Cast & Crew
A fearsome 19th century bandit cuts a swath through Brazil until he's exiled to Africa to reopen the slave trade. In the process, he exploits tribal conflicts to commandeer an abandoned fortress and whip an army of thousands of naked Amazon warriors into a frenzied bloodlust.
Nana Fedu Abodo
A Kwesi Compson
Maria Elvira Vignes
Maria Xilena Mantilla
Francis Annan Jr.
Jacqueline Lemaitre Basile
Friedrich M Dosch
Haymo H Heyder
Fernando Umana Pavolini
Based on the Bruce Chatwin novel The Viceroy of Ouidah, Cobra Verde is the story of a fierce nineteenth-century Brazilian bandit, known as "Cobra Verde" (green snake), who is punished by being sent to Africa to re-establish the slave trade. Against terrible odds, he succeeds, but encounters even greater challenges. Although the character is based on a real person, both the novel and the film are fictionalized. In an article he wrote about the making of the film, Chatwin says that he got the idea for the book when he visited the African country of Dahomey (later Benin) in 1971 and toured the plantation that was the home of the real-life bandit turned slave trader. Chatwin claimed that as he was writing the book he was inspired by the films of Werner Herzog, and recalled thinking that if his novel was ever adapted into a film, he would like Herzog to make it. So when an agent expressed interest in buying the rights to the novel, Chatwin refused and called Herzog, offering him the rights instead.
Cobra Verde was shot in Africa and South America. During the film's production, Chatwin visited the location in Ghana, and was impressed with what Herzog was doing. The king of Dahomey was played by a real king, and the director had built the king's mud and brick palace. "Other movie directors, faced with the problem of re-creating a 19th century African court, would have put it in the hands of the set and costume designers and ended up with a fake," Chatwin wrote. "Werner, hiring a real court and not hanging a thing except the odd Taiwanese watch, more than makes up for lack of historical accuracy by establishing an authenticity of tone."
Chatwin's rollicking account describes the shooting of one of the film's key scenes, a revolt of the Amazons. It included 800 nearly nude women warriors-- "nice girls from Accra, with names like Eunice, Beatrice, Patience, Primrose, Maud and Rhoda," Chatwin wrote. "They behaved very badly. They outraged villagers by singing songs of fantastic obscenity. They went on strike for more money and nearly staged a riot."
But with the unpredictable Kinski, the mood on the set was not always so jolly. According to Chatwin, "One of Kinski's quirks is that he insists on demonstrating how each shot should be framed. This caused a dreadful scene with the original cameraman, who left in a huff." That was Herzog's longtime cinematographer, Thomas Mauch, who was also upset by the constant arguments between Kinski and Herzog. His replacement was Czech cinematographer Viktor Ruzicka, whom Chatwin called "An imperturbably cheerful man, he knows precisely how to handle the star, when to be indulgent and when to be firm." But all of Ruzicka's good cheer couldn't mitigate the antagonism between director and star, and according to Herzog, Kinski "went bonkers" at one point and began hitting him with a rock. By the end of production, Herzog and Kinski were not speaking to one other, and the director vowed he would never work with Kinski again. And he never did.
The film's problems continued after production wrapped. The U.S. distributor declared bankruptcy before Cobra Verde could be released, and the film was not seen in America until 2007, twenty years after it was made. A. O. Scott's review in The New York Times acknowledged the film's problems, but praised its strengths: "Watching Cobra Verde you feel at times that Mr. Herzog, like a figure out of Joseph Conrad, is in danger of losing his way, or even his mind. His eye, however, never deserts him, and the final third of this film contains sequences of horrifying sublimity and ethereal beauty, moments that have a clarity and power beyond the reach of reason."
As for Kinski, much has been written about his manic intensity. Perhaps David Thomson explains it best. "Few actors trying to be great would deny their secret knowledge that the art, the profession, whatever, is deranging. Kinski's originality was in living that secret to the full." Kinski died in 1991 at the age of 65. Eight years later, Herzog made a documentary, My Best Fiend, about his relationship with the star, which the director denied was antagonistic. "People think we had a love-hate relationship. Well, I did not love him, nor did I hate him. We had mutual respect for each other, even as we both planned each other's murder."
Director: Werner Herzog
Producer: Lucki Stipetic
Screenplay: Werner Herzog, based on the novel The Viceroy of India by Bruce Chatwin
Cinematography: Viktor Ruzicka
Editor: Maximiliane Mainka
Costume Design: Gisela Storch
Production Design: Fabrizio Carola, Ulrich Bergfelder
Music: Popol Vuh
Principal Cast: Klaus Kinski (Francisco Manoel Da Silva/Cobra Verde), King Ampaw (Taparica), Jose Lewgoy (Don Octavio Coutinho), Salvatore Basile (Captain Fraternidade), Peter Berling (Bernabe), Guillermo Coronel (Euclides)
by Margarita Landazuri
Released in United States January 1988
Released in United States Spring March 23, 2007
Shown at International Film Festival of India in New Delhi January 1988.
Based on the novel "The Viceroy of Ouidah" written by Bruce Chatwin; published by Summit Books December 1980.
Began shooting February 16, 1987.
Completed shooting April 1987.
Thomas Mauch was replaced as director of photography five days into shooting by Viktor Ruzicka after disagreements with Klaus Kinski.
Released in United States January 1988 (Shown at International Film Festival of India in New Delhi January 1988.)
Released in United States Spring March 23, 2007