Biography, Part 1
One of the best known directors of the New German Cinema, Wim Wenders grew up glued to the American Forces Network, fascinated not only by the music but by all things American. Raised a Catholic, he briefly entertained ambitions for the priesthood but abandoned them by the age of 18 as rock 'n' roll had become a more powerful influence. (His movies to this day reflect a continued steady love affair with American pop music, and he counts rock artists like U2's Bono, Nick Cave, Lou Reed and Ry Cooder as personal friends and collaborators.) Wenders, whose father was a surgeon, would become increasingly immersed in the counterculture and eventually give up his studies in medicine and philosophy and move to Paris where he discovered the Cinematheque Francais, often viewing as many as five feature films a day. Before he enrolled in the newly founded Munich Film School in 1967, the seeds of the "art house" style he would use to explore the impact of American culture on post-World War II German life were already germinating. Wenders made seven films while a student, culminating with his first feature (16mm) "Summer in the City" (1970), dedicated to the Kinks, and began associations with director of photography Robby Muller and editor Peter Przygodda, important players in his development as a filmmaker. Both were present for his first professional feature, "The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick" (1972), which attracted considerable critical attention, not all of it favorable. Based on a novel by Peter Handke, a Wenders friend (who had also worked on one of the student films and would write "Wrong Move" 1975 and collaborate with Wenders on "Wings of Desire" 1987), it is the first of his dramas of alienation in which restless, unrooted individuals (in this case, the beaten goalie) wander through haunted, sterile, but bleakly beautiful landscapes. The meandering, almost non-existent story left some people cold, but it was a prototype for the non-narrative structure he would master in his later films.
Wenders' team concept included actors as well, and he cast Rudiger Vogler, who had appeared in "Goalie's Anxiety", as the star of the "road movies", a trilogy on which the team continued to learn and improve. "Alice in the Cities" (1974), his first film shot partially in the USA, savages the America that had obsessed him since his youth while showing his eye and ear for inconsequential scenes that build into a subtle mood. Wenders continued his exploration of "the notion of identity" in "Wrong Move", the alienated journalist whose friendship with a little girl helps him rediscover personal relationships in "Alice" replaced by a blocked writer rambling through Germany accompanied by various social outcasts he has met. The last and best of the trilogy, "Kings of the Road" (1976), containing even less dramatic content than its predecessors, established him as a major figure in the New German Cinema. Focusing on the relationship that develops between two men as they travel in a van along the border between East and West Germany, this lonely and introspective film offers a promise of self-realization at the end that is more positive than in any of his earlier films.
"The American Friend" (1977), based on Patricia Highsmith's novel "Ripley's Game" and strongly echoing Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train", won Wenders international attention. Featuring appearances by six filmmakers (including cameos by Samuel Fuller and Nicholas Ray, two of the directors most admired by Wenders), the picture explores the unlikely and accidental friendship between Jonathan (frequent Wenders' player Bruno Ganz), a terminally-ill picture restorer and framemaker, and Ripley (Dennis Hopper), an American underworld figure who manipulates Jonathan into committing a series of murders. This story allows Wenders to focus on German/American cultural tensions and to explore the exigencies of international filmmaking dominated by Hollywood and American interests. He then co-directed Ray's death project, "Lightning Over Water" (1979), helping Ray record the agonizing details of his battle with cancer. As long as Ray dominates, the film is a remarkable study of courage, but when the baton passes to Wenders, it, unfortunately, staggers to its conclusion.
2001 BASELINE II, Inc. Celebrity Biographies