Wim Wenders

Wilhelm Wenders
b. August 14, 1945, Düsseldorf, Germany

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Born only a few months after the end of the Second World War, Wim Wenders is a product of post-war (West) Germany. One of the formative elements in Wenders’ youth was an obsession with the mainly American (but also British) pop culture of comics, pinball machines and, most importantly, rock and roll. Wenders, the most commercially successful exponent of the neue deutsche Kino, has become known as the most “American” member of the movement, in terms of his filmic content as well as the measure of success that he has achieved in carving his own niche as a European filmmaker in America. Wenders is also the only ‘member’ of the 1970s German film movement to have attended film school (the then theatre director/playwright Rainer Werner Fassbinder was turned down by Munich’s Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen, from which Wenders and his long-time cinematographer, Robby Müller, and long-time editor, Peter Przygodda, graduated).

In the four years before settling on a study of filmmaking, Wenders, the son of a chief doctor at a Catholic hospital, dropped out of studying for a medicine degree in Munich after two semesters. He then moved to Freiberg to study philosophy, left that and moved back to Düsseldorf to study sociology, before finally discontinuing his university studies altogether. At this stage, Wenders was more interested in watercolour painting than pursuing an academic career.

In Düsseldorf, Wenders became friends with Austrian writer Peter Handke, who in 1966 was experiencing his first success with a number of spoken word pieces. Handke would later become a long-time collaborator with Wenders on such films as Wenders’ first commercial feature for German television, The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty (1971), Wrong Move (1975, a loose adaptation of Goethe’s Bildungsroman Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre) and Wings of Desire (1987), which marked Wenders’ return to Germany after more than a decade living as a filmmaker in the United States.

A further formative period was a year spent in Paris. Initially the young Wenders moved to France to continue his studies—this time with an artistic bent. He applied for a place at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, then for admission at the famous Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques (IDHEC) film school. Rejected on both occasions, he ultimately began an apprenticeship in copperplate engraving with Johnny Friedlander after he was not even allowed to take part in the candidature at the IDHEC. (1)

Wenders has described this time as the loneliest period of his life, however the combination of isolation and a freezing Parisian apartment created the perfect conditions for him to study film more intensively than possibly anywhere else in the world. Every evening from the time that Friedlander’s studio closed up until midnight, Wenders could be found alone viewing some of the world’s most significant cinematic works at Henri Langlois’ Cinémathèque. During his year in Paris, Wenders viewed well over one thousand films. (2)

Wenders returned to Munich to commence studies at the then newly founded Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen, but first he undertook a three-month internship at United Artists’ Düsseldorf office. This experience at United Artists left a sour taste and was later recounted in 1969 in a short essay titled “Verachten was verkauft wird” (“Despise what is to be sold”):

From production through to distribution, the same brutality was at work: the lovelessness in dealing with images, sounds and language, the stupidity of German synchronisation, the meanness of the block and blind booking system, the indifference of advertising, the absence of conscience in the exploitation of cinema owners, the narrow-mindedness in the shortening of films and so on. (3)

Kings of the Road

Wenders would later extend his criticism of this corporate imperialism of the German film industry through his representation of the death of the old provincial cinemas in Kings of the Road (1976). His concerns about the abuse and corruption of images, particularly in connection to the American film industry, would become a recurring theme in films such as The American Friend (1977), The State of Things (1982), Faraway, So Close! (1993) and The End of Violence (1997).

Once back in Munich, Wenders’ background in watercolour painting and copperplate engraving was reflected in the spatial elements of his shot composition in his short films. His early short films, Locations (1967), which was subsequently lost, and Silver City (1968) comprised extended static shots. Silver City, for example, is literally a moving picture—a static image of a Munich street, taken from a window ledge with a little movement within the static frame provided by passing cars trains and the occasional pedestrian. Each sequence lasted a little over three minutes—the duration of a 30m roll of 16mm stock. (4) This predilection for long sequences of apparently inconsequential subject matter would continue through his work, with their suggestive emptiness providing mood and depth to Wenders’ often linear narratives. The tendency to give his films English titles was also indicative of the young director’s obsession with rock ‘n’ roll culture.

A little-seen work made during Wenders’ four years of experimentation at film school is Polizeifilm (1968), which was made for Bavarian television, but never shown to the general public. In this unusually humorous mockumentary short, a whispering voiceover tells the viewer of new police tactics for use against protesters. Police are shown first assaulting a clichéd hippie protester with a placard, and then displaying an alternative method of attempting to befriend the apprehensive young man, offering him a cigarette and conversation. This short also included still cells from a Disney comic depicting police attempting break down a door to apprehend a villain, which actually turns out to be a seal in a bathtub.

As part of the ’68 generation, Wenders was drawn into politics at this time, at one time being arrested and charged for resisting arrest at a demonstration. However, although he was active in protesting against the Vietnam War, he was not able to shake his ambivalence towards America. He continued to attend screenings of his beloved Westerns every evening and thus never quite fitted into the anti-imperialistic milieu of his student sharehouse. (5)

The American Friend

Wenders graduated from film school in 1970 with the completion of his final year film, a full length feature. Summer in the City concerns a man coming to terms with life on the outside, after his release from prison, a loner unable to connect with society. Played by Hans Zischler, who also appeared in the short Same Player Shoots Again (1967), he is pursued by shadowy enemies from his criminal past, who never actually appear. Attempts to evade them take him from Munich to Berlin, and ultimately to Amsterdam, after he is unable to get a flight to New York. It was unusual for a final year film to be feature length, but after doing the sums Wenders discovered that he could shoot a feature length film with the money allocated to him, as long as he shot on 16mm black and white stock, rather than on 35mm colour and “shot everything only once”. (6) However, the one thing that the young filmmaker failed to take into account was music copyright. Wenders had crammed many of his favourite rock artists such as Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones (as well as Gustav Mahler) onto the soundtrack of a picture, which was named after a Lovin’ Spoonful song and dedicated to a British rock band. This was not the film’s only problem: due to poor original sound recording, all character dialogue was coupled with an overdubbed voice-over by Zischler reiterating what had already been said. This did in fact enhance the sense of existential angst in the character, adding a further element of subjectivity.

This film was Wenders’ second with Robby Müller, whom he had previously met on a set where Wenders worked as props man and Müller as camera assistant. Like the short Alabama 2000 Light Years From Home (1969), Summer in the City features stylistic elements such as extended tracking (establishing) shots, presenting the view from a moving vehicle (possibly for lack of a dolly). (7)

After Wenders had initially cut his film together, he ended up with a feature that was more than 3 hours long. He was persuaded by a confident young acquaintance named Peter Przygodda to hand over the editing reins for additional editing. Wenders only later learned that this was Przygodda’s first real editing job after a single stint as an assistant editor. The director fought “tooth and nail” against each cut, but finally a 125 minute print emerged. (8)

Wenders’ collaboration with Przygodda was the beginning of a long working relationship and both Przygodda and Müller were on board when Wenders was given the opportunity of realising Peter Handke’s screenplay of The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty, adapted for the screen from Handke’s story of the same name. The goalkeeper in question is once again a loner, who inexplicably allows an easy goal to pass through during a soccer match, insults the referee and is sent from the field in the film’s opening sequence. He then wanders aimlessly through Vienna, has a chance meeting with a cinema ticket window cashier named Gloria, and strangles her after picking her up and going to her home. He continues to drift from Germany down through Austria until he reaches a village near the Yugoslavian border where he visits a female friend and joins in a bar-room brawl, apparently spurred by Van Morrison’s “Gloria” which blasts from a jukebox. Throughout, he seems apparently unconcerned with the police’s efforts to find him, which he follows in the news.

The story bears obvious similarity to Albert Camus’ The Stranger and although Wenders’ film technique is apparently influenced by Hitchcock, it is curiously devoid of any kind of suspense. In general, his film aesthetic has a very cool, detached feel and takes on the same-distanced subjectivity of Handke’s original text. (9)

WDR, the co-producer of The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty, was so impressed with Wenders’ direction that they signed him on as director of another screen adaptation, but this time of a better known text—Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, written in 1850. From Wenders’ point of view, the production of The Scarlet Letter (1972), which was filmed in Portugal, was an unpleasant experience from the start to finish. After the film was completed, Wenders remarked that he never wanted to make another film where “no car, service station, television or jukebox” is allowed to appear. (10)

Alice in the Cities

With his next film, Wenders returned to material closer to his heart. Alice in the Cities (1973) was, by all accounts, a very personal film. Wenders’ inspiration for Alice, came paradoxically via American rock ‘n’ roll, as he sat in the editing booth for The Scarlet Letter with the Chuck Berry song “Memphis” in his head, whilst viewing a short scene featuring Rüdiger Vogler and five year old Yella Rottländer. Wishing that all of the film could work like that one particular scene, Wenders was taken with the idea of the scene combining with the song to make a film. (11)

Following his disappointment with The Scarlet Letter, Wenders moved to New York City and began developing Alice. His project nearly suffered a devastating blow when he attended a preview screening of Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon (1973) and discovered, to his horror, that the film that he had been developing had an identical storyline to Paper Moon. In desperation, Wenders contacted maverick American director Sam Fuller at his home in Hollywood (the pair had met in Germany during Fuller’s shooting of Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street [1972], which had also been produced by WDR). Together they reworked the story of Alice and Wenders, who had been considering giving up filmmaking, was able to make the film that cemented his resolve to continue.

For Alice in the Cities, Wenders decided to return to shooting with black and white 16mm film stock. Again, as in Summer in the City, the main character is a male loner, a drifter confronted with the seeming meaninglessness of his existence. In this case, the ‘hero’ is Philipp Winter, a German journalist who has become spiritually lost while travelling America by car, searching for inspiration for a story he is unable to finish. Purpose for Winter comes by chance, in the form of Alice, a five year old girl, whose mother puts into Winter’s charge. When Alice’s mother fails to meet the pair in Amsterdam after they have flown out of New York ahead of her, they are stuck with each other.

Just as the Chuck Berry song “Memphis” worked as a catalyst for the genesis of the film, it also plays a pivotal role in the film’s plot in a documentary-style scene when Winter views a live performance by Berry after handing Alice over to the police. This moment of identification for Winter leads him back to Alice, who has fortunately slipped away from her new charges. The two then set off in search for Alice’s grandmother, who lives in Düsseldorf.

Wenders commented that for an extended period after Alice, he received reviews that discussed “the three As: Alienation, Angst and America”. (12) In this, his first production to be partially shot in America, Wenders certainly touched all bases. Winter’s alienation from society is reflected in his incessant photographing of his American surroundings with a Polaroid camera, which at the time of filming was only available as a prototype. Winter finds that he has been numbed by his American experience and the Polaroid camera renders the gulf between reality, reproduction and expectation visible. (13)

Winter reflects Wenders’ ambivalent attitude to America, as he is a character both fascinated by and despairing of America. He also reflects views later discussed by Wenders’ in an essay/poem, titled “Der amerikanische Traum”, first published in 1984. In “Der amerikanische Traum”, Wenders states that America has “betrayed and sold” its own dream, something that the character of Winter seems to agree with wholeheartedly. As in Wenders’ poem, American television is used in Alice as a point of reference for Wenders’ harshest criticism of American culture. Early in the picture, during Winter’s stay in a cheap Florida motel, John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) provides the soundtrack to the journalist’s dream of an endless road, which we see superimposed over a close-up of the sleeping Winter. (14) Winter wakes to find that this Young Mr. Lincoln has been interrupted, highjacked by meaningless advertisements. In the only violent act of this gentle film, Philipp smashes the television set on the floor of his motel room.

The film also closes with a final homage to Ford via a newspaper obituary titled “Lost World”, which Winter is reading as he and Alice travel through Germany to meet Alice’s mother in Munich. Despite the sense of loss, the film ends on a joyous note with a swooping aerial shot which starts on Winter and Alice smiling out of the window of the train and then soars away to a bird’s eye view of the landscape, with the train hurtling towards its destination. (15)

For his next feature film, Wenders once again collaborated with Handke, this time on a distinctly European, or rather German, premise—a Handke screenplay adaptation of Goethe’s 1796 Bildungsroman, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship), set in 1970s West Germany with Rüdiger Vogler once again playing the lead. In contrast to Alice in the Cities, Goethe’s novel and the Bildungsroman tradition, Wrong Move is perpetually bleak in its outlook and Vogler’s Wilhelm does not experience any enlightenment during his travels through West Germany. Movement in Wrong Move is motivated by Wilhelm’s search for inspiration in his attempts to become a writer. However, every decision and direction seems to be a wrong one and in the end Wilhelm has learned little about himself.

By this time, Wenders had established two distinctly different methods of filmmaking, which he elaborated on at a colloquium in Livorno, Italy in 1982. His black and white films, he described as “Group (A),” These arose, without exception, from an idea of Wenders’ own—“idea” being a very unspecific term including “dreams, waking dreams and experiences. The second type, “Group (B)” were colour films which followed a script very closely”. (16)

Alice in the Cities

Wrong Move was Wenders’ second “(B)” film and the second film of what was to become known as Wenders’ “road movie trilogy”. It is characterised by an aesthetic, which once again draws on Wenders’ background in painting, with the landscapes of eighteenth century German painter, Caspar David Friedrich, lending significant inspiration. For this film, Wenders also cast an actress who at that time was making her mark as a regular in Fassbinder’s already imposing body of work—Hanna Schygulla, who appears as one of Wilhelm’s travelling companions and ultimately unromantic and unconsummated romantic interest. Schygulla is introduced in one of the film’s most graceful movements, looking out the window of a passenger train in a beautiful extended tracking shot along a station platform, subjective to Wilhelm’s view from a carriage on the opposite side of the platform side. Unfortunately, Schygulla is lost in the coldness of the film and Wenders admitted to not being able to use her as well as Fassbinder could.

Perhaps the most interesting casting decision though was 13 year-old Nastassja Kinski, estranged daughter of Klaus, in her first acting role. Her inclusion in the film came about when she caught the eye of Wenders’ then partner Lisa Kreuzer—Alice’s mother in Alice in the Cities and Wilhelm’s girlfriend in Wrong Move—at a Munich nightclub. Kinski plays the mute companion of the hobo Laertes, played by Hans-Christian Blech, who is enveloped in the shadow of Germany’s nazi past. When Wilhelm discovers that the old man was a commandant in a concentration camp he decides to kill him, but ultimately lets him go when the opportunity presents itself. Later at the film’s closure when Wilhelm stands at the top of Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze, contemplating his general failure, he bemoans not hearing Laerte’s story—which he considers yet another wrong move. This would be the first instance of Wenders venturing outside the narcissistic inner world of his heroes, opening a discussion about Germany’s Nazi past—instead of ignoring, or replacing and suppressing it with “American pop culture”. However, he remains distant from a direct confrontation of social and political issues such as that which exists in Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend (1967) or the films of Fassbinder.

The third movie in the trilogy, Kings of the Road, also starring Rüdiger Vogler, marked a return to black and white photography, this time on 35mm and 16mm stock. This was also the first film produced by Wenders own production company, Road Movies. Although this male “buddy movie” takes place along West Germany’s most impoverished area—the Zonenrandgebiet bordering East Germany—Wenders and Müller again turned to American images for the film’s “look”, using photographer Walker Evan’s images of America during the Great Depression as their aesthetic reference point. To paraphrase the film’s most famous line, Wenders and Müller’s aesthetic consciousness had been “colonised” by the “Amis” [German slang for Americans] in this highly stylised film about male companionship in the absence of women and the seeming demise of German small town cinemas.

The linear narrative follows the relationship between two men: Bruno Winter (Vogler), a travelling cinema projector repairman and “Kamikaze”, a man who has just left his wife. The men begin travelling together after Bruno witnesses “Kamikaze” driving his VW beetle at breakneck speed into the Elbe River. In a comical scene of an attempted suicide, the driver is deprived of his means of transportation and also earns himself his nickname.

At first distant from each other, the two slowly bond over the course of their journey along the Western side of the border of the two Germanys, which is determined by Bruno’s work. As in Alice in the Cities, rock ‘n’ roll is a crucial factor in character and plot development with a spontaneous sing along to Bruno’s portable 45s player blasting out “Just like Eddie” as the two men become closer.

While American images shaped the look of Kings of the Road, Wenders also criticises the American or American-influenced action and porn films that cinema owners were forced to show due to the major distributors’ system of block booking. During a period when Kamikaze has temporarily left the partnership, Bruno visits a cinema showing a sex film. Being a consummate professional, he is dissatisfied with the projected image. When he enters the projectionist’s booth and catches him masturbating, the projectionist angrily departs and Bruno pieces together a loop of film material consisting of naked breasts, a burning house and a woman being raped in mud as the voiceover states “Cruelty, action, sensuality. 90 minutes which no television…”—a damning metaphor of the situation of German cinema in the ’70s.

Kings of the Road

In Kings of the Road, the meditative pace and shunning of many plot devices that propel a story in the Hollywood model, mirrors that of Yasujiro Ozu, who Wenders first became aware of whilst living in New York. However, Wenders looks fondly towards Hollywood cinema in a homecoming sequence, which directly quotes Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men (1952), when Vogler, rather than Robert Mitchum, discovers a tin box full of comics under some stairs in the house of his childhood. Nicholas Ray himself was given a supporting role in Wenders’ next film, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game (recently remade by Lilian Cavani), which existed only in manuscript form when acquired. The American Friend is a thriller about an American who hoodwinks an innocent picture framer into committing hits for organised crime. Dennis Hopper cuts an at times bizarre figure as the sinister Tom Ripley, a loner, a cowboy adrift in Hamburg, consumed with existential angst. Hopper’s characterisation must have been a shock to Highsmith purists, but highly enjoyable for the rest of us. Yet the chemistry between Hopper and the film’s other lead, Swiss German Bruno Ganz, was, at the beginning of shooting, explosive to say the least. Ganz’s preparation for his role as Jonathan was as meticulous as the character’s approach to his profession as a picture framer and restorer. Hopper had left the entire cast and crew waiting for his arrival and when he finally turned up at Hamburg’s airport, direct from Francis Ford Coppola’s set of Apocalypse Now (1979) in the Philippines, he was still in his photographer’s costume and out of his mind on drugs and alcohol. However, according to Wenders, when he said “action”, Hopper was completely in the character, but back to his prior rather psychotic state after the order “cut!” Ganz took great resentment at Hopper’s unprofessionalism and a few days into shooting, his frustration erupted and he punched his American co-star in the face. Hopper however was a far more experienced brawler and soon bloodied Ganz’s lip. The two continued to brawl their way off the set into Hopper’s Thunderbird only to return to the set the next morning arm in arm, heavily intoxicated, differences settled, but in no state to be filmed. (17) The chemistry between the two very different stars is one of the strongest suits of the film, along with the superb direction—one particular highlight is a masterful scene depicting Jonathan’s inept murder of an American underworld figure in the Parisian metro system.

Once again, although the film was predominantly set in Europe, the unifying aesthetic was American. This time, Wenders and Müller decided to model the film’s look on Edward Hopper, whose own work had been heavily influenced by American cinema. Wenders was drawn to Hopper’s simplicity of framing and the ominous mood of his painting—Hopper’s often deserted urban landscapes seemed to capture a moment of quiet “before all hell breaks loose”. (18) The choice of Edward Hopper combined with Jürgen Knieper’s brooding score created a sense in the viewer that danger is always just around the corner. Furthermore, the use of a deliberately American aesthetic in European locations brought a peculiar geographic confusion to the viewer with cross cutting geared to accentuate this confusion.

Although heralding a shift towards more conventional genre filmmaking for Wenders, The American Friend still features Wendersian motifs such as the use of rock ‘n’ roll, with Jonathan singing the Kinks’ “There’s Too Much on My Mind” to himself in his workshop; motion, as in Jonathan’s travels from Hamburg to Paris and Munich, and allusions to the corruptive nature of American movies. Wenders’ discourse on Hollywood is at once damning and reverential, as he ironically cast Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller as an art forger and a crime boss respectively. (19)

The American Friend was Germany’s only entry in the Cannes Film Festival in 1977. It did not win a prize, unlike Kings of the Road, which won the FIPRESCI, but it did catch the eye of Francis Ford Coppola, who was beginning his attempts to shape himself into a studio mogul, founding his own Zoetrope Studios. Wenders was travelling in Australia when he got word that Coppola wanted him to direct a feature film in America.

Alice in the Cities

Taking up this opportunity also meant the end of his relationship with Lisa Kreuzer, who had appeared in his last four films—like Alice’s mother in Alice in the Cities, she could speak little English and America held little to offer her in terms of her career. However, Hammett (1982) was a difficult project, from its beginnings in 1978 to its completion and release more than four years later. After the wrap of the first shoot, Coppola was dissatisfied and ordered the film to be completely re-shot. Apparently only 30% of Wenders original film remained in the final cut. Coppola’s own imprint is clearly on the final version, particularly in the closing sequence, which employs the same style of superimposed images as seen in Apocalypse Now and the Cotton Club (1984). Nevertheless, Hammett is a fairly enjoyable homage to the author of the Maltese Falcon, among other noir novels, as well as to the noir genre itself, with beautiful compositions drenched in jet-black shadow courtesy of veteran cinematographer Joseph Biroc who had shot Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), alongside numerous B-movies including Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957), a personal favourite of Wenders. (20) Sam Fuller also appeared in Hammett in a small role as “Old man in pool hall”.

During the numerous setbacks during the production of Hammett, Wenders did not remain idle, but found the time to make four films, which were far more personal. He also married singer songwriter and former Bob Dylan backing singer, Ronee Blakely, whose voice he had previously enthused about in a review of Robert Altman’s Nashville (1976) in the German newspaper Die Ziet. However, the marriage failed to outlive the production of Hammett.

Lightning Over Water (1980) was a collaboration between Wenders and Nicholas Ray during the last weeks of Ray’s life, as he succumbed to terminal cancer. It is an intimate portrait of the director as he reflects on his life and career and blends documentary with fictional elements. During the extensive post-production of Hammett in 1982, Wenders also made two short films for French television. Reverse Angle was a film diary about the editing of Hammett. Chambre 666 was filmed in room 666 at the Hotel Martinez during the Cannes Film Festival in which such luminaries as Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, Steven Spielberg, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Michelangelo Antonioni are all put the question: “Is cinema a language about to get lost, an art about to die?”

The feature film, which Wenders’ directed during the complicated birth of Hammett happened quite by accident. Wenders was visiting the set of Ráûl Rúiz’s The Territory (1981) on location in Portugal and was wistfully reminded of the way that he used to enjoy making feature films. However, Rúiz’s own production was hardly trouble free and they ran out of film mid-shoot. Wenders helped out by sending for some stock stored in a refrigerator in Berlin, thus enabling them to wrap the film. After shooting concluded, Wenders asked whether he could borrow the cast and crew to start another film straight away. This film became The State of Things, which addressed many of the problems that Wenders had encountered working within America. The film also borrows from Rúiz’s experience in the opening sequence on the Portuguese coast where a German director, Friedrich Munro (addressed as “Fritz” —and obviously a reference to two of the most famous German émigré filmmakers), played by Patrick Bauchau, is told by his cinematographer, played by Sam Fuller, that further shooting is impossible, as they have run out of film. The State of Things marked a return to Wenders’ more spontaneous style of filmmaking. Cinematography was provided by an even older camera veteran, whom Wenders was surprised was still alive: Henri Alekan, who had shot Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la bête, 1946). This time, photography was in black and white, with Wenders’ feelings on this perhaps best summed up by Sam Fuller’s line as cinematographer: “Life is in colour, but black and white is more realistic”.

The storyline of The State of Things is very bleak indeed, chronicling a cast and crew in limbo in Portugal after an aborted production of a science fiction remake ironically titled The Survivors. (21) In a desperate attempt to rescue the film, Fritz travels to Hollywood to try to track down the film’s missing producer, Gordon, who it turns out is on the run from loan sharks who were unimpressed with the film’s black and white visuals, asking “What’s wrong with the colour?” However, it is in America where Wenders’ film really finds its feet, with a series of stunning compositions and a wonderful burst of what the film lacked to this point—narrative drive. In America, Fritz finds himself in a real life movie, which ultimately costs him his life. As Wenders’ commented in the short documentary Fish Flying Over Hollywood (1982):

It’s an investigation into my profession. I started it in a very dark mood – a film noir if ever there was one. And then this film did a magic trick – it pulled itself up and me with it by its own bootstraps. Imagine at the end of a movie that says “cinema is over”, I was telling stories again like a maniac. The film had overcome the dilemma that it dealt with. Filmmaking and story telling seemed a piece of cake again. (22)

During the production of Hammett,Wenders also met musician/writer/actor Sam Shepard, who at one stage was acting in Frances (Graeme Clifford, 1982) in an opposite studio. Shepard gave him a manuscript of his poems and short stories, which at that stage was called Transfiction, but was later published as Motel Chronicles. This manuscript was the inspiration for a collaboration between the two which resulted in one of Wenders’ most artistically and commercially successful works: Paris, Texas (1984).

Paris, Texas

Shot with a crew of only about 20, Paris, Texas was made completely outside the studio system and is a milestone in independent filmmaking. In fact, most of the crew risked deportation by breaking the conditions of their tourist visas. Shooting was reduced by weeks and almost closed down when the American Teamster’s Union got wind of the production and began to make increasing demands that union drivers be hired by the production. A compromise was reached when, rather than having to hire his own driver, Wenders joined the union himself. Paris, Texas ultimately won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Paris, Texas begins with the depiction of a man who collapses outside a small town. The man, Travis, is mute, but a crooked German doctor (played by Bernard Wicki, who directed the anti-war film The Bridge [Die Brücke, 1962]) finds a card in his wallet and calls the number and so Travis’ brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) who hasn’t seen Travis for some years is summoned from LA to collect him. Since Travis disappeared, Walt and his French wife Anne (Aurore Clément) have raised Travis’ son Hunter as their own. (23) Travis gradually begins to regain his identity and after bonding with his son, they set off to find Travis’ estranged partner Jane (Nastassja Kinski) who, according to Anne, is in Houston. The film is a family drama/road movie, which moves from the Texan desert bordering Mexico, across the country to LA and then to Houston. The transition from desert to city is gradual, with only the suburbs of LA being featured before Hunter and Travis arrive in Houston—a city of glass and steel.

Wenders viewed the film as being the closure of his “American phase”. The film also represents a break in Wenders’ own tradition of filmmaking. The film follows Shepard’s screenplay up until Travis and Hunter’s departure for Houston in their search for Jane. At this point the film (in progress) left Shepard’s script behind, in search of its own ending. However, the film came to a halt until some phone calls to Shepard (with Wenders furiously scribbling away on a notepad) produced the final two monologues between Travis and Jane.

Rather than the usual rock ‘n’ roll that is so often in Wenders’ films, Ry Cooder’s haunting soundtrack stands alone, providing a perfect counterpoint to Müller’s evocative imagery. Although Wenders and Müller decided against an aesthetic model before commencing filming, the opening sequence has Travis walking through the landscape of an American “Western” mythology—a landscape very similar to Monument Valley where John Ford shot such films as Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956). The cowboy parallels once again appear at the film’s closing sequence, where Travis drives away from Houston into the sunset. Thus Travis is painted as a heroic figure, rather than a coward, for leaving his wife and child, as he has made a painful decision, sacrificing his own hopes for the happiness and those he loves most. (24)


True to Wenders’ statement that his “American phase” was over, his next film, Tokyo-ga (1985) took him to Japan in search of any remnants of the old Japan (that he felt was disappearing) as depicted in the films of Yasujiro Ozu, who had died 20 years earlier. During this pilgrimage of sorts, there are a number of bizarre sequences showing such uniquely Japanese occupations as hitting golf balls on multi-story driving ranges, the meticulous preparation of plastic models of food for window display and the Zen pokie-like pachinko parlour. The film also features a monologue/conversation with Werner Herzog on top of the Tokyo Tower, with Herzog considering applying to NASA to continue his increasingly difficult search for “adequate images”. The strangest of all sequences, however, is undoubtedly footage of Japanese rock ‘n’ rollers in outfits straight out of the 1950s practising their dance steps to a ghetto blaster in public park—perhaps inspiration for fellow Ozu-fan Jim Jarmusch’s Japanese characters in Mystery Train (1989). The film ends on a particularly touching note with Ozu’s long-time camera assistant, Yuharu Atsuta who had loyally worked with Ozu since his days of silent film before finally earning the position of cinematographer in 1952. His heartfelt reminiscing of his hard taskmaster to the point where his emotions overcome him is unique and moving—one could not imagine another cinematographer who could be so heartbroken by the death of a director that they are unable to work again.

Wenders returned to Germany for his follow up feature to Paris, Texas, a foray into the realm of fantasy about angels watching over the citizens of modern-day Berlin. The film, Wings of Desire—whose German title, Der Himmel über Berlin, has a double meaning in English as “The Sky/Heaven Over Berlin”—reunited Wenders with two of his past collaborators, Bruno Ganz and Peter Handke. Ganz plays the angel Damiel and Otto Sander—another well-established actor, who Ganz had often acted with in the theatre, but never on film—plays his angel friend Cassiel. Both are invisible to all human ‘mortals’ with the curious exception of children. Wenders also cast his editor for Tokyo-ga, French Solveig Dommartin (with whom he was also involved in a relationship with), as Marion, a circus acrobat, with whom Damiel falls in love and for whom he decides to relinquish his immortality, taking human form, to gain the ability to feel physical sensation.

Like The State of Things, Wings of Desire was shot on black and white 35mm stock by Henri Alekan. The first half of the film is almost exclusively in black and white, subjective to the angel’s distance from humanity, however colour stock was used to represent human existence. The divide between the angels and humans within the film also echoes the division between the East and West of the city of Berlin. The original idea itself was Wenders’ own, but like the second half of the production Paris, Texas, a number of key monologues—originating predominantly from the thoughts of random Berliners—overheard by the angels, were provided by Peter Handke. Richard Reitinger, who had co-written Mika Kaurismäki’s Helsinki-Naples All Night Long (1987), in which Wenders appeared as a gas station attendant, also contributed to the screenplay.

Wenders admits to having only vague ideas of how the angels should look, even at the beginning of filming. He finally opted for long black coats (and pony tails—very ’80s) after various variations of armour and wings had not worked. The realisation of the angels was a collaborative effort. At one point, Otto Sander aborted a take when he started to get rained on—no one had considered that angels should always remain dry. This realisation also led to the application of extra hair gel to ensure that the angel’s hair never moved.

The inclusion of Peter Falk (starring as himself) was actually the idea of Claire Denis, who was Wenders’ first AD, as she had been on Paris, Texas. This decision was made after she and Wenders had mused upon various well-known identities that could function as ex-angels including sports stars and politicians. Falk actually wrote his own monologues once he had returned to his home in LA, recording them in a sound studio. However, one thing that Falk overlooked was his reminiscences about his German grandmother—a rather contradictory aspect to his character that Wenders chose to ignore.

Paris, Texas. Image source: Wim Wenders - The Official Site (http://www.wim-wenders.com/movies/movies_spec/paristexas/paris_texas.htm)

Along with other Wenders regulars, Jürgen Knieper, who had provided a score for all of Wenders’ films since The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty (apart from Hammett and Paris, Texas) was once again on board. However, the then-burgeoning live music scene in Kreuzberg, West Berlin’s easternmost district, was also embraced. Interestingly, the scene was seemingly dominated by Australian ex-pat musicians, in the form of the Crime and the City Solution and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Once again, Wenders uses rock music as a moment of epiphany, with Nick Cave’s dramatic “From Her to Eternity” creating the soundtrack for Damiel’s meeting with destiny in the guise of Marion. The film earned Wim an award for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, along with other awards. The rights to the film were also snapped up by Warner Brothers, who re-made the film into the blockbuster City of Angels (1998).

Wenders returned again to Tokyo when the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris commissioned him to make a short film on the subject of fashion. The result was Notebook on Clothes and Cities (1987), a 79 minute essayist documentary reflecting on the creative process, cities, identity and the digital age through conversations with Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto.

Certainly the most ambitious film of Wenders’ career thus far was Until the End of the World (1991). Solveig Dommartin again featured in an all-star cast including Max von Sydow, Jeanne Moreau, William Hurt, Sam Neill and locations as diverse as the cast’s nationalities. Robby Müller and Rüdiger Vogler also returned to the fold for Wenders most expensive film by far. Set in the “future” of 1999, with a script written by Wenders and Peter Carey, Until the End of the World features a plot involving a camera that can enable the blind to see, a love triangle, bank robbers, the CIA and bounty hunters, all of whom are chasing each other all over the globe, all the while an Indian nuclear satellite is headed for earth. The plot is confusing to say the least. To keep to contractual obligations, the sprawling narrative was cut from 270 minutes down to 179 minutes for the Japanese, German and Australian markets and 158 minutes for the US. On release, the film was generally greeted with a lukewarm reception by critics and audiences alike. However, Wenders, dissatisfied with the result, had other ideas for the fate of his film. He put the following comments on the newsreel of the site www.wim-wenders.com in October 2002:

The Reader’s Digest version I was forced to release at the time would have broken my heart if I had left it at that. I knew that. And I felt I owed it to my actors, to my crew and to the musicians who had worked on that fabulous score, to finish the real work we had done. […] Together with my editor, Peter Przygodda, we added another full year after the delivery of the commercial version at the time, at our own expense, and finished what I considered “the real film.” Of five hours. […] At the time we had to condense the film so much that all the fun had gone out of it. The “message” had become very heavy, if not to say heavy-handed. (25)

Wenders has shown this director’s cut in various places around the world and claims that the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

In 1992, Wenders possibly bewildered a good portion of his fans by making a 30 minute short for children, titled Arisha, the Bear and the Stone Ring. The story description posted on Wenders’ website reads as follows:

The bear leaves Berlin. He’s fed up. On the way, two Russian ladies—Anna and her daughter, Arisha—hire him as their driver. During the trip, a Santa Claus who cannot stand Christmas, and then a Vietnamese family, join the group whose destination is a spot by the sea. There, on the beach, lies a stone ring, which wants to be found.

In this children’s fable written by Wenders, Rüdiger Vogler is the guy in the bear suit and the director appears as Santa Claus. Another outcome of the film’s production was Wenders meeting his future wife, Donata (then Donata Schmidt) who was the film’s camera loader.

Wings of Desire

In Faraway, So Close! Wenders followed up the open ended denouement of Wings of Desire, where it is now the angel Cassiel’s turn to become mortal. Instead of becoming mortal for romantic love, Cassiel takes human form in order to save a young girl from falling to her death from an East German apartment block in the centre of unified Berlin. This sequel is on the whole pessimistic and moralistic. The innocent Cassiel becomes alcoholic and homeless after the devil, played by Willem Defoe, introduces him to the demon drink. The presence of evil and greed in new Berlin is represented by Americans, in the form of Horst Buchholz as Tony Baker, an American arms and porn dealer who employs Cassiel, who is initially ignorant to his exact line of business, as his assistant. Wenders once again shunned the simplicity of earlier works to produce a work of half-ideas and loose ends that are clumsily bookended with an unintentionally ghoulish voiceover of the angels addressing the audience in unison. The film once again had rock music as a form of salvation, featuring a live performance of Lou Reed singing “Why Can’t I be Good?” It is also Lou Reed who saves Cassiel from the streets, handing the begging Cassiel 100 US dollars and urging him, “You can do it.” (!)

Rüdiger Vogler reprises his role as private detective Philipp Winter from Until the End of the World, which reunites him with a much older Yella Rottländer as his guardian angel. Peter Falk once again appears, but this time in a number of disappointingly unfunny sequences. Willem Defoe plays his role with appropriate menace and has a number of memorable scenes with Nastassja Kinski (as Cassiel’s angel friend Raphaela). This time, Robby Müller did not act as DP, with Jürgen Jürges (who had shot Arisha) taking the role. Richard Reitinger, who had also contributed to Wings of Desire, shared writing credits with Wenders and the East German poet/playwright/actor Ulrich Zieger.

In Germany, Wenders attracted a certain degree of criticism for using a veteran actor who had remained in Germany during the Nazi era, Heinz Rühmann. Rühmann’s role as Konrad, a chauffer who worked through the Nazi era, draws some questionable parallels between his own life and his character’s experience. In a scene where Konrad lovingly cleans a vintage car, he sympathises with it for being sent out to serve in the military campaign in the Sudetenland—evading the distinction that cars are not equipped with moral judgement. Wenders defended his decision to cast Rühmann in his final acting role, claiming that he had looked into the actor and decided for himself that he was never a Nazi.

Michail Gorbatschov, who makes a cameo appearance as himself, was perhaps the biggest casting coup. Part of his agreement to appear was that Wenders direct a promotional film for Toyota as a favour for a relative of the father of perestroika. This short commercial film titled Drive my Car has rarely been seen.

Alice in the Cities

Lisbon Story (1994) marked Wenders return to Portugal, via a return to the road movie, this time scripted solely by himself. In the film’s opening sequence depicting Rüdiger Vogler travelling by car from Berlin to Lisbon, via Paris in montage of POV shots reminiscent of Alice in the Cities, but in colour. Vogler, once again under the moniker of Philipp Winter, plays a sound engineer who travels to Lisbon at the request of his friend, the director Friedrich Munro. Munro has come to a creative crisis during the filming of a silent movie that he has been making with an old hank-crank camera. Upon arriving in Lisbon, Winter finds that Munro is nowhere to be found and sets himself about the task of gathering sounds with his tape recorder, experiencing the city and its inhabitants. Finally, when Munro turns up, Winter convinces him to finish the film in what is a far more upbeat and sentimental conclusion than in The State of Things. The obligatory guest cameo is by legendary Portuguese filmmaker, the nonagenarian Manoel de Oliveira who philosophises on the nature of cinema.

Wenders was signed on as insurance for the completion of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Beyond the Clouds (1995), who had suffered a debilitating stroke 11 years previously. The film, which was based on Antonioni’s journals and short story collections, once again featured an international all-star cast, this time including Sophie Marceau, John Malkovich, Vincent Perez, Peter Weller, Jean Reno, Fanny Ardant, Jean Moreau, Jeremy Irons and Marcello Mastroianni. The film consists of a series of vignettes that bear the unmistakable framing of Antonioni and are, in turn, ponderous, melancholy and heart-wrenching— or jaw-droppingly pretentious, depending on your taste. Each story centres on the physical and emotional aspects of relationships between men and woman. The stories are framed by a prologue, epilogue and series of intertitles, all featuring John Malkovich as “the director”, and which are the result of the familiar collaboration of Wenders, Müller and Przygodda.

Possibly inspired by his own film within a film in Lisbon Story, Wenders returned to his old alma mater, the HFF in Munich, to make a film with its students, shooting mainly with a hand-crank camera. This collaboration became A Trick of the Light (1996) and traced the birth of cinema in Berlin courtesy of the little known Skladanowsky brothers, who invented a camera projector at around the same time as Lumière in France and Edison in the United States.

Los Angeles was the setting of Wenders’ next film, The End of Violence (1997), written by the director and the American Nicholas Klein. It was also the director’s first to be shot in cinemascope. Wenders return to LA saw him reunited with past collaborators, recruiting Ry Cooder to compose his film’s score and casting Frederick Forrest and Sam Fuller in small supporting roles. However, this time Robby Müller was not on board, with Frenchman Pascal Rabaud carrying out DP duties.

The End of Violence

The story is loosely based around the character of Mike Max, (Bill Pullman) a Hollywood producer known for his violent action films. Mike seems to do nothing but work and is even surrounded by communications technology when sitting in his backyard, wheeling and dealing. He is alienated from his wife, Page (Andie MacDowell) who calls him from their bedroom to tell him that she’s leaving him. He miraculously escapes murder at the hands of two inept hitmen when they themselves are mysteriously killed. Following his brush with fate, Mike goes into hiding, enjoying the hospitality of a family of Mexican gardeners. It seems that the attempted murder of Mike can be traced back to a 400 page FBI file that had been mysteriously sent to his email account. At this point the plot diverges into several strands and open-ended ideas. A young detective known as “Doc” (Loren Dean) investigates Max’s disappearance, interviewing some-time stuntwoman and aspiring actress Cat (Traci Lind) on a movie set that is a meticulous reconstruction of Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks. The two eventually become romantically involved. The key to Max’s disappearance is Ray Bering (Gabriel Byrne) who watches over the city, monitoring a series of Orwellian anti-crime cameras from the observatory made famous by Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955)—he was the one who sent Max the file. In the meantime, Page takes over Mike’s production company whilst wearing a series of stunning Bulgari gowns and ruthlessly shuts down a movie in mid-production, helmed by a European director played by Udo Kier. We also witness several evocative poetry readings.

The reoccurring challenge to “define violence” is indicative of the meditative nature of this film, which deals with violence and alienation, the latter most often represented via technology. However, the full threat of the technology which Ray oversees is never revealed. On the whole, the effect of so many plot strands and open-ended ideas is quite puzzling.

Wenders’ next film was to be quite different. The origins of Buena Vista Social Club (1998) begin with Ry Cooder and the elderly Cuban musicians that he had been acting as producer for in Havana, prior to joining the End of Violence team in LA. During work on the soundtrack, Cooder was listless and distracted. When Wenders’ asked him what was wrong, he said that he was “still in Cuba” and played Wenders a tape of the Buena Vista Social Club recordings. Wenders was excited about the recordings, but intrigued to find out the age of the musicians, who had he assumed to be young up and comers. (26)

Focusing on the recording of Ibrahim Ferrer’s solo album, the life stories of the players, who also played on the album Buena Vista Social Club, the film also features footage from concerts in Amsterdam and documents the musicians’ first ever trip to America, to perform at Carnegie Hall. Loose in terms of structure and still a road movie of sorts, Buena Vista Social Club was one of the first major films (feature or documentary) to be shot entirely on digital video. Rather than an aesthetic choice, it was a one of practicality, allowing greater flexibility for the camera operators, as well as considerable savings in film stock and lab costs. This time, gun steadicam operator Jörg Widmer shared DP credits with Robby Müller and Lisa Rrinzler. Widmer was responsible for the fluid camera movement, in scenes such as Ibrahim Ferrer’s duet with Omara Portuondo on Silencio. Wenders himself also shot a great deal of second unit footage. Ultimately, 80 hours of raw material was edited down to a 101 minute film. (27)

Wenders next film was once again a music film, but far smaller in scope. Willie Nelson at the Teatro (1998) features 10 of Willie Nelson’s songs, performed at Daniel Lanois’ (producer of Bob Dylan and U2) studio, a converted picture theatre in Oxnard, California. The film alternates between film and video footage and features Emmy Lou Harris on backing vocals.

The Million Dollar Hotel. Image source: Wim Wenders - The Official Site (http://www.wim-wenders.com/movies/movies_spec/paristexas/paris_texas.htm)

The Million Dollar Hotel (2000) represented Wenders’ return to feature filmmaking in LA. This film also had a strong musical connection, as the story was the brainchild of Bono of U2. Wenders had directed the music video for U2’s cover of Cole Porter’s Night and Day in 1990 and U2 provided the soundtrack for this murder mystery cum romance, which starred Milla Jovovich and Jeremy Davies. Mel Gibson’s (in Wenders’ greatest casting coup to date next to Michail Gorbatschov) then recently founded company, Icon, also co-produced the film and Gibson acted in a supporting role for union rates. The story, scripted by Wenders and Nicholas Klein, is set in a run-down hotel and, like Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950) and American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999) begins with the main character narrating from beyond the grave. The film’s spectacular opening shows idiot savant, Tom Tom, played by Jeremy Davies—originally to be played by Bono (!)—running in slow motion along the roof of an old building in downtown Los Angeles. He turns and waves to off screen before taking a flying leap to his death.

The building in from which Tom Tom plummets is a flea-pit called the Million Dollar Hotel, once a respectable residence, now the home of sundry impoverished misfits. However, the story really begins with the earlier death of another resident—Izzy (played by an uncredited—ie unpaid—Tim Roth) who was a nasty piece of work and also, it turns out, the son of a billionaire. Enter Detective Skinner (Mel Gibson) an FBI agent who has been sent to solve the mystery. Did Izzy jump, or was he pushed? In order to get to the bottom of the case, Skinner installs an elaborate surveillance set-up, bugging the entire hotel with cameras and microphones and recruits Tom Tom as his reluctant informant, using the tragic beauty Eloise (also a Million Dollar resident) as Tom Tom’s bait.

The Million Dollar Hotel is a fairly patchy effort from Wenders, although it has some surprisingly comic touches. It doesn’t quite succeed either as a mystery—by the time we have know Izzy’s fate it doesn’t seem important—and Tom Tom’s innocent, platonic love Eloise fails to push many romantic buttons. One of the most problematic aspects of the film is the confusing (and confused?) characterization of Tom Tom, whose conflicting voice over and actions cause the viewer to wonder whether he is an intelligent, sensitive young man pretending to be an idiot, or just an idiot. This confounds any effort by the viewer to actually understand the character and ultimately undermines the story itself. This time, Phedon Papamichael (son of the Cassavetes collaborator of the same name) took over cinematography duties.

Since Million Dollar Hotel, Wenders has made two more music films Der BAP FilmAn Ode to Cologne in its English title—a tribute to a veteran German rock BAP, who sing in their native Cologne dialect, Kölsch, and a segment for The Blues (2002), a documentary series featuring short documentaries by the likes of Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Mike Figgis. Wenders’ installment is a tribute to two obscure American bluesmen, Skip James and J.P. Lenoir, titled Devil got my Woman. (28)

Prior to completing his Blues segment, Wenders also contributed a fictional short film to another series of themed works titled Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet (2002). Wenders’ film Twelve Miles to Trona, features alongside works by Chen Kaige, Víctor Erice, Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, Aki Kaurismäki and Spike Lee. Wenders’ contribution drew on a personal experience that he has not often discussed—an accidental drug overdose 33 years prior to filming that ended up with the director being rushed to hospital and almost dying.

As well as a having amassed a large body of filmic work, Wenders has also worked extensively as a director of commercials for Cadillac, Pontiac and Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) and continued to make music videos for U2 as well as David Byrne and the Eels. In addition to this, he has authored three books of collected essays and interviews\. Wenders currently has a travelling exhibition of photographic prints titled Pictures from the Surface of the Earth. Many of the prints featured in the exhibition were taken during the location scouting for such film as Paris, Texas and Until the End of the World. The exhibition could just as well be titled Locations as it is the images are mainly renderings of desolate locations themselves with no intruding in the frame. Many of the images in the exhibition have also been published in various collections of Wenders’ photos. Alongside, commercial and music video directing, writing and photography, Wenders is the president of the European Film Academy and has recently taken a newly established “Visuals Science” chair at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg. Wenders is obviously not one to stand idle.

Since the 1990s it has often been remarked that Wenders’ glory days as a filmmaker are behind him. Wenders’ best work, such as Alice in the Cities, Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire feature a grace and simplicity that has been lacking from some of his more recent work. The pitfalls of Wenders’ improvisational filmmaking technique are clearly apparent in films such as Far Away, So Close!; where too many ideas fly around, confusion reigns.

Much of Wenders’ best work has been achieved in collaboration with a writer with a strong sense of structure and story—whether it be the cool intellectualism of Handke, the tough American romanticism of Shepard or even the chilling meticulousness of Highsmith. In the American spring of 2003, principal photography is set to begin on Wenders’ second collaboration with Sam Shepard, a film titled Don’t Come Knocking, which Wenders has described as a “family road farce”. As well as being co-written by Shepard, Shepard will also star in the film. Phedon Papamichael is once again signed on to carry out DP duties, which will take place in Arizona, Nevada and Montana. (29)

Wim Wenders


All titles are features, unless noted otherwise.

Locations (Schauplätze) (1967) short

Same Player Shoots Again (1967) short

Silver City (1968) short

Polizeifilm (1968) short

Alabama: 2000 Light Years From Home (1969) short

3 American LPs (1969) short

Summer in the City (1970)

The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty (Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter) (1971)

The Scarlet Letter (Der Scharlachrote Buchstabe) (1972)

Alice in the Cities (Alice in den Städten) (1973)

“The Island” and “From the Family of Reptiles” (“Die Insel” and “Aus der Familie der Panzerechsen”) (1974) two episodes from television series “A House for Us”

Wrong Move (Falsche Bewegung) (1975)

Kings of the Road (Im Lauf der Zeit) (1976)

The American Friend (Der Amerikanische Freund) (1977)

Lightning Over Water (1980)

The State of Things (Der Stand der Dinge) (1982)

Reverse Angle (1982)

Chambre 666 (1982)

Hammett (1982)

Paris, Texas (1984)

Tokyo-ga (1985)

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin) (1987)

Notebook on Cities and Clothes (Aufzeichnungen zu Kleidern und Städten) (1989)

The American Friend

Until the End of the World (1991)

Arisha, the Bear and the Stone Ring (1992)

Faraway, So Close! (In Weiter Ferne, so Nah!) (1993)

Lisbon Story (1994)

Beyond the Clouds (1995) with Michelangelo Antonioni

A Trick of the Light (Die Gebrüder Skladanowsky) (1996)

The End of Violence (1997)

Willie Nelson at the Teatro (1998) documentary

Buena Vista Social Club (1998) documentary

The Million Dollar Hotel (2000)

The Blues: Devil got my Woman (2002) documentary

Twelve Miles to Trona (2002) part of omnibus film Ten Minutes Older: the Trumpet

Land of Plenty (2004)

Don’t Come Knocking (2005)

Invisibles (2007) documentary, segment “Invisible Crimes”

Palermo Shooting (2008)

(2008) segment “Person to Person”

Il volo (2010) documentary short

If Buildings Could Talk (2010) documentary short

Pina (2011) documentary

Mundo Invisivel (2012) segment “Ver ou Não Ver”

Cathedrals of Culture (2014) documentary, segment “The Berlin Philharmonic”

The Salt of the Earth (2014) documentary

Every Thing Will Be Fine (2015)

Les beaux jours d’Aranjuez (2016)

Submergence (2017)

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (2018) documentary, filming



Michael Atkinson, “Crossing the Frontiers”, Sight and Sound, 1, 1994

Steven Cohan & Ina Rae Hark (eds), The Road Movie Book, Routledge, London, New York, 1997

Timothy Corrigan, New German Film: The Displaced Image, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1986

James Franklin, New German Cinema: From Oberhausen to Hamburg, Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1983

Frieda Graf (ed.), Reihe Film 44: Wim Wenders, Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich, 1991

Todd Kontje, The German Bildungsroman: The History of a National Genre, Camden House, Columbia, 1993

Gerhard Mayer, Der Deutsche Bildungsroman: von der Aufklärung bis zur Gegenwart, J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart, 1992

Hans Günther Pflaum, Germany on Film: Theme and Content in the Cinema of the Federal Republic of Germany, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1990

Klaus Phillips (ed.), New German Filmmakers: From Oberhausen Through the 1970s, Frederick Ungar, New York, 1984

Hans Helmut Prinzler, Chronik des deutschen Films 1895–1994, Stuttgart, Weimar: Metzer, 1995

Reinhold Rauh, Wim Wenders und seine Filme, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich, 1990

John Sandford, The New German Cinema, Oswald Wolff, London, 1980

Wim Wenders, Emotion Pictures: Essays und Filmkritiken 1968–1984, Verlag der Autoren. Frankfurt/Main, 1986

Wim Wenders, Logik der Bilder: Essays und Gespräche, Verlag der Autoren, Frankfurt/Main, 1986

Wim Wenders, The Act of Seeing, Faber and Faber, London, 1992

Articles in Senses of Cinema

Lisbon Story: Portugal Year Zero by Carloss James Chamberlin

Web Resources

Film Directors – Articles on the Internet
Several online articles can be found here.

Interview with Wim Wenders

Interview with Wim Wenders for The End of Violence

Wim Wenders interview

Wim Wenders—The Official Site

Click here to search for Wim Wenders DVDs, videos and books at


  1. Reinhold Rauh, Wim Wenders und seine Filme, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich, 1990, p. 12
  2. Rauh, pp. 12–13
  3. Wim Wenders, Logik der Bilder: Essays und Gespräche, Verlag der Autoren, Frankfurt/Main, 1986, p. 53 [translated from original German by the author]
  4. From Wim Wenders—The Official Site,
  5. Klaus Phillips (ed.), New German Filmmakers: From Oberhausen Through the 1970s, Frederick Ungar, New York, 1984, p. 382
  6. “Fireside chat with Wim Wenders” presented by Popcorn Taxi at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, 2 March, 2003
  7. This was a technique which Jim Jarmusch later employed in the opening sequence of Down by Law (1986) for which he also recruited Müller, who would also become his regular DP.
  8. Another milestone in Wenders career to occur in 1970 was the establishment of the company Verlag der Autoren, which Wenders formed along with 11 other filmmakers (including Rainer Werner Fassbinder) to ensure that their films received distribution.
  9. Rauh, p. 34
  10. Rauh, p. 36
  11. Wenders, p. 115
  12. “Fireside chat with Wim Wenders”
  13. Wenders, p. 39
  14. Already in 1970, Wenders had written an article mourning the loss of the “humanity” which typified the films of John Ford.
  15. Alice in the Cities was a critical, though not a commercial, success and Wenders had to direct two episodes of the German children’s television series The Family of Reptiles (1974) in order to recoup some of his production expenses.
  16. Wenders, pp. 72-73
  17. “Fireside chat with Wim Wenders”
  18. “Fireside chat with Wim Wenders”
  19. Hopper was not Wenders’ first choice. Wenders originally wanted John Cassavetes for the role but Cassavetes recommended Hopper for the role of the shady Tom Ripley when his own filmmaking commitments prevented him from accepting the role. Hopper, who had acted in Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), in turn introduced Wenders to Ray.
  20. Additional photography was undertaken by another Hollywood veteran, Lucien Ballard, who had shot John Boorman’s first foray into American movie making, Point Blank (1967).
  21. The film within the film is actually a remake of Roger Corman’s The Day the World Ended (1956). Corman himself appears in Wenders film as a lawyer in LA.
  22. Another ironic twist in the production of The State of Things was that after Wenders wrapped, he gave his short ends to a young filmmaker named Jim Jarmusch, who he knew as the late Nicholas Ray’s assistant, thus allowing Jarmusch to finish Stranger than Paradise (1983). No wonder that Jarmusch lists The State of Things as one his favourite films of the 1980s (!).
  23. Hunter is played by Hunter Carson, son of L.M. Kitt Carson (of David Holzman’s Diary fame), who also received a writing credit on the screenplay.
  24. Wenders recently commented that an unfortunate by-product of the success of Paris, Texas was that Harry Dean Stanton, after years of playing support roles, decided that he would only play romantic leads. Therefore, he disappeared off the map, like Travis, into the Hollywood wilderness.
  25. Brent Aliverti, http://www.theacf.com/endworld/
  26. RRR FM (Melbourne) radio interview
  27. From Wim Wenders—the Official Site,
  28. Oliver Samson, “Wim Wenders: Art in Motion”, Deutsche Welle, 21 November, 2002,
  29. It may be worth mentioning that Wenders and Shepard were set to work together on another co-authored screenplay in 2000. This film, In Amerika, initially planned as a romantic road movie, never got past the pre-production stages.

About The Author

David Tacon studied German at the University of Melbourne and Cinema Studies at Freie Universität Berlin, completing a thesis entitled Road Movies: Wim Wenders und der amerikanische Traum in Melbourne as part of his BA (Hons). He currently resides in Melbourne and works as a translator and editor.

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