Wim Wenders's road movies inspired me to drive to India in a camper van. Interviewing him recently, I found him reticent but still inspirationalby Mark Cousins / February 29, 2008 / Leave a comment
I have just spent an afternoon and the following morning with German filmmaker and writer Wim Wenders. A retrospective of his movies has just finished at the BFI Southbank in London and the Filmhouse in Edinburgh. Two of them—Alice in the Cities (1974) and Land of Plenty (2004)—are being released here for the first time. Spending time with him sent me on a train of thought about his cinema and my life.
Alice in the Cities, a road movie about a German man and a nine-year-old girl, was the first Wenders movie I saw, on a course at university in 1983. I still remember the opening sequence. The camera cranes down from a wooden walkway to actor Rüdiger Vogler sitting below it, alone, on a beach, singing “Under the Boardwalk.” I knew the Drifters’ version of the song, of course, but only in that scene did I realise what a boardwalk actually was. I hadn’t travelled much at that stage or, rather, I’d done so only through the proxy of cinema. Like most westerners born in the era of mass culture, American clothes, slang, songs, imagery, attitudes, movies, food, buildings and ideas were familiar to me but perhaps, like boardwalks, in an empty way.
I adored Alice in the Cities (pictured, below right, with Rüdiger Vogler and Yella Rottländer) in 1983. At one point Vogler, who’s driving around America, staying in cheap hotels, snapping everything with a Polaroid camera, says that he takes photographs not to speak, but to listen. Though I was only 18 then, I loved the daring idea that art—even if it was just a Polaroid—might not be about self-expression, but about paying attention. Soon afterwards I saw Wenders’s Kings of the Road (1976), another road movie starring Vogler, and was shocked when one of the characters squats by the roadside and defecates, in full view of the camera. Its European insolence punctured the decorum of entertainment cinema.
The next year I saw Paris, Texas (1984), fell in love with Nastassja Kinski (especially her back) and realised that Wenders’s films were all about what reviewers call the “triple As”—alienation, angst and America. Looking back it’s tempting to view them as 1990s slacker movies avant la lettre, but slacker cinema was slighter and less spiritual than Wenders’ work.
By Wings of Desire (1987), Wenders’s poetics had become…