Wim Wenders continued
1. Eolomea (Hermann Zschoche, 1972) EAST GERMANY
2. Im Staub der Sterne / In the Dust of the Stars (Gottfried Kolditz, 1976) EAST GERMANY
3. Operation Ganymed (Rainer Erler, 1977) WEST GERMANY
4. Traumstadt / Dream City (Johannes Schaaf, 1973) WEST GERMANY
5. Das Millionenspiel / The Millions Game (Tom Toelle, 1970) WEST GERMANY
6. Apachen (Gottfried Kolditz, 1973) EAST GERMANY/Romania/Soviet Union
Wim Wenders, music- and film-crazed poet of existential wanderings
7. Summer in the City (1971) (re-watch) WEST GERMANY
8. Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter / The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972) (re-watch) WEST GERMANY
9. Die scharlachrote Buchstabe / The Scarlet Letter
(1973) WEST GERMANY
Apparently a somewhat unorthodox and loose adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's mid-19th-century novel, which I've never read; in fact I think this is the first adaptation I've seen of it as well - dunno how I managed to do an English major in college, and actually like a lot of Hawthorne's short stories and films made from them, and yet be so ignorant of his most famous work. Anyway, while the setting and timeframe - Puritan New England ca 1645 - are the same, and the basic background - adultress Hester Prynne (Senta Berger, in the first performance I believe I've seen that isn't mostly decorative) is forced to wear the scarlet letter as a sign of her "crime" and because she won't reveal the male party, while scraping a living for herself and her daughter Pearl (Yella Rottländer, who is excellent), until a figure from her past returns and upsets the whole town - is also straight from the book, the development of the action goes on somewhat different lines with a different resolution. This isn't that well-regarded apparently, and the director wasn't that happy with it, but I think time has been fairly kind to it; even if the films seems a bit short and edited a little oddly, and there are other things that don't work perfectly (very strange Jürgen Knieper music for example which sounds more like instrumental soft-rock than anything else and really clashes with the dark scenario at times), there's excellent location work on the rocky Spanish coast, luminous color cinematography that certainly helps prove that Robby Müller wasn't just a b/w artist, and most of the performances, particularly Berger, Rottländer and Hans Christian Blech as the town's new doctor - and link to Hester's past. Not one of the director's best but not something to dismiss out of hand either.
10. Alice in die Städten / Alice in the Cities
(1974) (re-watch?) WEST GERMANY
Had little memory of this, except possibly bits of the very beginning, and a single shot of Rudiger Vogler standing against a VW in the second half. So maybe I never saw it, and instead indeed saw Summer in the City
, and have mixed them up in my head for years? Dunno. In any case, in memory this was lesser Wenders, and at the time I saw it - if I did - back in the late 80s, I don't think it had quite the reputation of his next film, at least I don't remember such. Well you can't trust memory. As it turns out this is about as great as a "road movie" can be, and it's one of the best films about an adult-child relationship - albeit an unusual, temporary one, forced by circumstance - that I can remember. Philip Winter (Vogler) is a writer in the USA, exploring the East Coast for a German news magazine, who unfortunately has been unable to make himself write and has instead just taken hundreds of polaroids. Confronted with his failure to deliver an article, he's more or less fired by his New York editor and decides to return to Munich, but not before he makes travelling companions of young mother Lisa (Lisa Kreuzer) and her daughter Alice (Yella Rottländer). Unfortunately Kreuzer ditches them, apparently to hook up with a recent ex-boyfriend again, and Philip is - or feels like he is - forced into taking care of Alice, who is around nine, quite precocious but not necessarily all that emotionally mature, and prone to occasional devious acts to get Philip to do what she wants (stop for food and drink when she wants him to, go far out of his way more than once claiming she knows where she's going when it's fairly clear she doesn't, etc). So after landing in Amsterdam, they begin a several day journey through much of West Germany in search of her grandmother - whose full name and hometown she doesn't know - while Philip not only gets more exasperated with the girl and his situation in helping her, but also in the direction his own life is going in, and why he wants to writer, what he wants to write, and perhaps (never stated explicitly but fairly obvious I think) why he went to America to pen a travelogue. This is just beautifully done from start to finish, and Robby Müller's images I don't think ever meshed so perfectly with Wenders' storytelling. There's a moment where a fresh polaroid dissolves into Alice's face, and there's the long ending shot with an unanswered question that are among the most striking images I've seen lately - and that I think will stay with me for a long time. Just great performances from the two leads, and it's obvious why Vogler became the director's stand-in for several films, and the music - by Can - is memorable, haunting, and minimal.
(I skipped Falsche Bewegung/ Wrong Move
because I re-watched that just a couple of years ago)
11. Im Lauf der Zeit / Kings of the Road
(1975) (re-watch) WEST GERMANY
This I remembered much better - at least the tone, the ambiance, certainly little scenes - the opening, which sort of lays out the whole "end of cinema, end of a way of life, end of the road" theme quite deliberately, the car crashing into the water, the male nudity (might have been the first I saw in a mainstream film), a few other moments. I suppose it's a summation of the director's themes and strategies up to this point - a fascination with dying small towns and the people who live in them, and an ode to older cinematic forms and the revival houses which would soon (good bit of prophecy here) give way to video. This was the favorite Wenders film of the guy who introduced me to him - probably still is - but I liked his Berlin angelic fantasy more when I saw it, at probably about the same time, and still do. It's not that there's anything I dislike about it in particular, it's just that I suppose the rambling nature of the thing doesn't quite feel as compelling after 3 hours. But the way in which our protaganists (Rüdiger Vogler and Hanns Zischler) meet, become friends, fight occasionally, and ultimately part is as eloquently and sensibly told as the relationship in the previous film, and there's a feeling in this and many of Wenders' films of both a sadness and resignation at the changing and vanishing world - and a sort of subtle determination not to allow it to change us, and right now that's really appealing. Probably overall the funniest of Wenders' 70s films, though there's a scene at about the halfway point when our protagonists meet a sad and angry fellow in a field of grain elevators that shows a darker and more tragic side than we see in most of the other films too.
12. Der amerikanische Freund / The American Friend
(1977) (re-watch) WEST GERMANY
Another film also seen once probably 30 years or so ago. As much as I liked all the previous films, it's nice to have a change in cast - here we meet Dennis Hopper as an American art "dealer" of a sort, in West Germany to sell the newest painting of Derwatt (Nic Ray), a supposedly dead artist (yes - this happens right away, no real spoiler) who ends up in a complex little plot with Bruno Ganz, a picture framer living in Hamburg with his wife (Lisa Kreuzer, who in case you haven't guessed by now if you're reading my comments was married to Wenders for a while) who may or may not be dying of a rare blood disease. From there we find a gangster (Gérard Blain) who somehow knows of Ganz' health concerns, and offers him a chance to help out his family by dealing with some unwanted associates - Ganz may also have been a hitman in former times. There are a lot of little mysteries going on here, many of which don't get solved, and while the film does convey a certain noirish unease at times, it's never much of a thriller - this just isn't Wenders' forte - and ends up mostly about the relationship of Ganz and Hopper, which is a bit cryptic at times but ultimately what really succeeds in the film. Hopper is "Tom Ripley" and this is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley's Game
; no idea how faithful it is. Yet another really terrific DP job by Müller (color this time) and another rather unusual Knieper score, and a fun little bit part by another great gritty old-time American director, Sam Fuller, who has one of the better death scenes, falling down a long flight of stairs after being shot
, that I've seen.
13. Chambre 666 / Room 666
(1982) France/ WEST GERMANY
45 minute essay film done at Cannes for TV, in which Wenders interviews 15 directors about the state of cinema and it's relationship to TV and emerging video technologies. Godard is mostly pessimistic and lamenting - including lamenting that his chair isn't positioned properly to watch the tennis match on TV; Spielberg mostly talks about the costs of big-budget Hollywood; Antionioni is the most perceptive about the oncoming video/computer revolution; Werner Herzog first has to take off his shoes and be comfortable. This is more enjoyable as a time capsule, and in particular to watch dead or obscure directors (i.e. Maroun Bagdadi, Ana Carolina) than anything else - apart from Antonioni I don't know that anybody has anything really brilliant to say, and of course almost 40 years on nobody was entirely right about the future.
14. Der Himmmel über Berlin / Wings of Desire
(1988) (re-watch) WEST GERMANY
Probably 6th or 7th viewing; I think this might be my most-viewed film that's (primarily) not in English; Take Care of My Cat
are probably the only competitors. I saw it 3 or 4 times in the cinema, though not all "first-run" - I don't think it played that long initially in Chicago, but it was brought back a few times for double features at the Music Box theater while that place of wonder was still a revival house. I have a distinct memory of seeing it doubled up with Days of Heaven
- now that was something. I didn't think this was quite a "masterpiece" when I first saw it, though I did like it a lot; it probably wasn't until years later and my first viewing on video actually that it put me completely under it's spell, and now watching it on BD on a bigger screen than I had a decade ago I'm just as enthralled by the images and the poetry, though I do still find a few small annoyances - that last bit of dialogue from Solveig Dommartin still strikes me as a bit pretentious and unnecessary - we already understand the relationship between the film's angels and it's sad humans well enough, and we've already achieved a poetic understanding of a still partly-ruined, halved city, wars, and how a mordant angel (Bruno Ganz in his best role) can still find joy and optimism when contemplating the everyday life of a man. His statement "I want to know!" as he is separated from a former angel (Peter Falk as himself) just hits me in a special place.
This has something of the feel of the earlier films for sure, and some of the director's collaborators - Ganz and composer Jürgen Knieper in particular - are back, but it's also certainly different in a way, more constrained in setting but more open and wide-ranging in it's vision, and Henri Alekan's extraordinary images in both b/w and color (the early shots at the circus looking so much like late 50s Technicolor that they make me cry), and the ruminations over the ruined parts of the city and the angels among them seem to come from more literary than musical or filmic antecedents, at least to my way of feeling them. Like the road movies that came before it, this has an eye for small human details, architecture, and the rhythm of the world, though it takes place all in just one city - a road movie without a road as it were, and still the director's best film and one I'm sure I'll keep returning to, especially when the world is getting me down.
15. In weiter Ferne, so nah! / Faraway, So Close!
I never saw this when it came out because I wasn't a fan of the previous Bis ans Ende der Welt
, and I heard from more than one person who also was disappointed in that film that this one was even worse. And it probably only played for a week, and I'm sure I had plenty of other films to see at the time. In any case, I've avoided it all these years, until now and, not surprisingly, it's not nearly as bad as I expected or feared. It certainly seems unnecessary in many respects but at the same time Wenders has said that he wanted to do the sequel to show a re-united Berlin, so it's an understandable effort, and for the first half or more, it's pretty damn good. Now that Damiel (Bruno Ganz) has been on Earth among the mortals for some years, his friend Cassiel (Otto Sander) is feeling.. perhaps not lonely, but a little more involved in these lives, and when a fatal mishap is about to occur, he makes a split-second decision that costs him his wings and armor, but brings him down to Damiel's world. This does show a somewhat changed Berlin, perhaps a more lively and diverse city, with even more languages spoken (Damiel and his family for some reason speak mostly Italian now, despite Ganz being German and Dommartin being French - I think some kind of statement is being made here, just not sure what), more Americans around, and more memories of the Nazi past coming up. This is much more plot-heavy and has a bigger and more celebrity-intense cast, with a returning Peter Falk joined by Nastassja Kinski (as an angel, what else?), Willem Dafoe (as...maybe an angel? or something more sinister?), Horst Buchholz, Rüdiger Vogler (playing another man named Winter), Lou Reed and, most strangely, Mikhail Gorbachev in a one-scene bit as himself. At first the poetic conceit of the first film seems to blend well into a plot more concerned with the troubles and dark pasts of it's human characters than the previous film, but somewhere after the halfway point this becomes more or less a crime-adventure film and while it never bored me, it just seems to lose it's way. Still worth seeing for the performances, especially Sander and Ganz, but on one viewing at any rate it just doesn't measure up. Good thing Wenders' films have mostly improved, maybe I'll get more out of this in another decade.