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October 14, 2009

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David Hudson

Glenn, I share both your disappointment in Wenders's recent work and your hope that he'll hit on something again in the future that'll give us another WINGS or PARIS, TEXAS. And I phrase it that way on purpose: Wenders hits on things, almost accidently. A vital part of what he hit on in WINGS was the Berlin of the 80s. Other films, of course, had captured it (CHRISTIANE F., etc), but the conceit of this one was universal, and so, it travelled. Divided Berlin was rediscovered by the rest of the world in a way it hadn't been since Bowie and Eno's LOW and HEROES.

A few years ago, Wenders gave a lecture in which he said he always begins a film with its location, that he doesn't start thinking about a project until he's in some part of the world that strikes him, and of course, before WINGS, he'd been in the States for years. When he came "back" (in quotations because he was never a Berliner, but when he returned to Germany and visited Berlin), he was struck hard.

So that's one thing. Another is that the conceit may be universal but it's also incredibly sentimental; I credit Handke with keeping things from going all gushy. Wenders, an artist of intuition, gut, and yes, heart, needs a head like Handke's and those aren't always readily available. Compare WINGS, for example, with the first time he tried to recapture the magic, FARAWAY, SO CLOSE!

jwarthen

This is a lovely tribute to a hit-and-miss artist who deserves the patience it advocates. Even the garbled assemblages of Wenders' '90s output, which always looked improvised out of work completed before money ran out, had long sequences of reassuring authority. Wedded to genre as I am, THE AMERICAN FRIEND has always been my favorite Wenders: easily the best Ripley/Highsmith adaptation, and a sympathetic refinement of her signature malignity.

Brian

Thank you for that wonderful summation of WINGS, one of my favorite films. Jwarthen, I love THE AMERICAN FRIEND, too-- I agree it's the best Highsmith adaptation, and I also think it has Dennis Hopper's best performance.

Graig

Don't forget R.E.M, which rather shamelessly lifted the first twenty minutes of WINGS OF DESIRE for their music video "Everybody Hurts."

Also, does anyone here have an author or two whose work you completely respect but yet somehow can't get through one of their books? Or at least it's a real struggle from first page to last? Because that's how I feel about Wenders in general and this film in particular, though the upcoming Criterion is a good opportunity for revisitation.

Glenn Kenny

Yes, yes, yes and yes to David, Jwarthen, Brian and Graig, with hopes that Graig finds the revisitation worthwhile. Another thing I love about the film is its generous sensibility, the way it gives the personas of both Falk, an older, mellowed, self-doubting, almost self-lacerating, incarnation of gentleness, and Cave, an obsessive, candle-burning-at-both-ends, self-immolating romanitc, their due without special pleading for either. And then the character played by Curt Bois, and the very presence of Bois...it's incredibly evocative, and again, you have the feeling that all these different stresses came to bear in a very organic way. Breathtaking, the more you think about it.

Jonah

To me, Wenders's work has almost always shown considerable strain or at least willfulness. Part of this is how eagerly he wears his influences on his sleeve. My favorite Wenders films are all from the 1970s: THE GOALIE'S ANXIETY AT THE PENALTY KICK, ALICE IN THE CITIES, KINGS OF THE ROAD, and THE AMERICAN FRIEND. All of these seem made under the sign of Antonioni, in terms of their digressive and unresolved narrative design. But all are spectacularly well-observed mood pieces, with stunning integrations of music, camera movement, figure movement, and shifting light. All of them have their longueurs--think of the tedious, didactic printing-press scenes in KINGS--but what heady themes that are present, aren't pushed too hard (even the "Yanks have colonized our subconscious" motif in KINGS often plays out in subtly humorous ways, as when the lead characters sing along to Heinz's "Just Like Eddie").

The balance between the pretentious and the well-observed shifts decisively, for me at least, after the Coppola debacle. His films of the 1980s are still interesting--I'm thinking of THE STATE OF THINGS, PARIS TEXAS, and WINGS OF DESIRE--but they seem increasingly pretentious, consumed by flaky metaphysics and undigested Big Themes. I find WINGS really hard to take. No matter how beautiful the cinematography, it seems extremely willed, hardly organic at all. Though I probably should re-watch it, not having seen it in a decade.

By the mid-1990s Wenders's films are mostly unbearable. For many scenes in DON'T COME KNOCKING, I couldn't decide whether to put my hands over my eyes or over my ears.

I agree that one thing that makes the recent films so painful is how they are so obviously attempts to recapture past glories. The shots of the small Western town that's the setting for the second half of DON'T COME KNOCKING are all-too-clearly modeled on the shots Wenders took while location scouting for PARIS, TEXAS, which are published in the book WRITTEN IN THE WEST. Watching Wenders's work of the 1990s and 2000s, for me, is doubly painful because their evident strain and pompousness seems to retroactively infect the earlier films, whose flaws now seem more obvious.

Tom Russell

I really enjoy both WINGS OF DESIRE and PARIS, TEXAS but the rest of Wenders has, indeed, left me pretty darn cold. And I think you're right, Glenn, that he needs someone to balance him out-- Handke for WINGS and Sam Shepard for TEXAS. I know that he and Shepard had another collaboration, and a quick google search reveals it to be DON'T COME KNOCKING, which, judging from Jonah's comment, was not even close to being the equal of TEXAS.

This reminds me, somewhat tangentially, of a story about THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COL. BLIMP that Powell relates on the Criterion commentary track, where Pressburger wrote a particularly mushy line, Powell un-mushied it, Pressburger re-mushied it, and then Powell undercut in a different way. (Man, this would be a much better story if I could remember any or all of the pertinent details.) My point is, the two very different sensibilities complemented and balanced each other out, and the films the two of them made together were, in my humble opinion, greater than those Powell made on his lonesome. (Not that I'm saying that I dislike PEEPING TOM, but I'm far more partial to THE RED SHOES, I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING, LIFE AND DEATH OF COL. BLIMP, BATTLE OF RIVER PLATE, BLACK NARCISSUS, etc.)

From my own personal experience as a filmmaker, I have to say that the films I've made with my wife (who will not brook my own not inconsiderable propensity for mushy-gushy stuff) are far, far better than the ones I made before her-- so much so, in fact, that I won't let anyone even *see* those early films.

Match Cuts

I don't know Glenn. For me Wenders is up there in the pantheon of great directors and Kings of the Road, is and will always be his best film. It's in desperate need of the Criterion treatment for reappraisal.

lazarus

I'm guessing I'm the only person who enjoyed both Faraway, So Close!, The End of Violence and The Million Dollar Hotel, despite their flaws?

I'll take Wenders' visually arresting curiosities over any of Clint Eastwood's overpraised blunt instruments, that's for sure. If only The End of Violence had been given even a fair shake compared to the lubricated stroke that the similarly-themed Gran Torino was accorded, for example. Though I'll definitely stop short of defending Don't Come Knocking's attempts to revive the ghosts of Paris, Texas.

James Keepnews

One wonders what happened to Wenders, esp. after _Wings of Desire_ which literally seemed to take the life out of his subsequent films (and I know I don't share Lazarus' love for these 90's misfires, whatever we might agree around the overpraise Eastwood gets, or least did for _Unforgiven_...a separate discussion).

No one's mentioned the laughably overwrought _Until the End of the World_, and perhaps that's a blessing. I definitely don't count _Buena Vista Social Club_, which traded enormously on its transfixing subject matter and digital video's partiality towards the faded pastels of Havana. I guess we might as well inquire what happened to Sam Shepard in the bargain, since _Don't Come Knocking_ sure did not take its own advice, and only made one long for the unaffected brilliance informing so much of _Paris, Texas_ (and wondering again what L.M. "Kit" provided, where Sam did not).

But of course one can't rule out a filmmaker with so much great work behind him -- completely concur with everyone's appreciation here for his 70's road films, _American Friend_, even his production of Peter Handke's underseen _Left-Handed Woman_ in the late 70's which was clearly influenced by Wim. Where botches are concerned, I'll take pictorially extravagant ones from WW every time, whose recent films' extravagance tends to be (to put it mildly) more thematic than visual.

Tom Russell

"I guess we might as well inquire what happened to Sam Shepard in the bargain..."

I agree that PARIS, TEXAS was a bit of lightning in the bottle for both men, but outside of cinema, Sam Shepard is still one of America's greatest and most innovative playwrights, still creating challenging and mind-bending work for the stage.

James Keepnews

Tom -- No one has more love for Shepard as a writer or, as Holy Modal Rounder fans might agree, drummer (and I recently defended his cracked, unnerving performance as the Ghost in Almereyda's otherwise meh-worthy _Hamlet_). But I'd have to say recent work like _Simpatico_ or the continuous WTF-ery that is _Silent Tongue_ are some distance away from his greatest writing for plays ranging from _The Tooth of the Crime_ to _Buried Child_. Or _Paris, Texas_, for that matter, whatever of it he wrote and Mr. Carson (et. al., one imagines) did not.

Jonah

Maybe it's not good to count an artist out on principle, but if anyone might be counted out, it's Wenders, who to my mind hasn't made a genuinely great movie in 30 years, or a good one in over 20.

christian

UTIL THE END OF THE WORLD is a masterpiece (especially in the five hour cut I saw), and a perfect sequel to WINGS OF DESIRE. A sci-fi road movie with one of the greatest soundtracks of all time.

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