(28/04/07) – The release of a ten-disc Wim Wenders dvd boxset, by Anchor Bay, gives an opportunity to catch up on the work of one of the most highly acclaimed European directors. The boxset contains a mixture of some of Wenders’ best known films, rare gems, and curiosities, and is a great document to his work. The cinema world of Wim Wenders is a distinctive mix of realism, drama, film history, painting, photography and rock’n’roll. Without doubt, Wenders is an ‘auteur’ and yet his body of work is incredibly diverse, employing different genres, writers, actors, languages and locations.
Wenders’ four best known films, Paris, Texas(1984), Wings of Desire(1987), Until the End of the World(1991), and Buena Vista Social Club(1998), give an illustration of the diversity of Wenders’ style. Paris, Texas is very much a cult classic American homage to the work of directors such as John Ford , Anthony Mann and Nicholas Ray, a mixture of dysfunctional family drama, Western, and road movie. Wings of Desire is an European Arthouse film shot in black and white and colour, a realist drama featuring the magical fantasy of angels appearing alongside an actor playing himself in film. Until the End of the World is a futuristic global love story, a travelogue, slight espionage thriller and a film about images and dreams. Buena Vista Social Club is a documentary film about Ry Cooder’s work to bring back together a group of ageing Cuban musicians. There are so many links between these films that a sense of the cinema of Wenders grows the more of his films you get to see. There are so many references and concerns and stylistic features shared and interwoven between these films that they are all recognisable as works by Wim Wenders.
Born in Düsseldorf in 1945 Wenders studied medicine before applying to study painting at the Paris Art Academy 1996. Failing the entrance, he instead worked as an engraver whilst spending most of his time watching a huge amount of films and listening to a lot of contemporary music. He returned to Germany to study at the Graduate School of Film and Television, in Munich. During this time he began writing film criticism as well as making short films.
The Wim Wenders style has developed throughout his 35-40 years of filmmaking and his 30-odd films. Most of his early films were European takes on the ‘road movie’ genre, often with a narrative pacing slower than the conventional American version. In Wenders’ version of the genre, speed is not everything, and the road is never a straight line to a vanishing point of freedom, or oblivion, but a reflective one, with detours and a focus on nostalgia, the state of cultures in development, or decline, and an inner search for identity from the lead characters.
It could be said that the Wenders version of the road movie owes as much to Westerns such as John Ford’s The Searchers(1956), and Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men as it does to Easy Rider(1969), or Two Lane Blacktop (1971) The characters in Wenders’ road movies seem to melt into their surroundings and take their time getting to their final conclusions, which are often, as they are in The Searchers, unresolved.
Filmic references abound in Wenders’ work and often referring to many different filmmakers and specific films. Wenders’ love of, and enthusiasm for, cinema has led to collaborations with other directors, most notably Nick Ray and Michelangelo Antonioni, whose films, such as Blow Up (1966) can be seen echoed in Wenders’ own developing early style. From attendance of rock concerts, through an often sweeping, painterly, photographic style, through to a strong concern for the role of the image in culture and the perception of appearance and reality through image, echoes the work of Antonioni can be seen continued in Wenders’ films. It would be simplistic to say that Wenders has been influenced by the style of any one director. Wenders is a strong believer in the film as a developing language and his style has been developed by watching countless films and continuing to create a unique style built within the history of film itself.
There are noticeable signature shots in Wenders’ films. Leaving the camera running, and not editing in the conventional style gives Wenders’ films, especially the early works, an awkward pace, forcing the viewer to dally a little longer at a scene they would expect to depart from sooner. Wenders gives the example of shooting a sequence (for Summer in the City (1970) in which a car passes through a tunnel. While the convention would be to cut to a shot of the car exiting the tunnel Wenders instinct was to keep the dark footage of the tunnel journey in the film. The result of such techniques is one in which the experience of watching the film seems more genuine than formulaic, allowing the viewer to feel more in tune with the characters in the film.
As would be expected of any filmmaker who has made road movies, shots through windscreens feature heavily in many of Wenders’ films. Paris, Texas, with echoes of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), contains beautiful shots through windscreen, wipers, and rain, of motel signs at dusk. Another signature shot is of characters looking out of the window down to a square or street. This shot sequence is reminiscent of Marcel Carne’s Le Jour se Leve (1939) and a shot Wenders has used to convey different emotions and feelings of characters, most notably in The American Friend and the final sequence in Paris, Texas.
End of part I – see links for parts II and III.
Anchor Bay’s Wim Wender’s boxset is out now. Titles included (referred to in bold italics in the text)are The American Friend, Lightning Over Water, A Notebook on Cities and Clothes, Paris Texas, The Scarlet Letter, Room 666, Tokyo-Ga, A Trick of the Light, Wings of Desire and The Wrong Move. Please follow the links provided to purchase a copy and support Kamera by doing so.