Casting Kurtz

Note: essential that you, individually, move through and beyond these direct and indirect 'castings' of Mr. Kurtz – particularly Kinski and Brando. The idea here is to make plain a method one might apply, in order to see and hear him.

Leonardo da Vinci: Study of the effect of light on a profile head (c. 1487–1490).

Charles Manson. "From the beginning of his notoriety, a pop culture arose around him in which he ultimately became an emblem of insanity, violence and the macabre" (via).

Pablo Picasso: Self portrait (1972).

Footage of Klaus Kinski, during filming of Werner Herzog's "Nosferatu the Vampyre" (1979), a melancholic, lyrical homage to the magnificent "Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens" (1922), directed by F.W.Murnau.

In both versions, a kind of infamy has grown around the relationship between director and lead actor – where the actor and the part also merge. In the case of Murnau's original, Max Shreck is so synonymous with his portrayal of the verminous Count Orlock, that the recent film "Shadow of the Vampire" (2000) suggests — with unsettling humour — that the actor was (indeed) Undead.

Herzog and Kinski's volatile collaboration led to five seminal films, all of which cast Kinski somehow within a Kurtz-like hegemony. Herzog's documentary "My Best Fiend" (1999) is the definitive account. 

Portrait bust of a man, 1st century B.C.; Republican Roman – from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. "Prestige came as a result of age, experience, and competition among equals within the established political system. These are the values expressed in portraits of grim-faced, middle-aged men, such as the one featured here."

Eduardo Paolozzi: "Kardinal Syn" (1984) (via Tate).

Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz, in Francis Ford Copolla's "Apocalypse Now" (1979). Here, reading from T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" (1925). The poem begins with an epigram, quoting "Heart of Darkness". Later, it references Dante Alighieri's "Inferno" from "The Divine Comedy" (c. 1308–1321), as does Conrad throughout the novella.

"The Hollow Men" resonates with "Heart of Darkness" throughout. For example:

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand

Under the twinkle of a fading star.
Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

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