Of all the new German directors of the 1970s, none had Wim Wenders's rhapsodic sense of America.
He was brought up on American Forces radio and the glut of Hollywood movies that occupied Germany after the war. The influence on the first is on nearly all his soundtracks, and in the tough urban blues that challenges fate. The second tradition rose to a peak witht he affectionate use of Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller in The American Friend, that seminal film for determined outcasts that might just as well have for its title Ray's own tattered motto, "I'm a stranger here, myself."
Wenders studied medicine, philisophy, and painting, and it was while he was taking etching classes in Paris in 1965-66 that he discovered the Cinematheque. He went back to Germany, to film early shorts in Munich, and to work as a film critic. His early shorts were often built around pop music, and Summer in the City is a three-hour love letter to the Kins.
Goalie's Anxiety got made because of the novel and script by Peter Handke. But it had an extraordinary visual capacity for revealing the alienation of the beaten goalie, and the violence that awaits him. Filmed in Robbie Muller's somber color, and filled with the realities of Vienna, it is still indebted to the dead ends of film noir. Alice in the Cities is a journey film for a lost child and a photographe bruised after an Amercan assignment. It is fragmentary, meandering, and proof of Wenders's eye and ear for inconsequential scenes that build into a subtle mood. A little reminiscent of Truffaut, its mixture of humor and sadness manages to move from everyday reality to a grand, poetic allusion to John Ford.
Wrong Movement was another Handke script, based on Goethe's Wilhelm Meister. It is a journey again, in which physical enquiry resembles the movements of the mind and feelings. That method had its richest expression in Kings of the Road, a three-hour study of two men who are on the road, servicing the projectors in failing movie theatres. It is full of film references and the situation of a Hawksian bond tested against the newer threats of tedium and cultural deterioration in which Germany has become a satellite of Americana. The pace is leisurely, and the action is not emphatic, but Kings of the Road is one of the best films of the seventies. It seemed to predict Wender's future: an increasingly existential concern underlying the unforced dealings between lonely people.
That certainly describes American Friend, the most vivid film Wenders had yet made, but as self-contained as a dream. The use of Highsmith/Hitchcock motifs, the antagonistic casting of Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper, the rogues' gallery of movie directors in small parts, the variety of bloody sunset reds, and the jaunty pleasure with set-piece murders shot through with New Wave spontaneity, all made for a film of high enjoyment. Still, the view of women was hostile, the comradeship went into an obscure spiral at the end and the entire picture relied on a piece of implausible motivation that Wenders was not good enough to hide.
Wenders is forever a wanderer, and seemingly set upon his own furious ups and downs. Lightning Over Water is a difficult film for anyone who loved Nicholas Ray (as director or man), for it seems exploitative of his illness and his desperate urge to make the film. The State of Things seemed to me naive and pretentious, rather like a Kafka view of the world in which the Law has been replaced with the Movie Business. Hammett was a disastrous foray to the real America, long premeditated, supposedly a gift from Zoetrope, yet a clear proof of limits in Wenders. Yet Paris, Texas is the real thing: a gentle, slow unpeeling of the family onion, sublime in its use of desert, city, soundtrack, Harry Dean Stanton, and Nastassja Kinski, and one of the fondest and most ambivalent films about America that a European has ever made. There are many people who esteem Wings of Desire as much as I like Paris, Texas - I will not argue, I walked out. But I would defend the position that Until the End of the World is as awful a film as a good director has made.
Wenders remains romantically itinerant, in love with music, America, and the idea of the movies. But he is closing in on sixty, and nothing lately has been as big or as cogent as one would like to see. Not that one isn't appreciative: it was Wender's tact and assistance that helped Antonioni to make another film - far from worthless and altogether cleaner than the earlier hero-worship of Nick Ray; Buena Vista Social Club is a delight - if a little monotonous. On the other hand, The End of Violence is pretentious and silly, and no feature film has really reminded us of the younger Wenders. In America is a project involving Sam Shepard, and one can only say that they both need the best in each other.
Wim Wenders Movie Memorabilia