An unseen, female narrator describes the time she saw the famous, and indeed infamous, violinist Paganini (Klaus Kinski) perform and he seemed as if he was on his way to Hell or had just emerged from there as this crazed figure twisted his body onstage. He received a standing ovation even before he had played a note, such was the anticiptation, but when he commenced his performance the atmosphere was electrifying and many of the women present experienced a sexual charge at the incredible music washing over them. But Paganini's life was a troubled one, and in many ways he was his own worst enemy...
A biopic of Niccolo Paganini was a pet project of Klaus Kinski for a number of years, and it's sad that it turned out to be the final project he worked on. To call it self-indulgent would be to put it mildly, as apparently the director-writer-star felt there were great parallels in the lives of him and his subject, mainly it would appear in the prodigious amount of women they both bedded. Not only is this a tribute to a fine musician, it's also a self-aggrandising vanity work that presents Kinski on the level of a towering talent who was irresistable to the opposite sex.
Where it would be more accurate to say that the opposite sex were irresistable to him. There's an awful lot of Kinski showing off about his sexual conquests here, with the violinist a surrogate for him as he shags his way through a selection of attractive actresses, including his then-wife Deborah Caprioglio who plays the love of Paganini's life and mother of his son. With Kinski's actual son Nikolai cast in this role, there's a tendency for the film to resemble the filmmaker's home movies, with Kinski playing around with his offspring and leaving the big emotional scenes up to him, which to be fair the little guy manages to acquit himself in.
However, if there's anything that Kinski appears to be obsessed with here, over the sex and the art, it's horse drawn carriages. Yes, to evoke that sense of the nineteenth century not a minute goes by without another such vehicle crossing the screen, often in slow motion. Presumably this was considered the best way to achieve an authentic period quality, but if you care to play a drinking game with this film, then take a swig every time one of those coaches appears and you'll be well and truly off your face before the first half hour has passed.
But the star of the show is Kinski, and don't you forget it. He was notorious himself for going where the money was, and it's in his Werner Herzog films that his true talent blossomed, no matter how much suffering it put him through, but then again he turned down Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not because he didn't wish to work with Steven Spielberg but because he thought the script was "shitty", so instead he opted to act in the superbly scripted, erm, Venom. Here, however, you can believe he was throwing himself into this role, even if the end result is a rambling collection of sequences that are light on the anecdotes and heavy on the near-constant violin music and dubious lustful interludes. The film does produce a sense of Kinski the man, undisciplined as it is, and for that reason it's valuable for his fans; the ending with Paganini's death remains poignant for it would be last time we ever saw the actor on screen: he passed away two short years after its release.