Video Watchdog, # 2, 1995/96, David Del Valle

EVERY TIME I WATCH Udo Kier in ANDY WARHOLīS FRANKENSTEIN, I immediately visualize what Peter Lorre might have been like had he, and not Basil Rathbone, starred in Universalīs SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. Kier has some of Lorreīs humor and mannerisms, with a touch of Marlene Dietrich.
Despite the sometimes gruesome milieux of his films, Kierīs career has always centered on his own good looks. It was Robin Bean, then editor of FILMS AND FILMING, who photographed him endlessly in the late 1960s. His appearance on the cover of that magazine resulted in his first screen role in THE ROAD TO ST. TROPEZ, by first-time director (and FILMS AND FILMING CORRESPONDENT) Michael Sarne. 

It was a happy time for British cinema. The Swinging Sixties had already made stars of Terence Stamp, Alan Bates, Michael Caine and Oliver Reed. Udoīs natural affinity for the camera made him an international glamor boy, whose only serious rivals were Alain Delon and Helmut Berger. 

MARK OF THE DEVIL (directed by another FILMS AND FILMING alumnus, critic Michael Armstrong) brought Udo his first major international dramatic role. Cast in the role of Christian-the well-meaning apprentice of witchfinder Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom), who rebels against his mentor when he discovers that his motives are more rooted in his own impotence than righteousness-Udoīs sincere performance transcended the filmīs gore and awkward dubbing. Disagreements between Armstrong and the filmīs producer/co-star Adrian Hoven resulted in Hoven taking over the direction for much of the shooting. From thes dubuous beginnings, Udo was chosen by director Paul Morrissey to en 
portray the Baron in ANDY WARHOLīS FRANKENSTEIN (aka FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN) and, later, the Count in ANDY WARHOLīs DRACULA (aka BLOOD FOR DRACULA). It was in these Italian productions that Udo Kier achieved horror star status. Because he was so young at the time, the actor found the experience of making these 
films confusing and exhilarating at the same time. Already a cult figure, it would take the likes of Germanyīs enfant terrible Rainer Werner Fassbinder, to turn him into an actor. 

Although I also wrote for FILMS AND FILMING, I was not fated to meet Udo Kier until the middle of 1994. He immediately seemed like one of my oldest friends, and we were amazed by how many friends and acquaintances we had in common. We marvelled that our paths had never crossed before. Last year, in the wake of increasing appearances in such American productions as MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, ACE VENTURA:PET DETECTIVE and JOHNNY MNEMONIC, Udo decidet to establish a permanent residence in Los Angeles. Ironically, he lives across the street from actress Harriet White Medin (PAISAN, THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK ) who was herself the subject of an interview in VIDEO WATCHDOG # 22.

A close friend of Barbara Steele, Udo has recently attempted to create projects in which they could both appear. Barbara was to have played Udoīs wife in a German-financed film, THE CRACK, filmed in South Africa late last year. Ultimately, the Queen of Horror withdrew from the project and was replaced by (who else?).... Kitten Natividad! More recently, he was cast as the Puppet Master-opposite Martin Landauīs Gepetto-in Francis Ford Coppolaīs production of PINNOCCHIO. 

My personal experience with Udo includes a manic airline trip with Martine Beswicke and Mary Woronov to a horror convention in San Jose, California, exactly two days before he departed to South Africa for the aforementioned film. Thanks to an unexpected rainstorm, the convention was so illattended that there was little to do but gossip or adjourn to the bar. 
Udo is a remarkably calm, yet gregarious, person in the face of adversity. When he realized there were no crowds, he simply said, "Who cares-letīs go shopping!" And he went around the other dealersītables looking for material on himself and suitable objets dīart for the new home he is constantly furnishing. He has a great childlike sense of wonder which has miraculously survived the destructive atmosphere of the turbulent Sixties and the drug-in-duced paranoia of Fassbinderīs Germany. 
At this point in his career, Udo Kier is a highlypaid and much sought-after character actor who has run the gamut from the music videos of Madonna (he is featured in her "Deeper & Deeper" video, and pictured in her book SEX as well), to upstaging Jim Carrey (heīs been invited back for ACE VENTURA 2!), and doing voice-over work worthy of the great Peter Lorre. I would have expected nothing less of the man who told us, in 3-D, "To know life... you must fuck death in the gall bladder!"This conversation took place in my Beverly Hills apartment in September 1994. -DDV

I understand that your first film was THE ROAD TO SAN TROPEZ, directed by Michael Sarne?

Yes, it was a short film actually, that was later picked up by 20th Century-Fox. It was shot in the south of France, and was more or less a documentary of the area, combined with a story about a French woman vacationing in St. Tropez who picks up a gigolo, which I played. The woman was played by Melissa Stribling, the wife of Basil Dearden. She meets this boy, takes him home, and later when he goes to say goodbye to his girlfriend, she wakes up in bed and finds him gone and looks out the window-classical!-and sees him embracing this other girl, so she goes back to her British husband whoīs just reading a newspaper, and doesnīt even look up to say "Hello how are you?"
That was my first film. I was in England at the time, going to school and learning English. I was fascinated while making this film by the technique; when I came out of the water, I would look around for the camera, which was very far away. I didnīt know that they could zoom into my face. So thatīs why I had that interesting expression when I came out of the water-because I was searching for the camera!
Then I went to Germany and decided to become a full-time actor. I made my next film in Vienna playing the lead in the film about the Viennese underworld, called SCHAMLOS. And then I made my first horror movie called MARK OF THE DEVIL with Herbert Lom, Reginald Nalder, Olivera Vuco (who played a kind of gypsy; she was my partner, more or less) and a lot of other people from Europe, directed by Michael Armstrong. It became a real success, which ran for more than ten years, kind of a cult film. For the time it was done, it was a very strong film. 

What do you remember of the locations for MARK OF THE DEVIL? Those were old castles and the implements of torture were actually real, werenīt they?

Well, there was one castle called, as I recall, Malkenberg-in the middle of nowhere in Austria, because Austria is much bigger than people think. I mean, itīs Vienna, with all the castles around, and there is a lot land, very green. We had a great time. The torture instruments in the castle were not real, but they made it look like they were used for torture. It was very,very interesting film and I learned a lot from Mr. Lom. 

According to Michael Armstrong, the original script had a homosexual subtext in which Herbert Lomīs Lord Cumberland character was actually lusting after Christian, the part you played. The way Armstrong tells it, in the scene where Albino (Reggie Nalder) blackmails Lord Cumberland, he realizes that heīs been doing all this to get your attention or something. And then Adrian Hoven revised things to make Cumberlandīs impotence the motive behind his torturing of women.

Well, I donīt recall it at all like that. This was more likely Michaelīs idea after many years had passed by! (LAUGHS) I do recall very well that the film, as Michael wanted to shoot it, was more artistic. Artistic in a way that has actually been copied a lot afterwards. 

So you remember him as an innovator?

Yes, as kind of an innovator. 

And Adrian Hoven, the producer, wanted a more commercial film. 

Definitely. Like all producers, of course. 

And so Hoven wound up directing youīd say, over 60% of the finished film?

Oh, Iīd say half. Michael was still there, but at that point ist was my first commercial film. I didnīt have the pover to say, "Okay, make up your mind whoīs directing!" Michael also didnīt have the power to make demands. 

The movie, as it stands now, ends very abruptly. The film was supposed to have an extra scene at the end of the dead returning to life, as youīre hanging there and Olivera Vuco is crying over you. Armstrong shot that sequence?

Yeah, but they didnīt use it. You know, Michael wanted all of the graves to open up.He actually filmed it: people coming out of their graves, their hands grabbing people, which actually looked very good. I remember the day we were shooting this. But the German director (Hoven) was more interested in the sexual side of the story than the horror side, which actually was a pity. Because Michaelīs version would have also been good, and very different in a way, but they were not prepared for it. 

The movie enjoyed tremendous success in Europe, and when when it was released over here it was considered so violent that the distributor rated it "V for Violence." By todayīs standards, itīs still a strong picture, but there are worse pictures, from the standpoint of violence. 

Itīs wild, but also very naive. All of the torture scenes are very naive, unsophisticated. Itīs not like Coppolaīs high tech horror or like THE MASK where everythingīs interactive. 

Adrian Hoven also directed a swquel to MARK OF THE DEVIL in which you did not appear. 

He did another one which was based on... moral sex, I suppose (?-Ed.). And to be homest, I never even saw it. 

Where did your career take you after MARK OF THE DEVIL?

I did some German TV, and I wound up doing a film in Italy called LA STAGIONE DEI SENSI ("Season of the Senses") . Then I wound up meeting Paul Mirrissey on an airplane. He was on his way to Munich from Rome on a promotional tour for his film HEAT, with Joe Dallesandro and Sylvia Miles. We met on the airplane and we talked for quite awhile. I was talking about being an actor, and he wrote my telephone number on the back of his passport. I asked him his name, he said "Paul Morrissey," and then I knew who he was. 
Later, I was doing a German television play and I got a telegram. He said he was doing FRANKENSTEIN and that he wanted me to call him. So I called him and he said, "Well, I have a role for you." And I said, "What part am I going to play?" He said, "Frankenstein." They knew they were going to make FRANKENSTEIN and then DRACULA, but I was not supposed to play Dracula; it was going to be another actor. While we were shooting FRANKENSTEIN in Rome, in the middle of production, everybody-all the technicians-came to me and said,"Why donīt you play Dracula?" And I said, "Well, Iīm very grateful that Paul cast me for one, so Iīm not going over the top now and say I also want to play the second one."
Carlo Ponti was producing. Morrissey had told him he could make a film for $350,000 in 3-D, and Ponti said, "Ikay, Iīll give you $700,000. Make were all the same. Only the actors changed. We were working up till the end with very high concentration because all of the dialogue in FRANKENSTEIN was improvised. I had never done improvised films, especially not in English. So we were not allowed to drink and we had to live very calmly in a villa on the Via Appia Antica. 
On the last day of shooting FRANKENSTEIN, I was very exhausted and we all went together to the local cantina and I ordered some wine. And Paul Morrissey came in and said, "Well, I guess I have a German Dracula." I said, "Who?" He said, "You.... but I want you to lose 10 kilos."
Well, there was only one week before we started shooting, so I really did starve myself. I did not eat. I had salad or steak sometimes and thatīs why really couldnīt stand up anymore. I was really weak-which I liked. 

You looked great! As you know, the Italian versions of both films were credited not to Paul Morrissey, but to Italian director Antonio Margheriti. What exactly was his involvement?

He had no involvement at all. The thing is, at that time, it was an Italian film and there were almost no Italian actors in it; the main actors were American, German, French and Yugoslav. Thatīs why they had two directors. In Italy, it was credited to Antonio Margheriti. I met him, but he didnīt diect me because I would not have loved to be directed by two people. 

Not a second time!

It would have been confusing. 

You know Margheriti has achieved a certain popularty in horror films. He directed Barbara Steele. 

I know he did a lot of films, but at that time the director was Paul Morrissey. Morrissey directed the film from the beginning to the end. Margheriti was on the set, he came to the studio from time to time, but he never directed the actors. Never!

Was it difficult to act in a 3-D movie like FRANKENSTEIN?

It was very difficult for the actors because, besides your acting and your part, you have to learn how to act spatially to create the effect of three dimensions. For example, at the end when I have the stake through my body, with the liver hanging there, I had to act my scene but, at the same time, I had to be careful not to lose one of the windows-the image screen on the camera-because we would then lose the 3-D effect immediately. So we had to work with technique, which still fascinates me, even to this day. So it was okay.

Did Andy Warhol ever come on the set?

Yeah, for publicity. Andy came and we had pictures taken for VOGUE, with Archibald-the doctor of his dog-on my arm. We also did a lot of newspaper publicity when Andy came. 

But his involvement on the film was limited to publicity?

And giving it his name. He also came to visit us. We were all staying at this veautiful villa in the Via Appia Antica. The process was also in a way already winding down, because Polanski was preparing a 3-D film for Carlo Ponti, so our work was almost done. 

Is that why Polanski was in DRACUlA?


That was a very clever cameo that de did. 

Polanski agreed to appear in a cameo because I went away. I had promised a friend of mine, a German director, that I would appear in his film. And I kept my promise. So I went away, for one day, and they didnīt know what to shoot without me. Thatīs why they shot the scene with my assistant (Arno Juerging) and Polanski. It was not only Polanski in that scene, but also Gerard Brach (Polanskiīs screenwriter), the producer (Andrew Braunsberg) and writer, and all of Polanskiīs friends. It wa a very important day, actually. I went to Austria, played a poet in my friendīs film, and came back to shoot. 

Do you remember those locations on the DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN pictures?

Both of them. 

Were those famous villas?

Well, FRANKENSTEIN was more or less all done at Cinecittá, in the studio. DRACULA was done in an actual castle in Frascati, where the famous wine comes from. And it was fabulous because this castle actually had its own story. The owner of the castler was in a madhouse, and his family was renting it out to film crews to make money so they could pay his hospital bills. It was very funny; at one point, ther were two different film crews working in the same building. Once I went out of a room through a door, dressed as Dracula, and I came out through a secret door, and found myself in the middle of another set, witz the cameras running! So I ran in, said "Im sorry," and I got out! Unfortunately, they were not clever enough to keep my little cameo in their film! (lauchs)

Thatīs sounds great!

It was. This door opens and Dracula comes out, looks around, and says "These are not the people I know!" (laughs)

So those two Morrissey films were fun to do?

Yeah! But all my films are fun to do. The more films I make, the more fun it becomes!

By the time you did these two pictures you really were hooked on being an actor. You really enjoyed it.

Yeah, of course, but I was hooked from the beginning. Ever since MARK OF THE DEVIL, almost thirty years ago, Iīve never ever had to do any other job. I could always live off this work all my life, which is ikay. Now it seems much easier to get work because I have so much work behind me. 

Around this time you appeared in Just Jaeckinīs film of THE STORY OF O. What do you remember of that assignment?

I was in Paris for the opening of FRANKENSTEIN, and I was staying with Polanski and the others at the beautiful Plaza Hotel. That night I went out witz Polanski to a nightblub and some people came up and said, "Were preparing to shoot THE STORY OF O and we would like to offer you a role." I tld them, "Iīm not doing any porno films, and thatīs no joke." Polanski and Morrissey told me, "Youīre crazy to turn it down; youīll get so much publicity for doing such a film." So, for a lot of noney, I agreed to do the movie. I had a contract prepared that said I would not have to do this and this and this and this-you know, no frontal 
nudity and so on-and it became by far the most successful film that I ever did. Looking back, I regret that I wasnīt demanding more or being stronger, because I left myself completely in the hands of the director. i think I could have done much, much better on my own, or maybe with another director. Jackin came from a background of fashion photography - he was quite brilliant at it - but when you see me on the screen for the first time, he was using a star filter so there are litrally stars in my eys - popping off the screen! But I suppose that the success of this film shows that he was right. A director like Fassbinder, of course, would have never cast me in such a part; they would have found someone much more masculine than me. 

Did you feel a little bit like Dorian Gray when pou first saw your image on film?

Yeah. Of course, I was very photogenic, but they put a lot of makeup on my face which today, with my experience, I would refuse - if I were young again - because it was too much. I learned a lot about how to use makeup when I started working with Fassbinder. I was an old friend of Fassbinder's most of the stories in this book youīve shown me by Mr. Katz are lies. Most of it is a lie. 

How did you meet Rainer Werner Fassbinder?

I met him in kind of a working class bar in Cologne around Bonn. He wasnīt born in Cologne, he was born in Munich, but he was at school in Cologne and he stayed with his aunt. We met at this bar and his name was Rainer and my name was Udo, and he was 16 or 17 and I was 17 or 18; I donīt recall exactly how old we were. And we used to go out and have fun together, meeting on weekends and going out to bars, going to discos, all of the things you do when you are young. And then later, when I was in England going to school, I openend up a copy of DER STERN and I saw an article called "Genius and Alcoholism" and I thought to myself, "I know him as Rainer; I didnīt know the name Fassbinder.