On the Road: The Films of Wim Wenders
This essential retrospective devoted to one of the giants of the New German Cinema features new digital restorations of Wenders' essential early works.
Along with such filmmakers as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Alexander Kluge, Werner Schroeter and Volker Schlöndorff, Wim Wenders was one of the key members of the New German Cinema that emerged in the 1960s and '70s, and over the past four decades has established himself as one of the most renowned auteurs in world cinema. Born to a surgeon in Düsseldorf, Wenders studied medicine and philosophy before moving to Paris to become a painter, during which time he also managed to devour the history of cinema through screenings at the Cinémathèque française. Soon after, he returned to Germany and enrolled at the newly founded University of Television and Film in Munich, where he would go on to direct numerous short films as well as his first feature, Summer in the City. After graduation, Wenders and 15 other directors and authors founded the Filmverlag der Autoren, a distribution company dedicated to the production, rights administration, and distribution of the artists' own independent works.
Perhaps the most devoted cinephile amongst his contemporaries, Wenders in his early films frequently paid homage to American cinema — particularly the vast landscapes and dramatic framing of John Ford and the angst, intensity and haunted romanticism of Nicholas Ray — and revelled in his love of American pop music (Summer in the City was named after the song by The Lovin' Spoonful). But in all his work, he remained acutely aware of the strange cultural situation that allowed this love to develop: the experience of growing up and living in a first occupied, then divided Germany, whose Western half was struggling to find a postwar cultural identity in the face of a flood of American pop culture and the looming presence of a Sovietized East Germany.
Wenders' first feature out of film school, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, built upon the themes of Summer in the City and established the director's regular team of collaborators: cinematographer Robby Müller, editor Peter Przygodda, and scenarist Peter Handke, the noted Austrian novelist who had first worked with Wenders on the short film 3 American LPs. After his troubled experience shooting an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter on location in Spain, Wenders returned to Germany to direct his "road-movie trilogy" of Alice in the Cities, The Wrong Move and Kings of the Road, which not only became the foundation of his international reputation but set the thematic and stylistic template for many of his most important later works. From the existential tour of the American Southwest in Paris, Texas to the city symphony of Wings of Desire to the globe-trotting odyssey of the dizzyingly ambitious Until the End of the World, Wenders' is a cinema of drifters, searchers, and itinerant loners, surveying the remnants of the vanished past while confronting an uncertain future, trying to make sense of the world and their place within it.
Much like his characters, Wenders is himself a wanderer, crossing borders — he is a truly international filmmaker, shooting films in Europe, Asia, and the US — shuttling effortlessly between documentary and fiction, and eagerly exploring the formal possibilities of new cinematic technologies, as in his recent embrace of digital 3D. Similar to Abbas Kiarostami (the subject of this season's other major TIFF Cinematheque retrospective), who has recently taken leave of his native Iran to shoot films in Italy and Japan, Wenders has been able to retain his own artistic and cultural identity even while keenly observing and adapting to the rhythms of foreign places; he is always at home so long as he is moving.
A mainstay of international film festivals and cinematheques, Wenders has maintained a prolific output of new work, but many of his earlier films have been difficult to see due to rights issues and poor print conditions. Founded in 2012, the Wim Wenders Stiftung has set out to rectify this problem by clearing up rights issues and producing digital restorations of these films. Thanks to the Wim Wenders Stiftung and Janus Films, TIFF Cinematheque is thrilled to present this travelling retrospective of Wim Wenders' essential early works, along with some of the greatest accomplishments from his later period.
— Brad Deane
Thanks to Brian Belovarac and Janus Films.