Purple Television

[April 12 2020] : film

Purple Paradiso: “Jesus Christ Savior” by Klaus Kinski, Berlin 1971, Your Movie Of The Day Curated And Reviewed By Savannah Nolan and Olivier Zahm

Purple Paradiso: “Jesus Christ Savior” by Klaus Kinski, Berlin 1971, Your Movie Of The Day Curated And Reviewed By Savannah Nolan and Olivier Zahm

Jesus Christ Savior — written and performed by Klaus Kinski, and filmed by Peter Geyer [RMM1] — is a long-lost film record of a 1971 theatrical performance about Jesus Christ that turned into a confrontation between Kinski and the audience. It proved to be a test for the intense, charismatic, and infamous German actor, renowned as much for his temper as for his talent. A spectacular re-interpretation of the original message of Jesus Christ, this performance and monologue can be seen as the top of his acting talent (he described it as “self-destruction”) and an apology of radical art.

Klaus Kinski, dressed as a rock star with long hair and hippie clothing, incarnates a modern Jesus Christ, describing who he was and the nature of his true anarchist message of love before being arrested and killed. Agitators in the theater’s audience continuously interrupt, provoke, and insult Kinski. They even come on stage and challenge Kinski mid-performance. Kinski storms off in a rage and leaves the stage multiple times, only to return. After numerous violent interruptions, the performance dissolves into chaos, and the police arrive and stop the event. Late into the night, Kinski decides to continue the play, on the side of the stage, for a small group.

The provocation and fight with the audience reveal the hot-tempered side of Kinski, plagued by his demons. They also contradict Jesus’s message of love, but only on a very superficial level; they makes Jesus much more interesting, revealing a never-before-seen violent Christ: raging, rebelling, and frightening his followers more than beguiling them. The conflictual situation, typical of the free-speech ’70s art scene, transforms the simple recording of a theater play into a true action movie directed by Geyer — Kinski versus the public, Jesus Christ versus the people who misunderstand his message of love — revealing the inner violence but also the true genius of Kinski’s acting. Peter Geyer has been the executor of Kinski’s estate and has written a biography of the actor.

In addition to Kinski’s extraordinary acting performance, the text he wrote is a spectacular portrait of Jesus Christ in the context of the civil rights movement in America, the protest against the Vietnam War, and the hippie ideology of freedom and love. In a way, the text criticizes the naivety of the liberation movements of the time. Kinski reinterprets and expresses Jesus Christ’s original message before religion, tradition, and Christian history reformulated and instrumentalized it. Moreover, he presents the true message of Jesus Christ as a message from one person to another: a message of love and freedom, rejecting any church, ideology, institutionalized religion, or political activism. He returns to the original message of Jesus Christ — the first human challenging, alone, all gods and religions, and even doubting before his death the existence of God. Kinski delivers his own message of rebellion and revolution against any form of power, manipulation, and control. He presents Jesus Christ as a rebel who rejects all forms of institutionalized religion (priests, politicians, lawyers). His message of love has no religion, no ritual, no obedience, no guarantee, and no security. A pure act of faith in mankind, it requires us to accept everyone without judgement, and to get rid of money and belongings in order to be free to walk through the world and life as we are. Just be yourself and give love — an idea of pure utopia that resonates in the ’70s with the hippie, anti-capitalistic, and anti-war movements. In a sense, Jesus Christ is the original hippie — the only one, as Kinski radicalizes this quest for freedom and humanity. It is a message of ultimate freedom. Get rid of everything. Be free. Just be human. Be yourself and accept everyone. Klaus Kinski still believed at that time that Jesus was misunderstood. The message is more philosophical than religious. A heretical message: we are just humans, singular people, alone and confronted with the violence of the world. Everyone has the possibility to be good, and to refuse the order and corruption of the world. So, we have to stay on the side of the people rejected by society. It’s the only way to stay pure and free.

Besides the message of love, the subtext is also a political message addressed by Kinski to the Marxist-inspired activism of the ’70s. Kinski uses the figure of Jesus Christ, who stands up for those rejected by society and morally condemned (prisoners, criminals, prostitutes, gypsies, etc.), as an extreme anarchist statement. This radical attitude contradicts the naivety and illusions of the ’70s hippie culture, which Kinski seems to despise in the way he treats the audience members who provoke him. In that sense, Jesus Christ according to Klaus Kinski is not a superstar, but an artist: someone whose effort to connect to other people through a radical opposition to the world is each time unique and suffers no compromise, no illusion, and no corruption.

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