus Kinski to mind.
I simply want to show respect where it is due, and be reminded how great acting is built on smaller moments such as these. If anyone else has been struck by moments like these, feel free to share, I love hearing about the little details… a-hem, er, you know what I mean.