As this season shows, there may have been numerous examples of the ‘road movie’ made before he even picked up a camera and chose to hit the tarmac, but when it comes to Europe I would argue that nobody has embraced the form more than (West) German director Wim Wenders, and nowhere more influentially than in his seminal trio of works from the 1970s: Alice in the Cities (1974), Wrong Move (1975) and Kings of the Road (1976). Indeed, rarely has a filmmaker turned so consistently to the road in order to explore the complexities and machinations of contemporary society. It is therefore unsurprising that Wenders’ 1970s trilogy of road films is at the core of HOME’s homage to white line philosophers.
According to a number of accounts, Wenders was considering his future as a filmmaker when he decided to make the film that would become Alice in the Cities. Reflecting on how he might make an original work that moved beyond his obvious influences and what he perceived as the problems and limitations of his earlier works, he turned to the journey and like many before him didn’t look back. For Wenders the road offered a unique opportunity to represent the fluidity of his contemporary world, and in particular West Germany’s knotty relationship with the USA. Alice in the Cities begins there, with its West German characters marooned in unfamiliar yet strangely visually familiar surroundings, whilst in Kings of the Road we can constantly hear American forces radio as Bruno drives along the border between West and East Germany and of course the film contains the oft repeated line, ‘the Yankees have colonised our subconscious’. Travelling across West Germany also allowed Wenders to explore chance encounters with a wide variety of characters and through them the country’s own turbulent and divisive recent past. In Wrong Move this includes the character of Laertes a street singer who is struggling with his Nazi past and his role in the holocaust.
As well as a number of key behind-the-scenes collaborators such as legendary cameraman Robby Müller and editor Peter Przygodda, the trilogy is linked by the presence of actor Rüdiger Vogler who plays the lead character in each film and comes to epitomise the Wenders ‘hero’ of this period. He appears as writer Philip adrift in America, then the Netherlands and West Germany in Alice in the Cities; as aspiring writer Wilhelm, who undertakes a symbolic journey from northern to southern West Germany in Wrong Move; and finally as Bruno, a cinema projector repairman who snakes his way across the border in Kings of the Road. In each he plays a character who undertakes a journey that explores the central Wenders’ concerns of identity in contemporary West Germany and Europe’s complex relationship with the USA. In these works the road becomes a space for escape, contemplation and discussion. The narrative drive of mainstream cinema given a back seat as characters muse and reflect on the state of things around them. So important was the idea of the road to the cinema of Wim Wenders in the 1970s that he even named his production company Road Movies Filmproduktion.
Word by Andy Willis, Visiting Curator of Film at HOME.
A Voyage With Wim screens on Sun 13 Aug. Book tickets here.
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