IFS unlocks the artistry of Wim Wenders

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"The American Friend," playing at IFS 6 p.m. on April 15.
Amanda Moutinho | Boulder Weekly

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man abroad and at home. Sing to me his story as a wanderer and a traveler, armed with a camera to photograph the inner, the outer and the eternal. Sing to me his tales of twists and turns, encompassing the globe and exploring the familiar with infinite detail.

Who could fill that bill quite like the great German director Wim Wenders? Luckily for the citizens of Boulder, his works are the subject of an upcoming retrospective at CU’s International Film Series — featuring nine films, all newly restored under Wenders’s direct supervision.

Wim Wenders — born Wilhelm Ernst Wenders in Düsseldorf, German in 1945 — came to prominence during the New German Cinema of the 1970s. Triggered by the Oberhausen Manifesto in 1962 — a conscientious break from Germany’s past — a new style of German cinema was born, one that bore allegiance to Britpop and Hollywood over traditional Germanic history and storytelling.

Wenders, alongside countrymen Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, gained celebrity on an international stage. But unlike Herzog and Fassbinder, Wenders’s legacy tends to be limited to a few titles, while the rest of his oeuvre is relegated to obscurity — an undeserving fate for masterpieces of independent cinema. This is what makes IFS’s Wenders retrospective all the more a cause for celebration. Here is a chance for moviegoers to set sail and hit the road with cinema’s wandering poet, to explore Wenders’s aesthetic and watch his style develop over the course of three decades of work.

IFS kicks off the retrospective on April 8 with Wenders’s second feature film, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, from 1972. Adapted from a novel by Peter Handke — who also wrote the script for Wenders’s most famous work, Wings of DesireGoalie is greatly influenced by painting, a craft Wenders studied and practiced before picking up a camera. After years of study in Paris, Wenders admitted he was not a great painter, but his studies laid a foundation for his work with the moving image.

“I was very much attracted to frames,” Wenders says in an interview for Louisiana Channel. “I liked the idea that everything was framed in paintings and everything in the frame was right. Maybe that is an idea of beauty. It was all organized.”

Much like the directors of the New American Cinema, Wenders learned his craft by going to the movies, but as critic and filmmaker Mark Cousin notes in The Story of Film, “Wenders has often said that the anti-Jewish and nationalistic cinema of the Nazi period destroyed German image-making.”

Wenders had no choice but to look to America for inspiration, and Americana imbues the works of Alice in the Cities, 1974 (April 9); Kings of the Road, 1976 (April 10); The American Friend, 1977 (April 15) and Paris, Texas, 1984 (April 16). All are inspired by American imagery, but contain the sting of the American occupation. “The Americans have colonized our subconscious,” Kings of the Road hitchhiker Lander (Hanns Zischler) declares.

Though America inspired Wenders, he would never succumb to its cultural imperialism. In Tokyo-Ga, 1985 (April 17), Wenders blends documentary footage of Japan with clips from Yasujirô Ozu films in an attempt to understand where reality ends and cinema begins. A theme that continues through his most widely known masterpiece, Wings of Desire, 1987 (April 22), where the angel, Damiel (Bruno Ganz), meditates on a simple question: Why am I me and not you?

Although watching a Wenders film can be an enchanting experience, describing one can be frustrating. Wenders’s cinema is a road trip where the windshield — a frame and a barrier — reveals life, but remains removed. As Roger Ebert pointed out in his Great Movies review of Wings of Desire “[Wenders] suggests what it would be like to see everything and not participate in it.”

But that doesn’t mean that Wenders is disconnected from what his camera is capturing. Much like the work of Charlie Chaplin, Michael Powell, François Truffaut and  Yasujirô Ozu, Wenders is genuine in his sincerity. His work lacks irony. In lieu of directorial moralizing, Wenders asks his audience to engage with the subject matter directly.

Wender’s retrospective concludes with the director’s cut of Until the End of the World (April 23) and Buena Vista Social Club (April 24).

Here is a chance to engage with nine works from a cinematic master in close succession; to see themes develop and aesthetics mature. It doesn’t take long for a skeleton key to form and unlock a treasure chest of wealth. As the goalie (Arthur Brauss) in The Goalie’s Anxiety advises: When watching a soccer match, don’t watch the forward with the ball. Watch the keeper. While the other eyes and players focus in on one central point, the man with the ball, the keeper dances a lonely dance in anticipation of what is to happen next.

The same can be said of Wenders’s films. It is difficult to pull your eyes from the faces of Bruno Ganz, Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton, Solveig Dommartin and Peter Falk, but when you do, you will see a whole world back there.
On the Bill: Wim Wenders Retrospective. April 8- 24, Muenzinger Auditorium, 1905 Colorado Ave., Boulder, 303-492-1531. See a full schedule at internationalfilmseries.com

  • craigbhill

    I rank Paris Texas the best film of the 1980s, even more than Wings of Desire, and The American Friend an almost unknown work of genius. Here’s hoping Boulder also screens last year’s Everything Will Be Fine.