Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wanted: Jesus Christ, for Anarchist Tendencies...

Those are the opening words to Klaus Kinski's performance on November 20, 1971 in Berlin. Kinski was the sole performer in a spoken word performance called Jesus Christus Erlöser or translated, Jesus Christ Saviour which is the topic of Klaus Kinski: Jesus Christ the Savior which I saw on a Sunday afternoon at the YBCA.

Klaus Kinski: Jesus Christ the Savior starring Klaus Kinski; documentary; German with subtitles; (1971/restored 2008)

I have memorized the opening words to the performance because Kinski repeated them four or five times. The lines were repeated because the audience kept interrupting Kinski. For reasons that are largely lost on on me, Kinski began the performance with an antagonistic relationship with several members of the audience. He was heckled and on two occasions, an audience member stepped up on stage to confront Kinski on one topic or another. Each time Kinski's concentration was sufficiently lost such that he would storm off stage...only to reappear later to restart his performance. Seeming to draw strength from his frustrations, some in the audience would continuously deride Kinski during his performance.

The interruptions happened so often that it became a punch line when Kinski would intone "Wanted: Jesus Christ, for anarchist tendencies..." (in German of course).

The cultural differences between 1971 Germany and 2011 United States are considerable and many references were lost on me as a result. One person yelled that Kinski had made millions from his films which implied people were resentful of his success. From the perspective of 2011, Klaus Kinski performing Jesus Christ Savior seems outlandish. It would be like Charlie Sheen performing Buddha: A Moral Life.

It is clear that Kinski had less patience than Jesus is purported to have. Although he attempted to turn the other cheek to his hecklers, Kinski would seethe until he couldn't continue his performance. Even after the performance was cancelled and the stage was being dismantled, Kinski appeared for a few hundred fans to attempt his soliloquy. At this point, just the murmurs of the audience was enough to throw Kinski off his game.

His full performance was never captured on camera and the handbills indicated it was only a one-night gig. The audience is left to believe that Kinski never performed his anti-war manifesto. Although the portion that was captured seemed pretentious (Kinski was able to get 15 to 20 minutes into his performance), it was still interesting enough for me to wonder how Kinski was going to use Christ to validate his anti-Vietnam War opinions.

I didn't think Kinski came off so bad. Compared to today, security was extremely lax at his performance which was held before approximately 5,000 people. I mentioned the two audience members that came up on stage (Kinski did "invite" of them up to the stage). I can't see that happening today. Although Kinski did ultimately reacts to the provocations, he let most shouted comments go unanswered. I thought it was a few in the audience who instigated the contretemp. Today, I think other audience members would complain about the behavior of people disrupting the performance.

Speaking of the audience, the YBCA screening must have 90% full for the performance which was amazing to me. I doubted that the average patron would know who Kinski was much less attend a film documenting a failed performance by him 40 years ago.

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