A Wenders Journey — Essay

As the 1960s dragged on in divided Germany, conventional movies, American imports and porn were the only products you could find to watch in the cinemas of the West. Many movie theaters simply shut down. To the rescue of this sad state of affairs came a group of young independent filmmakers whose movement became known as New German Cinema. Its manifesto reads, “The old film is dead. We believe in the new one.” 

The two most famous and internationally successful Directors to come from this movement are Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders.  With Wenders, it’s not so much that his worldview is borderless but rather that he absorbs and elevates each country he is filming in. He holds these diverse cultures and peoples to be equal. In these times of over the top nationalist sentiment, it’s a powerful message. But it’s not overtly political. His cinema is one of travel and discovery. Of movement above all. Trains, planes, automobiles, cable cars, boats…whatever it takes to keep the characters literally moving. And if they are not moving, they are sleeping, restlessly, somewhere on the road. Or trying to kill a mosquito in the night or actually killing a TV set in a hotel room.

Which brings me to another aspect of Wenders’ cinema. A respect for and acknowledgment of making the images themselves. Whether Polaroid, Hi8 video or using a Bolex. Telling stories cinematically is what matters most to him. A recurring theme is the cultural importance of image making. “You lose touch when you lose your sense of identity. That’s why you always need proof, proof that you still exist. And that’s why you keep taking those photos.” — From Alice in the Cities

When a Wim Wenders film starts, there is a sort of transportation that also happens within me. Wherever he is going, the intention of a Wenders film is to take us all along for the journey. 

A special treat for the cinephile are the many Director’s commentaries that can be found on Wenders’ DVDs. These commentaries were made often 20 years after production, during the release of restored versions of his films. You can really feel the depth of his desire to use movies as not just a form of expression for himself but as a way to bring us all out of our shells and into the entire world with him. 

— If you’d like to get out of your shell in Appleton, Wisconsin, the next (and final!) installment of The 602 Club Wenders Series is Saturday, March 5th. I’ll be screening 1994’s Lisbon Story, which I mail-ordered from Korea, with a proper glass of port. 

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