You ever uttered a big, fat, pained, "wow" before? Follow me down the corridors of arthouse cinema at its most extreme and self-indulgent, as Klaus Kinski imagines his fiercely talented self as fiercely talented early-19th Century composer and violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini. From one lust-crazed egomaniac artist to another, it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black, so if the shoe fits, Kinski must wear it. (Save for the catch that Kinski wasn't always the genius he thought he was, and his work will never have the impact on cinema that Paganini had on music.) Kinski did, however, leave us this woozily rapturous phantasmagoria of a biopic, the cinematic equivalent of that vertiginous moment when you're so drunk you abandon all inhibitions, sadly realizing it's only a matter of time before you vomit.
Entertainment One and MYA Communication bring you this '2 Discs [sic] Special Edition' of Kinski Paganini, with the 84-minute Theatrical Version, and Kinski's 98-minute Director's Cut. It's mostly the latter version with which we'll concern ourselves, the one that not only preserves all the sex and debauchery, but also the disorientation Kinski engineered. Actually, I quite like the notion of a Disorientation Engineer, it's as good a two-word description of an artist as any, and that's clearly what Kinski was going for here. Kinski, like Paganini was as obsessed with sex and intoxication as he was with his art, maybe more-so, which comes through clearly in Paganini.
Written, directed, and starred-in by Kinski, Paganini is filmed entirely with DP Pier Luigi Santi's natural lighting - often candlelight - and is filled with Paganini's glorious music. It's thoroughly evocative of a time, and the impassioned depravity of Paganini, endlessly swirling in a frenzied, dreamlike state. Paganini saws at his fiddle while dandied-up concertgoers bathed in Degas' glowing light get all hot and bothered. The ladies stick their hands underneath their finery and start going to town. Even horses get into the act, a sight that only further inflames one of Paganini's romantic conquests. There is sex and frolicking in sun-dappled fields, sex in the dark, and throughout, music, music, music.
Somewhere in there, I suppose, is a story about Paganini, his family, his philosophy, his approach to music, and his interest in society's ills. Or maybe not. Maybe it's just Kinski looking like a cross between Benicio Del Toro and Mr. Hyde, and making whoopee with his young wife of the time. For what it's worth, she's a hottie. Kinski Paganini is the film only Kinski could make, delirious, bloated with self-import, randy, irritating and with the ability to thoroughly transport you with its gorgeous, painterly flow. Full of beautiful music and Kinski's madness, Paganini is less a movie, and more a piece of performance art.
Both versions of Paganini come in a fullframe, 1.33:1 ratio, but there the similarity ends. While assembled from the 'best preserved original materials,' the director's cut is pretty abysmal. Even darker than necessary, the director's cut leaves much information in the shadows, there is oodles of film grain and print damage, and the image is as soft as a grotty old VHS copy you'd find in a coastal flea-market. The theatrical image is much better, it's a lighter print, mainly, while all other aspects are rather more acceptable too. The picture is intentionally soft and gauzy, but much clearer than on the director's cut, film grain is still evident, but details are more defined. Lastly, colors are gorgeous and natural.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo follows similar suit, with the director's cut featuring at times spectacularly muffled, incomprehensible dialog. The music still sounds pretty good, though. Things fare better on the Theatrical Cut, with clearer dialog and even better sounding music.
Of course the main extra here is the presence of the Director's Cut (or as Kinski liked to say, the 'version originale') on disc 2, but there is plenty of other stuff to occupy your befuddled mind. Disc One houses a chunky, 50-minute chunk of Backstage delivering behind-the-scenes goods, such as horrifying shots of all the denim Kinski wore when not in costume, and how he interacted with his crew. In a way, it's as interesting and impenetrable as the movie. (Presented in Italian, French, German and English, this extra, regrettably, lacks subtitles.) A five-minute Cannes Press Conference in French is also subtitle-free.
Disc Two contains 50 minutes of Deleted and Extended Scenes with music only. At least it's good music. In fact, the whole movie might have moved closer to what it wanted to be without any dialog anyway. There is also a Photo Gallery and the Original Trailer.
Movie Maniac Klaus Kinski certainly wasn't one to throw himself into anything lightly, or without total conviction, even if it made him somewhat difficult to work with. Written, directed, and starred in by Kinski, Paganini is the man's grand statement of himself, made just a few years before his death. (One wonders if he made as much trouble for himself as he did for other directors.) Not so much a movie with a plot or narrative arc, (other than title subject Nicolo Paganini's march toward mortality) Kinski Paganini is a dizzying mélange of rapturous, over-sexed imagery artfully lit and aggravatingly obtuse. Kinski fanatics and art-film freaks will dig this rarity, especially with the (unfortunately poor-quality) presence of Kinski's 98-minute cut, but I'm at a bit of a loss to give it some type of rating. So with one foot tentatively placed in each of the above camps, I tell you to Rent It first. You'll know then if it's something you'll want to watch again.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com