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
I've known about this film for quite a few years - ran across an image from it somewhere, and the title has a strong appeal, so I was really looking forward to this. And for the first third of the film or so my anticipations of a film of weirdness and unease - a couple, bored of the daily urban world take advantage of a mysterious letter and journey to an obscure and hidden small city that seems right out of the medieval world, but that is promised to be the answer to their (or anyone's) dreams. But after the couple is in the city and have their first few weird little adventures - they can't find the guy who invited them, they briefly lose each other, etc, it settles into a fairly dark and pessimistic nightmare which interested me much less. Not that nightmares are uninteresting generally, but this just seemed rather pedestrian in execution in the final summary, leading to an inevitable apocalyptic
ending that I just didn't care about. Overall still worth seeing I think but rather a disappointment given my high expectations.
5. Das Millionenspiel / The Millions Game
(Tom Toelle, 1970) WEST GERMANY
Also a film I've known about and wanted to see for years, in contrast to Traumstadt
this is a work that from the very get-go shows it's genre and narrative references to older works, never really pretends any originality in theme or purpose, but ends up very enjoyable for it's particular way of working out the old hoary ideas. And you can sum it all up pretty simply - it's the old "most dangerous game" idea of man being hunted by men, with a 60s-70s media overlay - see also Elio Petri's 1965 La decima vittima
for a pretty clear analog. Essentially we have a man (Jörg Pleva, mostly a TV actor who I didn't know, quite fine here) spending the whole time running for his life, trying to make it to the end of a week alive and win the grand prize of a million marks. And alongside this we watch the TV crews filming him and his would-be killers, and the general public and their fascination or revulsion with the concept - mostly the former, sadly. While this does have a fair bit to say about the media's role in sensationalizing crime and human misery - see Paul Verhoeven's later work for another take on similar ideas - it also works just as a pure thriller and it's pretty consistently involving throughout.
(Gottfried Kolditz, 1973) EAST GERMANY
Lovely-looking 'scope western shot in Romania and Uzbekistan (I guess they don't have this mountain/desert terrain in East Germany) about Ulzana, the famous Apache chief whose life spanned most of the 19th century and who had been the subject of a prestige American western the previous year, Robert Aldrich's Ulzana's Raid
. I haven't seen that film in a long, long time but I'm guessing it probably didn't have the most progressive attitude towards the Apaches - and even if it did, it's no surprise that an Eastern European film at this time would be produced as a corrective to the capitalist/white exploitation of the Americas. Of course having your Apaches all played by Europeans (Gojko Mitic, a Yugoslavian actor who also played in several of the West German-produced Winnetou
films in the previous decade) casts a bit of doubt on the progressive agenda - by our standards today, at least. That's not the major problem here though - the major problem is that it's just at heart a very generic revenge story, with Ulzana leading a small band against the evil/greedy US Army and copper miners who have slaughtered most of his village after tricking them into their town under false pretenses. The action's pretty good - if as silly and over-the-top as in any spaghetti western - and it looks nice, but on the whole, ehh. There's a sequel called Ulzana
from the next year but a quick search hasn't turned up an English-friendly copy, and I didn't like this enough that I really care.
Wim Wenders, music- and film-crazed poet of existential wanderings
Wenders was one of the first contemporary European directors I followed; my first serious film-buff friend probably introduced him to me around 1988 when we were both working at a video store; the director's early films were mostly on video (a rare treat in those days) and Der Himmel über Berlin
would premiere, with it's generic-yet-evocative English-language title Wings of Desire
at the end of the year. I loved that film - though I couldn't quite, at the time, call it a masterpiece - and saw it at least three times in the cinema, and I think I saw most of the director's earlier work at roughly the same time. Most of it I've not re-seen since, so this is a trip back to my early days of film obsession - endless nostalgia is my middle name these days, especially in COVID-time. I liked the director at the time certainly, and I was also interested in a trio of his most obvious acolytes - the Finnish Kaurismäki brothers and the American Jim Jarmusch - who all shared his French New Wave low budget aesthetic and film and music obsessions, his love for black and white, and in the case of Jarmusch, his favorite cinematographer, Robby Müller. But though I shared many of these interests myself I never developed quite the same kind of love for any of these filmmakers that my friend did, at least not while I knew him; I was more a Herzog guy at the time, and when I did get into the French New Wave, in particular Godard, I don't think I really saw the obvious influence on Wenders, or I was just too busy watching other stuff to come back to him. But he and his "disciples" have grown on me in the past 20 years though, and it's time to see just how much more growing there could be for WW. Here goes.
7. Summer in the City
(1971) (re-watch) WEST GERMANY
Wenders' first feature* and his first work with Müller, whose b/w 16mm images certainly contribute significantly to the cold, lonely, isolated feeling that the film conveys. It's all set in a very snowy winter in Munich and Berlin - the warm title comes from the hit 1966 Lovin' Spoonful song, which plays near the end - and it definitely conveys a feeling of low-key desperation and dreariness effectively, though that's about it. Lots of lovely tracking shots of the two wintry cities, which our protaganist Hanns (Hanns Zischer, also very early in what has been a long and distinguished career) moves through, talking mostly about music and movies with the women he stays with - essentially a low-rent grifter after being released from a short prison sentence, lamenting the closure of Kinos in Berlin, and dreaming of a New York that he cannot reach. I didn't remember that I'd seen this, and didn't have it checked or rated, but I did remember bits as I watched it, particularly Hanns' obsession with the Kinks and the Troggs, and some of those beautiful, aging 5- and 6-story 19th century apartment buildings. I think the first viewing was unsubbed, which probably accounts for how dim my memory is to some extent. There are loads of better films, particularly from this era from Germany and France, about existential loneliness and apathy, and I wouldn't really recommend this to anyone who isn't a big fan of the director, but the mood really worked on me, and the music's great. Weird use of post-dubbing throughout, not sure how much of this was intentional originally or mandated by very poor sound recording on set.
*IMDb lists a 1969 3-hour Kaspar Hauser
with Wenders among 10 directors but I don't see anything significant about it anywhere else; I'm guessing it was an amateur/student project.
8. Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter / The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick
(1972) (re-watch) WEST GERMANY
Another of Wenders' frequent collaborators, composer Jürgen Knieper, shows up for the first time with his simple, evocative score for what almost feels like a bigger-budgeted, tighter, color remake of the previous film, though the screenplay is co-written by, and based on the novel by the same name by Peter Handke, also a longtime Wenders collaborator and future Nobel Prize winner and defender of dictators. Here in the typical loner-protagonist part we have Arthur Brauss - who bears a striking resemblance to the generation-younger Mads Mikkelsen at the same age - as Bloch, a football goalkeeper who misses an important save in a match and is suspended for a week, upon which he goes on a ramble, mostly by bus, of the country, early on hooking up with a cinema cashier and, apparently casually, strangling her.
This doesn't seem to bother him, and despite occasional glances at newspapers and an awareness of cops, he just goes about his aimless way, drinking and getting in fights, and hitting on an old flame and a much younger hotel maid in one town, more or less at the same time. This definitely verges on nihilism, and now that I think of it, apart from the music what I remembered most about the film is arguing with friends over how the central act of violence is / is not dealt with in the film - something it's hard to imagine happening in such a way in a Hollywood production, then or at any time. But sadly, it feels very real, and we have evidence all around us of people with no consciences, no cares, no feelings, no understandings of the world - and no interest in any of them. A very, very bleak portrait of, even and indictment of, this kind of behavior.