List Film

Wenders season offers insight into world of major film figure

The List's film editor Paul Dale introduces the Glasgow FIlm Theatre's Wim Wenders season 2008

Alice In The Cities

The GFT's Wim Wenders season consists of five of the director's most well known films: Kings of the Road, The American Friend, Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire and tonight’s film Alice in the Cities made in 1974.

Like all Wender’s films Alice in the Cities is a road movie, one that is full of landscape, music and dead time. It is the story of German journalist with writer’s block who becomes the carer of a young girl when the mother abandons the child to him. The subsequent search for the mother and the relationship between the single childless man and the girl forms the majority of this wonderful film about finding hope in charity and youth.

I have put together a list of ten things to keep in mind when you are watching the films of this feted and often misunderstood German director.

1. Makeshift families

Wenders has a great interest in makeshift families. Infertile since an illness in his childhood, Wenders always knew that his was to be a life of unusual connections and communal and artistic families. Whether it is Harry Dean Stanton trying to reconnect with his son in Paris, Texas or the film and rock music hippy traveller friends in Kings of the road or Rudiger Vogler and little Yella Rottlander in this film.

2. Long takes

Wenders and his frequent cinematographer Robbie Muller love long takes because they believe that real cinematic truth can be found this way.

3. Don’t always believe the subtitles

Wenders as screenwriter likes to play games with puns and double meanings that often cannot be translated in to English. The German speakers amongst you will enjoy many of these allusions.

4. Sound

There are few filmmakers to whom sound and music are so integral to their films. You will notice in this film how America sounds totally different to Germany. The soundscapes of America grate on the lead character and herein lies many of his problems.

5. Music

Wenders loves music old and new. His love is not so evident in this film but just check out Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas if you want to talk about consummate soundtrack work.

6. Architecture

There’s a reason why Alice is in the cities it is so Wenders can continue his obsession with modern architecture. It is an obsession that rides through many of his films and a lot of his documentaries.

7 Sex and violence

If you are looking for sex and violence you have come to the wrong place. Wenders famously once remarked that ‘I am not much in to sex and violence I am more in to sax and violins.’

8. America

Like many West German filmmakers who saw their country colonised by Americans for many years after World War 2, Wenders has an ambiguous relationship with America. He is a self-aware patriot who loves and is influenced by American art, film and music. This dichotomy is something he returns to many times in his films.

9. Wives

Wender famously loves German football but he also loves women. He has had five wives to date, all of whom have worked on his movies as both cast and crew. In this film you will see his first wife Edda Kochl playing the friend in New York.

10. Pauline Kael

The American film critic Pauline Kael once wrote that Wenders "seems to be attracted to the idea of telling a story but can’t quite keep his mind on it; he overdoses on mood and poetic urban masochism." I have to say that what more do you need to make a great road movie than "mood and poetic urban masochism."

This article is based on a talk given by The List film editor Paul Dale at the opening film of the Wim Wenders film season at the GFT, Glasgow.

For more information see:

The American Friend

  • 4 stars
  • 1977
  • West Germany/France
  • 123 min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Wim Wenders
  • Written by: Wim Wenders
  • Cast: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz

Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel 'Ripley's Game', this excellent, existentialist 'film noir' centres on an alienated Hopper at large in Germany, where his task is to locate and motivate a killer without a track record. He finds his hired man in the innocent Ganz, but loses his sense of identity in the process.


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