Tuesday, June 3, 2014


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Directed by Wim Wenders
175 mins. B&W
Axiom Films Region 2 DVD

What Wenders has done with this Trilogy is absolutely astounding.  It's a wandering, wide-open masterpiece, and Kings of the Road makes for a fantastic finish.  Apparently created without a script, the actors improvised nearly all their lines on set.  Likewise, Wenders developed the story and adapted to situations as they presented themselves.  As a viewer, what this provides is a sense of wondrous spontaneity.  And yet, it always appears as if Wenders is in complete control.  Shots are beautifully composed and the characters slowly open to reveal honest, lonely people.  

In some ways, the film feels a bit like something Cassavetes would've created.  That search for honesty which he always prized seems at the forefront of everything here.  But, what is truly different is Wenders deep understanding of the camera and his compulsion for quiet.  Characters sit next to one another saying little or skirting issues.  They discuss towns with names like "Hopeless," "Peaceless" and "Dead Man" comically and yet a certain sadness is present with the realization that they are real places. 

Bruno Winter (Rudiger Vogler) is a traveling projection tech that goes from town to town, fixing old equipment in broken down movie houses.  Robert Lander (Hans Zischler) has recently split with his wife and has no current ties.  He drives his car into a river and leaves himself with nothing.  So, he travels with Bruno.  They spend hours together and share little.  When Robert begins to tell about his split with his wife, Bruno responds by saying, "I didn't ask about that.  I want to know about you, but I don't need to know your story."  

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A Pediatrician and a Projection Tech
What Wenders does so well, and is on display here, is using seemingly happenstance moments and letting them alter the course of the character's development.  Robert awakens one night to the sound of metal banging against metal in the wind.  He wanders from the truck and slowly pushes one piece of metal against another, trying to identify the source of the sound.  He wanders up stairs and in secret spaces to find a disgruntled worker in a broken down factory, throwing bolts against a broken conveyor belt.  The man follows Robert back to the truck and they sit silently.  No real easy connections.  The man then explains that he's wearing his wife's coat, and that the stains on it are his wife's blood.  She'd driven into a tree after an argument they had.  Robert listens to the story and offers nothing in return.

Bruno wanders from the truck and finds the smashed car still curled up against the tree.

Wenders does not provide any insight into the reasons these types of things happen.  There is simply a car smashed against a tree by a woman who was angry with her husband.

But, what the film becomes is the reason it is so brilliant.  It is a film about cinema.  What is cinema?  Why do we do it?  It's a film about exhibitors, filmmakers and audiences.  Its about presentation and ideology and craft.

Perhaps the most interesting scene in the film is when Bruno visits a porn cinema.  He sits down to watch the film and is frustrated with the quality of the projection.  When he goes up to discuss this with the projectionist, he's bemused with the man masturbating by way of a tiny mirror he has put in the way of the lens so he can the film well in the booth.  As the film is playing, it's releasing all the film to the ground.  When the projectionist quits, Bruno methodically re-spools the film (not an easy task.  I've been in this situation, and it is a horribly trying situation).  He then fixes the framing and gets the lamp from wandering.  As he sits down to watch a test reel, there is a sense of accomplishment.

Wenders is in the midst of a challenge here.  On the one hand the owner of the now closed theater, Weisse Wand, offers this fantastic line, "Film is the art of seeing, which is why I won't show these films, which are mere exploitation of all that can be exploited in human heads and eyes.  I won't be forced to show films where people stagger out stunned and rigid with stupidity."

On the other hand, Bruno's dedication to the good projection of pornography (the least respectable form of entertainment) shows that, perhaps, what Wenders is doing is recommending that whatever you do, do it well.  And, in Wenders' fashion, I'm left to consider these questions.

-J. Moret

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