Saturday, February 27, 2016

Blue Őyster Cult Sandy Pearlman Mixtape I: for the Byrds

The sound is dense, but not obviously and impressively complicated. That is, it is very coherent. It works because of its unity, not out of an accumulation of contrasting effects such as volume changes or syncopation. (48)
Crawdaddy I 10, July-August 1967, The Byrds p. 48-50

Consider these: The Byrds, The Velvet Underground, The Mothers of Invention, Love. Not a random choice among them. Because they are all groups with their own great world systems. I mean each group has its own comprehensive way of doing things, of looking at and organizing them. Often all we can recognize are the final results—this or that song—and in (21) so doing, we forget that this or that implicates some comprehensive view behind it. Not that everybody has a great world system. Not everybody is a philosopher. But for those who do, it can determine such diverse matters as album covers1, wardrobe2, haircuts3, half-time banter4, appearance of the instruments5, group athletics6, etc.


But all of these [examples] are really instances of the taste for order. Even the nihilistic stuff. That certain longing they reveal is a longing for order. Actually it gets harder and harder to imagine something nihilistic. I mean, what would it be like?8 If you do songs about perversion, drugs and popular ideas about disorder, then you are summing up an alternative, that which you happen to find tasty. And tastes change. And then what you have found tasty may even become generally palatable. And then what? Rock's great world systems are sets of alternative arrangements—or at least visions—of the world. Idealized arrangements, according to the tastes of whoever made them. They are sort of perfect—because they don't matter. Irrelevancy can always set you free and guarantee your privacy. Despite the fact that rock is big business, why should anybody care about what goes on? Unless you were really smart you would have to toil at making it as important as something else: politics say. That people do care is, then, very nice. Simple altruism probably. But most who care are still on the outside. And those on the inside, the ones who make the rock, don't care enough. That audience of theirs is so young, (23) so impressionable, and yet they'll say anything at all. Simple irresponsibility probably. Or maybe they're just self-consciously irrelevant.
Crawdaddy I 11, October 1967, Science Fiction p. 20-24

But suddenly that previously mentioned specter rears up. A really awesome monster, it comes on rushing like Diz-Busters7 with too much iron in its bloodstream and zero invisibility.
Crawdaddy I 12, January 1968, Doors and Kinks p. 21-25, 36-38

Now, about Marcel Duchamp we've gotta say this (at this time 'cause it also bears): his ready-made looms large in the potentiality of objects. It's well known that this person's self-conscious placement of an ordinary urinal in the midst of a pretty fancy 20th century art show simultaneously created an extraordinary art historical urinal and added the artist's intention to the dimensions within which objects could be manipulated. But his use of this ready-made was questionable. The art show wasn't its rightful spot. It was out of place / out of phase. So Marcel Duchamp wound up a very nasty comedian, i.e. both funny and disturbing. Setting a pattern. And, in fact, it's only been recently that the presence of a ready-made (anyone at all, anywhere at all) has become blatantly hackneyed enough to prove not always hilarious, not always scary, but sometimes just potentially comforting. R. Meltzer's term "academic beauty," encompassing such truck as Steve Noonan, Tim Buckley, Simon and Garfunkle (sic), The Bee-Gees and Pearls Before Swine, implicates this newer style for the ready-made: the formal one of modular component. Ready-mades can be taken from anywhere and plugged in anywhere. Their neutrality is violated only by the intention of their manipulators (and this intention, of course, controls where they wind up). Something becomes a ready-made when your manipulative intention takes it from one context to another. When it is intentionally recontextualized. And when these new and old contexts are equivalent, then the ready-made could seem comfortable and comforting. (In phase.) Back to the academically beautiful, and we note that the ideal for this stuff's words is most of the poetry we had to learn in the 7th through 12th grades. Perhaps that explains its high dullness potential. [...] I mean, I mean that the academically beautiful is obvious clichés. (41)
Crawdaddy I 13, February 1968, Van Dyke Parks p. 41-43

1. Album Covers

2. Wardrobe

3. Haircuts

4. Half-Time Banter

"I'd like to thank my friends here who gave me this little whip. It's really lovely, I'll keep it and cherish it forever."

5. Appearance of the Instruments

6. Group Athletics

7. Diz-Busters
This mysterious phrase graced a terrific song on the band's second album (and became the name of my first car, The Seventh Screaming Diz-Buster, a name I told at least one person [who promptly mocked the shit out of me]). There are a few extant theories about its meaning:
Albert has revealed that "diz" refers to the cleft of the penis, and that "duster's dust" refers to sperm. But the concept of diz-buster is left ambiguous. The definition of "something that can make one ejaculate" most plausibly applies to a reading that these seven diz-busters are evil, paranormal sex sirens, woman beings without a conscious [sic], the number seven bringing in a biblical element to the lyric as well. But this track could also be one of Sandy's biker songs, diz-buster referring to the result of a long, vibrating Harley ride (and then, mamas and old ladies often joke about the orgasmic qualities of a good ride). Indeed, many lines in the song could have one believe that the diz-buster is a bike (there is mention of cast iron, the mirror's face, rigid arms, routes, all suggesting this interpretation), especially in (Lucifer) light of the fact that females, female pronouns, or sexual ideas are never mentioned in the song.

Joe sheds more light on his approach to this track's lyric. "I had a tendency where I would take a Sandy Pearlman lyric and shape it. Those guys would use a Sandy Pearlman or Richard Meltzer lyric just the way they wrote it. But I always felt that structure was important in music, the structure of the lyric. So I ended up changing around the lines, not changing any of the words per se, but changing the order of the lines, which I also definitely did in Astronomy. And same with 7 Screaming Diz-Busters. Like I say, I wrote pretty much most of the music on our organ, which was in the living room of the house we rented. I would just get up in the morning and start banging on the organ, and came up with that, while Donald and Albert added in sort of the jam section." (47-48)
[from] Martin Popoff, Blue Őyster Cult: Secrets Revealed!

8. Longing for Order, Imagining Nihilism
Sandy Pearlman told me that at the last [Black Sabbath show] he attended, nobody in the audience could even stand up, barely managed to applaud, and bodies were sprawled everywhere. [...] A graphic tragic survey of the littered battlefield of the contemporary concert, with pitiful panoramas of passed-out pukes and other alliterative gimmicks. (237)
[from] Lester Bangs, Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste, "Bring Your Mother to the Gas Chamber", p. 222-242

Friday, February 26, 2016

The More Jobs We Do with These Guys the More They Squeeze Us

2 of the most enduring sub-genres of crime: cop drama and heist thriller.

Cold open. Inside a car MICHAEL BELMONT (Chiwetel Ejiofor) discusses some details about the next heist he and his team will hit. A foreshadowing occurs in this first shot. Tight, dark, and with barely any information on the screen, it gives the feeling of being lost and afraid or at least of being somewhere you shouldn't be. It's not movie-lighting dark, it's is something wrong with the screen dark.

Michael's talking with brothers RUSSELL WELCH (Norman Reedus) and GABE WELCH (Aaron Paul). They'll need 2 more for the job: MARCUS (Anthony Mackie) and FRANCO (Clifton Collins, Jr.). There's a collective apprehension about doing another job with Russian mafia gangster IRINA (Kate Winslet).

Then the opening credits.

Triple 9 (2016, John Hillcoat) understands how to focus on the dangerous atmosphere of its group of 5 bank robbers, and it seems to play out so well because it just sticks to the facts. There are never any distractions from the plot. And Triple 9 is all about plot. Although the action sequences give the film its character. Before the opening credits have finished, the crew has already geared up for their job. The opening First City Bank 3rd & Peachtree bank robbery with the exploding red dye packs brings a lot of energy with it, and there's momentum to back it up. Crime thriller. The movie hits the bullseye, I'm telling you. The way it works within the genre, it's never misguided.

The ensemble cast is terrific. The best part about the cast is that they're featured just enough to become tapestry, and then attention is always on to something else. To cut to the chase, everyone except Marcus' partner CHRIS ALLEN (Casey Affleck) is corrupt and none of them are likeable except Chris and Michael. So Triple 9 sets up Atlanta, GA as a crime-ridden ghetto warzone between the police, Russian mob, and Mara Salvatrucha 13 Mexican street gang.

Michael is almost too likeable. He worked for Blackwater in Iraq years ago where he met Russell and they worked special ops. He was married to and had a child together with a gorgeous hot model Russian woman, ELENA (Gail Gadot) who's sister is Irina. He's the leader of the crew. He's the badass and the smart one. And his only care is his son, whom he shares joint custody of with Elena.

Marcus is Anthony Mackie at his most loathsome. Smoking Black & Milds, driving with his pistol on his lap, and full of nothing but hate and a short temper, his every action feels calculated to make us hate this cop. Same with Franco. But that's another thing that gives the movie its modern edge. We sympathize more for Chris because of what he's up against all around him; and it's his own partner who he need fear most.

Like I said, the rest of the characters are scumbags and lowlifes. But, my favorite actor himself Woody Harrelson as DET. JEFF ALLEN, uncle to Chris Allen, is one of the strongest supporting roles in Triple 9. Jeff smokes joints like some cops smoke cigarettes, lives alone in a living room strewn with empty bottles and trash, and is consumed by his profession. He heads the special crimes division and fights what he calls "the demon." Hell no does he look like he has any business being a cop, he's psycho. But Triple 9 lacks the traditional moral boundaries, and Jeff comes off as the good guy, having adjusted to the responsibilities of being a cop the only way he knows how with what he's up against. The scene at the bar when he's wasted and slurs the provocation: "hey any of you motherfuckers strapped right now?" lets us know what he's about. He's not good anymore, but one time he was. Maybe I like Jeff because I know the Hank Quinlan in him.

I can't believe I can still say this, but Triple 9 is realistic. It rushes through the tense days desperate to see out the final outcome of the high stakes involved, yet doesn't shift into overly melodramatic, political, or character development timesucks like this genre has often suffered from. And the tone always feels like impending doom (the wall to wall low atonal metallic electronic drone score is great), like everything's going to go wrong, but through most of the movie we're watching how expertly proficient the cops and the robbers perform their missions. And it's fresh.

Another of the big set pieces, the projects raid is the obligatory shootout, but god it's so good. That leads to the Homeland Security Holding heist following immediately after. Also what's that they use in the heists, a taser cannon? That's awesome. All the action sequences feel like someone really knows what they're doing, giving them the attention and skill to make them good. Another great chase in itself is Jeff's speeding pursuit through traffic to the 999.

Again Triple 9 is really about Det. Jeffrey Allen. At the end, with some flecks of blood splatter on his face, that last shot, when the camera freezes on him and then slowly zooms in for a few seconds, I ask myself: why was he in that cop car instead of calling it in? I don't know, but it stays with me. That's some Hank Quinlan.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Would that It Were All So Simple

At least half of the Coen brothers' movies are set sometime during the 1920s-1960s and all of their films take place in America. The brothers are among the brightest talents to emerge from American independent cinema in the 1980s. Their diligence resulted in the back-to-back independently produced hits Fargo (1996, Coen brothers) and The Big Lebowski (1998) securing their futures with the freedom to continue working on projects of their own choice.

I've learned that some Coen brothers movies stay with me. Barton Fink (1991, Coen), Fargo (1996 Coen), The Man Who Wasn't There (2001, Coen), No Country for Old Men (2007, Coen), and A Serious Man (2009, Coen) for example, are what I call the heavy ones. They're dark, sure, but they also all open with angst and a foreboding, ominous, dark moral storm already brewing that never lets up.

But I've also learned that my response and relationship to their heavy ones doesn't interfere with my enjoyment of their lighter work.

The setting of Hail, Caear! (2016, Coen) is what is most important about it. 1950s Hollywood connotes myths, rumors, and gossip about stars, communism, sex, drugs, and all sorts of lurid pulp fodder--pretty much the dramatic elements of every James Ellroy novel. But we also have novels like Day of the Locust, The Last Tycoon, and What Makes Sammy Run? that provide similar noir tones to the fatal peril of Hollywood's lure. The point is there's a lot about that time we'll never know.

But in the hands of the Coen brothers, Hail, Caesar! is a well-executed love letter to Hollywood studio filmmaking of the classical era. And the reality of technology's pace is hard to ignore. The first sound movie was 1927 and by the mid 50s, when Hail, Caesar! takes place, it is already the end of the studio era. So short. In addition Hail, Caesar! could likely be the last movie the Coens or Roger Deakins shoot on film.

Like the fake trailers from Grindhouse (2007, Rodriguez/Tarantino) or Tropic Thunder (2008, Ben Stiller), the movies-within-the-movie are the best part of Hail, Caesar! From the opening footage of Hail, Caesar! (the movie-within-the-movie not the movie itself) we get the thrill of knowing we're watching parody, knowing we'll only be watching a few moments of any given movie, yet still suspended in a mixture of nostalgia, recognition, awe, and contempt that that's what people actually watch.

Among the coincidental similarities in the movie, we have BAIRD WHITLOCK (George Clooney) playing a Roman politician; with the "Caesar" hairdo, we recall Clooney's breakout in ER with, what else, the "Caesar" hairdo. The dancing sailor played by Channing Tatum obviously isn't a far stretch from Magic Mike (2012, Steven Soderbergh). And the Esther Williams footage is all about Williams' star status, so Johansson is perfect casting.

Along with the footage of the Roman epic, the aquatic number performed by Scarlett Johansson was breathtaking, fun, impressive and the height of how high the success of Hollywood's studio system soared. Johansson swims in an underwater tank, air bubbles from her breathing, hair and makeup to the nines, in a body of water where a mechanical whale emerges in the center of Busby Berkeley-style synchronized swimming rings of female dancers. The spout sprouts a geyser rising and rising until Johansson is revealed atop its very peak, to gracefully dive down below. As she's underwater the camera moves in to be close on her perfect face as it arises, every hair in place, her make-up immaculate and unsmirched.

Tatum's Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen style  barroom dance number with all the sailors was too much. The Coens showcase so much of what still makes these old movies so magical.

While Hail, Caesar! may at times feel episodic, I think it only enhances the entertainment value of the movie. We want to just walk around the studio lot, that's why we came. The plot feels like a throwaway, kind of like Burn After Reading (2009, Coen). It's not really important what happens to MANNIX (Josh Brolin). Mannix is our entrance into the day to day chaos of what goes on behind and in front of the scenes. Hail, Caesar!'s ingenious ending makes it clear that this is just another week in Mannix's life, and it might not even be the craziest he'll deal with, not by a longshot. Mannix is also a great counterpart to the manic delirium of Hail, Caesar!'s pace. He's a pragmatist. And what a funny detail with him and his only apparent vice: he's quit smoking and when he finally goes to confession he admits to having a couple of cigarettes.

Last word on the cast, Ralph Fiennes as director LAURENCE LAURENTZ steals the show. As the gentleman director, Fiennes finesses the dialogue and I don't know who he's supposed to be, if anyone, but I'm guessing Ernst Lubitsch. For such a short amount of screen-time, Laurentz brings more comedy than I could have ever expected.

So aside from the macguffin conspiracy thread, Hail, Caesar! is escapist entertainment of the classic variety. Sure it's light, a diversion. And sure sometimes I wonder if that makes a movie a failure. But this time I say not. Hail, Caesar! is an excellent comedy, and one with wit, insight, and a genuine love of its subject.


Monday, February 22, 2016

The Ultimate Road Movie

The end of the Wim Wenders series shown by the Austin Film Society.

In summary, what I've learned since attending 8 films directed by Wim Wenders is that he is the foremost expert practitioner of the road movie genre and his collaboration with cinematographer Robby Müller leaves several lasting proofs of their fortuitous time spent working together. Alice in den Städten (1974, Wim Wenders), Falsche Bewegung (1975, Wenders), and Im Lauf der Zeit (1976, Wenders) are their road movie trilogy.

The road movie trilogy are examples of the finest in 1970s independent personal filmmaking. They are slow, all revolve around variations of a different central protagonist, with each played by Rüdiger Vogler, and see him embark on a quest of small stakes that end with him alone as he was at the beginning. These 3 films get away with making the most out of the least. Alice in den Städten is about PHILIP WINTER (Vogler) accompanying ALICE (Yella Rottländer) from NYC to Germany and hanging out with her for a couple of days until her mom meets them their. Falsche Bewegung is about WILHELM (Vogler) walking around hoping to find ideas to write a novel about. Im Lauf der Zeit is BRUNO WINTER (Vogler) driving through some small German towns and doing maintenance work on film projectors in some theaters. But it is this foundation that Wenders constructs his artistic identity and style from.

Der amerikanische Freund (1977, Wenders) preserves the aesthetic template and loosely adapts a pulp noir narrative to it. And Paris, Texas (1984, Wenders) surfs the driving force of these 4 films, riding the crest, almost effortlessly enjoying its status as sublime masterpiece.

In Der amerikanische Freund, ZIMMERMAN (Bruno Ganz) is diagnosed with terminal leukemia, which leads him to take some contract work as an assassin. Surprisingly that break from Wenders' trajectory doesn't prevent him from observing sketches of the lives of the film's ensemble. We never feel like we're getting the biographies of Wenders' characters. That is a key to his style.

The difference in Paris, Texas is that we get to find out everything we need to know about TRAVIS (Harry Dean Stanton), JANE (Nastassja Kinski), and HUNTER (Hunter Carson) as the narrative unfolds. That Sam Shepard wrote Paris, Texas as a play that the movie is adapted from may be a contributing factor. Paris, Texas has a purpose. It deals with large stakes and knows it.

I apologize for doing a disservice to you, the reader, by not providing more information about all of the rock 'n' roll found on the soundtracks to all of these movies, or the recurring instances of characters listening to radios in their cars, motels, jukeboxes in diners, live performances, or even that Can recorded Alice in den Städten's original soundtrack.

Another trend I see in these early Wenders/Müller films is the creative character. In Alice in den Städten, Philip Winter is a journalist who rebels against his current assignment, aggravating his editor, by shooting a bunch of photos of a trip he was supposed to write about. Wilhelm's singular pursuit is writing a novel in Falsche Bewegung. Bruno loves cinema, fixes projectors and knows a thing or two about being a projectionist in Im Lauf der Zeit. Zimmerman owns a shop where he makes frames for pictures in Der amerikanische Freund and all of the criminal underworld are battling in the world of counterfeit paintings.

Which leads me to a subtle joke in Paris, Texas. If we know Wenders likes artists as his characters, and we know going into Paris, Texas that it's about America in a lot of ways, what happens when we ask who the artist is in that movie? Well it's Travis' brother WALT (Dean Stockwell) and the first time we see Walt, he's at his job. Taking up the focus of the frame, what else but an enormous black velvet painting-style portrait of Barbra Streisand on a billboard happens to be the day's work at Walt's billboard company. It's like, this bullshit is what Americans have turned art into.

OAR 1.66:1 4K DCP projected Bis ans Ende der Welt (1991, Wenders) screened yesterday in its original 5 hour cut and as theatrical screenings go, felt like it was being shown for the first time.

It wasn't until I was 20 that I saw a subtitled foreign language film. One of the most useful resources I had access to when I moved to Portland, OR when I was 19 was other people's recommendations about what movies to watch next. My cinematic appetite was voracious already. But I'd come from a small town and this was before I used the internet, so I didn't have any idea what I liked or what was out there to watch other than Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino), Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995, Todd Solondz), Lost Highway (1997, David Lynch), Your Friends & Neighbors (1998, Neil LaBute), Celebrity (1998, Woody Allen) and this John Waters VHS box set I had.

One day I went into a chain video rentals store and based on browsing the covers in the foreign section for what must have been an hour at least, I decided on Nóz w wodzie (1962, Roman Polanski) and Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman) as my first foreign movies to watch. Within the next year or so, Fat would lend me his copy of Yojimbo (1961, Akira Kurosawa), which first established my respect for his taste in movies. Anyway at this same time I was lent a couple of VHS tapes to watch, highly recommended. The tapes were of The Conversation (1974, Francis Ford Coppola) and Bis ans Ende der Welt.

The guy who lent me the tapes was named Matt. He had a girlfriend named Erin who helped open the all-ages club 17 Nautical Miles. Nice guy. I remember he was very enthusiastic about Bis ans Ende der Welt. He said something like dude it was a 5 hour movie about these people going all over the world looking for a camera that records dreams, directed by Wim Wenders, you gotta see it. It sucked. Bad. I hated it. But only now do I realize how much I missed back then watching a version that was missing 3 hours from it, panned & scanned, on a small tube TV.

I haven't seen Matt in 16 years. But he was right. To this day I keep an inventory of movies that are recommended to me personally by all sorts of different people.

Bins ans Ende der Welt is a big movie. It's a road movie, shot by Robby Müller, spans the globe, and explodes with a soundtrack of contemporary 90s rock. Released in 1991, it also boasts the reputation of being the earliest movie to deal with the millennium bug. And its prophecies are spot on while more often than not being alarmingly accurate--CLAIRE TORNEUR (Solveig Dommartin) and SAM FARBER (William Hurt), the pair the film centers on, eventually find handheld digital video viewing devices that they get addictively sucked into, lose all ties with reality, and become nearly catatonic. Take that smartphones.

The first two-thirds or so of Bins ans Ende der Welt is a frenetic cloak and dagger chase where Claire hunts Sam. But the final third is set in Australia, and takes its time closing the story of this sci-fi romance with the care it deserves. And even though Bins ans Ende der Welt is magnificent with its grand scale and huge sci-fi questions, it remains a small character sketch about a couple of romantic types merely chasing their dreams.

PHILIP WINTER (Rüdiger Vogler) returns as a Hammett-type, fedora-sporting private dick who Claire hires in Berlin to help her find Sam. Yes, Rüdiger Vogler's back! Vogler gets a lot of screen time, he's a fundamental part of the group. The whole tale is told in VO by Sam Neil who plays GENE FITZPATRICK, an ex of Claire's who's remained friends with her and is writing a book about the events as they're occurring.

Robby Müller delivers strong work, with his customary blue skies, vast deserts & green countrysides, urban neon jungles, open roads, and all manner of transportation. It all happens so quick though. Another thing I've learned is that say, with Müller's photography for example, it was always there but I had to learn how to see it. Sam is on a mission travelling around the world taking pictures on a special camera that possesses the technology to record an image and play it back to a blind person using brain waves, because he wants to show them to his blind mother in Australia (Jeanne Moreau). The photo Sam takes of his sister is right up there with my favorite frames Müller's ever attained.

The MLS, inspired by Vermeer and his window facing the northern light, falling on the subject's right side, is a poignant reference. It's an acknowledgement of the history of the art of light and its translation to the filmed image in a movie. But it's also a striking counterpoint to most of Müller's best shots, filmed outdoors, without manipulating the lighting, void of life.

The world of high tech gadgetry at play in Bins ans Ende der Welt also includes Winter's GPS software that he uses to track people for his work. But maybe the funniest gag in the movie is the "Bounty Bear." The GPS program shows an animated bear with a Russian hat on-screen while the search is being performed walking around, continuously speaking to the user: I'm searching, searching, still searching, wait a minute, okay, almost there; and again holy crap I can't believe this was made in 1991.

I am so thankful I saw this in a theater finally. There's so much in Bins ans Ende der Welt that makes me want to see it again, but I'll likely never again have the chance to on a theater screen. But I can't complain. Sometimes once is enough.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

When the Child was a Child

The 7th theatrical screening I went to of a film from the Wim Wenders series shown by AFS.

The 5 films that I discovered while attending this series that show Wenders cultivating his own style and finding the movie he was born to make are all shot by Robby Müller: Alice in den Städten (1974, Wenders), Falsche Bewegung (1975, Wenders), Im Lauf der Zeit (1976, Wenders), Der amerikanische Freund (1977, Wenders), and Paris, Texas (1984, Wenders). I knew beforehand that Müller's cinematography was my main reason for going. And I knew Paris, Texas was the one work from the series that would be the most worthwhile. Becoming thoroughly acquainted with Wenders' films from this period has paid off and far exceeded my modest expectations.

I once took a course in college called "Independent American Cinema." On the first day we were asked, "what do you think of when you hear 'independent' movie?" The whole semester was about learning what that word means in that context. Independent used to mean apart from studio production, financing, and distribution. But in the 90s that changed. There was now a lot of money to be made by targeting that market, so studios entered the business of independent films. Does independent mean small budget? Does it mean that the movie is marketed or aimed at a niche or fringe audience? You get the idea.

I still cringe when I hear the word independent used to classify a movie. Coincidentally last year I went to an Orson Welles series, and saw several theatrical screenings, shown chronologically, from his career. And it was at that time I remembered something I had forgotten along the way: Orson Welles is often called the Godfather of independent film. Welles always developed and shot projects he wanted to make, going through all of the hell of battling studios and investors that goes with that.

These 5 Wenders films including Paris, Texas remind me of another movie we watched in my Independent American Cinema class, Detour (1945, Edgar G. Ulmer). Released by Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), Detour is a film noir road movie straight out of poverty row. And from the body of work I consider independent films, it's one of the best examples of a movie transcending its low budget with craftsmanship that gets so much story, performances, tone, fatal, out-of-breath, fever-dream and all around entertainment that it readdresses the question what makes a movie good?

These 5 films are some of the rarest, best examples of independent filmmaking at its best. Their slow pace, the freedom from strictly setting up and executing traditional plots, their location photography of interesting spaces that aren't necessarily crucial to the story or even beautiful, their love of the everyday and ordinary, all work together. And all remind us of the joy of finding a good movie, especially when you've never heard of it before or it looks like it didn't have a very large budget. And for good measure these films also have great rock songs thrown in, and are mostly in black and white.

From the Wim Wenders Stiftung, remastered in 4K DCP and shown theatrically in its OAR 1.66:1, Der Himmel über Berlin (1987, Wenders) played this past weekend and I went to check it out.

Der Himmel über Berlin is a bit of a departure from where we've seen Wenders going up to this point. But a lot of filmmakers get to a similar crossroads, where they seem to find that they can only take the independent style so far. So what is it? A black and white European arthouse film. Maybe it's even the European arthouse film. But Der Himmel über Berlin is also practically high-concept, and even commercially packaged.

The concept is simple: Angels watch over the people in Berlin and hear their thoughts. One day an angel, DAMIEL (Bruno Ganz), decides he wants to become human after falling in love with a human, MARION (Solveig Dommartin). And Der Himmel über Berlin is one of those movies where after it was finished I can't think of one other thing I learned or experienced other than: one day an angel, DAMIEL (Bruno Ganz), decides he wants to become human after falling in love with a human, MARION (Solveig Dommartin).

To its credit, Der Himmel über Berlin preserves Wenders' interests in showing everyday ordinary people, but this time the protags are immortal ghost observers watching over us. After the poem and the opening credits, the introductory shot of long hair pulled-back-in-a-ponytail, trench coat-clad Damiel high up on top of a ledge looking down on the select few children whom are able to see angels is iconic and quickly establishes Der Himmel über Berlin's look. Filmed in beautiful high contrast black and white by Henri Alekan, most of the shots are from subjective POVs done with Steadicam, cranes, or a dolly. And at this point it's safe to say Robbie Müller has proven that he hates Steadicam, which is another reason Der Himmel über Berlin has its own look. Of course Der Himmel über Berlin's camera movement and angles are motivated by seeing this world through the eyes of the angels--a clue to this is also that after a shot of the sky that follows the opening credits, we get a CU of an eyeball. The camera, like the angels, floats. It's always moving. Always observing people. But there's more to it. The axes are balanced with precision.

The sound design also contributes a lot, specifically with this device of Damiel and CASSIEL (Otto Sander) hearing everyone's thoughts, and with some built in subtle brooding cello which will continually serve as a minimal somber contrast to the chaos of all of the human thoughts. Anyone familiar with R.E.M's "Everybody Hurts" music video will be familiar with the shot floating through cars waiting in traffic with subtitles showing what the thoughts of their individual drivers are, but it's the library that establishes how overwhelming this cacophony can get.

Early on in an airplane we are also introduced to an actor named PETER (Peter Faulk) who provides all sorts of laughs. His first thoughts heard are: what am I doing playing this part?

Der Himmel über Berlin is sublime when all of the disparate characteristics of the humans coalesce. Many people are in pain, thinking about suicide. Many of these people are saved by the angels, but not all. Some people think of trivial matters. Some question their own identities. I get the most out of the anxious prostitute wandering in the street, paranoid one second, reminded of the love of a former boyfriend who was good "and that's why he ain't around no more" the next second. Or the young child in the crowded room full of strangers thinking: "I've been sitting here all morning. I'm so cold and bored."

Marion is a trapeze artist in a circus. Inside there are some great choreographed shots motivated by mimicking the movement of a trapeze back and forth, it even made me a little scared of heights for a second. In her bedroom, there's a scene where Damiel watches her and she puts on a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album and we, along with him, hear her sing along in her head. I like these sound design flourishes. Anyway Damiel becomes human and the final act is his search for his object of desire, Marion. There's a Nick Cave concert they go to.

Sure Wings of Desire is a stupid name. And yeah Damiel and Cassiel look dated with their long trench coats and long hair pulled back in ponytails (are those mullets?). And it all feels arty. But like Wenders' best, he finds inspiration from creative characters who perform, dance, act, play music, sculpt, write, and gets us to empathize with those around us. And he makes entertaining and interesting scenes out of the small things in life.


Monday, February 08, 2016

Irreconcilable Differences

Yet another take on the auteur theory:

Without debating whether films are made by an individual or collectively (thus negating any claims of sole credit), I stubbornly cling to my lifelong collector's compulsion to enjoy memorizing all of a director's works and the year they came out. Am I the only one who gets a kick out of the publicity still of Alfred Hitchcock next to a tower of the screenplays to his films, with the titles printed on the spines, in order?

I thank my lucky stars that theaters have shown retrospectives of individual directors since the 1970s as far as I know. Getting to see a director develop while their skills improve is a joy, whether they seem to make the same thing over and over again or constantly reinvent themselves.

Furthermore, theatrical exhibition provides several advantages. Often a film will only be shown once, so you can't afford to let your attention wander. And sometimes you may never get to see it projected in a theater again, so all you will keep is your own memory of it, like the sweet Celine and Julie find in their mouths after leaving the ghost house and coming back to reality.

But the obvious benefit is the size of the image. Showing certain movies intended for theatrical release on a TV is assault.

The sixth film I've seen shown from the theatrical retrospective of Wim Wenders put on by AFS.

The screen is all black.

Atonal metallic percussion sounds ominously, gently mourn from some place beyond like Native American spirits attached to their homelands. Vibrant red saturated text appears on-screen displaying the brief opening credits. Red will play a strong role in the rest of the film.

A helicopter shot of the closest Texas has come to looking like Monument Valley floats through a desolate canyon with no signs of life, until the next shot links this POV to a hawk in the sky.

A steel guitar strums wobbly, as if drunk or about to pass out from dehydration, just like TRAVIS HENDERSON (Harry Dean Stanton).

Travis walks. His pinstriped suit dusty, ragged. His beard, shabby. He wears a red ball cap and carries a plastic one-gallon jug of water that's just run out. His eyes are haunted. He's barely staying afloat in the wake of a devastating trauma in his past.

Travis slinks in between the wires of a barbwire fence and twists the knob on a spicket. Nothing. Dry. He enters a bar, then collapses on the floor.

WALT (Dean Stockwell), Travis's brother, flies in from LA to help him.

This past weekend I had the fortune of attending both screenings of Paris, Texas (1984, Wim Wenders) from a 4K DCP restored by the Wim Wenders Stiftung in 2014 and projected in its OAR of 1.66:1.

Paris, Texas is the reason I came to this series. It's the one I'd been looking forward to. Many consider it Wenders' best known work. It also won the Palme d'Or at the 1984 Cannes film festival. And some trivia: Claire Denis is first assistant director on Paris, Texas. She is now known for many a great movies in her own directing career beginning with Chocolat (1988, Denis). And Agnès Godard is first assistant camera on Paris, Texas. She will go on to serve as Denis' director of photography on nearly all of her films.

Robby Müller is the cinematographer of Paris, Texas and shows his skilled craftsmanship with every camera set-up in the film. After Walt lands in TX he fills up his rental car at a gas station, with uncorrected fluorescent lights overhead casting green light on him while in the background the sunset is such a deep red one wonders how such a shot was even possible. How was the sky that red?

Terry Malick tells his camera department not to photograph blue skies. Thats' one way. It's understandable that he prefers his movies to feature overcast skies so they don't look, say, too much like a postcard. Paris, Texas opens with blue, often cloudless skies, and commit to that choice anytime there's a daytime exterior (with the exception of a rainstorm shot). Paris, Texas is a cinematography movie, despite my guess that its makers would probably say that their intention was not to distract the audience with the way the images were photographed.

After Walt leaves the doctor's' office where Travis was last seen he leaves in search of him. There's a shot of a blacktop highway that leads to infinity and a shot of a caliche road winding towards a backdrop of mesa. Walt chooses the caliche. Travis walks through green pastures. Some black cows graze. The magnitude of scale is staggering. And somehow Walt pulls up, like it's the most ordinary thing in the world. As Walt looks at Travis he comments: "What the hell happened to you anyway? You look like 40 miles of rough road." This comment not only alludes to the subtext of the previous scene--Walt guesses the rough road will lead him to Travis, which it does. But the comment also describes Harry Dean Stanton's iconic visage.

Stanton as the docile soft-spoken Travis and Stockwell as the kind and gentle Walt's performances are the foundation of the cast. Paris, Texas is serene, but something's at the core of it that is revealed to be a damaging wound that can never be healed. The first half of the movie is Walt finding Travis after he'd been missing for 4 years. Even when Walt finds him Travis refuses to tell him what happened. But it's also Travis finding his son, HUNTER (Hunter Carson).

When Travis gets to Walt's and Hunter walks downstairs, all dressed up, nice white shirt, hair combed, and pauses on the banister, it's the first big moment. We get it. There's no further explanation needed. Hunter says "hi." Travis says "hi." Hunter hasn't seen his dad in four years and he needs some time before he warms up to him. The morning following Travis' arrival he offers to walk his son home after school. Hunter complains to Anne, Walt's wife: "I don't wanna walk home. Nobody walks. Everybody drives." When Hunter gets out of school and sees Travis waiting across the street, he opts for a ride home with one of his school chums instead.

I grew up in South Texas. Nobody walked anywhere. I moved to Portland, OR when I was 19 and stayed in a big house in SE called The Dustbin full of punkers, rockers, DIY artists, Reedies, and intellectuals. All sorts of people passed through. One night there were these 3 guys who were from MN who I thought were fun to hang out with that invited me out for a walk, and I asked where. They told me nowhere. At the time I couldn't understand why someone would walk somewhere for no reason. I asked "how far?" and "when will you be back?" But I went. I think we just walked up Woodstock from 39th to 52nd or past the Plaid Pantry. I'm older now and I love to walk. For no reason. With nowhere in mind.

The same complaint can be appropriated for movies nowadays: "Nobody walks. Everybody drives." Paris, Texas walks.

Walt threads up some Super 8 film of a young Hunter, Travis, Walt, Anne and JANE (Nastassja Kinski), whom we glimpse for the first time in the film. This choice of film stock sets the images apart aesthetically, but also suggests something profound in the way it depicts the love between Travis and Jane frozen in the past. We'll never see Travis and Jane together again. The only thing left of that love is a strip of film, a memory.

The second half of Paris, Texas is Travis and Hunter going back to TX to find Jane. Okay I just gotta highlight one more of my favorite Robby Müller compositions: when Travis and Hunter eat burgers and fries in the bed of the Ford Ranchero underneath the winding snakes of highways looming over them. God that's fun to look at.

Travis finds that Jane works in a peep show where individual booths have a phone and customers make various requests as they watch her or other workers through a window. They can see her but she can't see them. We see quick fleeting glances of Jane leading up to Travis finding her by taking the role of customer in one of the booths.

Nastassja Kinski's appearance as Jane in the small room is maybe the most beautiful MCU in film history; with the soft overhead lighting, the set decoration, the color scheme, the magenta angora sweater, the choice of lens and distance of the camera to her. But this scene is also painful, especially if one is susceptible to the aftermath of losing someone from a passionate romantic relationship that ended badly. The metaphor of Jane not being able to see Travis, but still there for anyone to play out their romantic fantasies with, for only a small fee. And that it's that simple. And that there's that permanent barrier that will always keep him from ever being seen by her again.

But it's the second visit Travis makes that explains it all. Sam Shepard's insight through the dialogue into the process of pathologizing in detail how a relationship disintegrated.

Jane still doesn't realize it's Travis talking to her at this point, doesn't realize that he's talking about them. Until he gets to the point where he describes when he "used to yell and throw things in the trailer." When she hears that word "trailer," she snaps to recognition. Everything about her tone changes. Memories long forgotten come flooding back.

I have this theory that I know is going to sound crackpot but it goes something like: the color red is code for the mutual love of a parent and child in Paris, Texas. When we first see Travis lost in the desert he wears a red ball cap, but its faded. When he and Walt stop in a motel the sheets on the beds are bright red. It's like Walt has that love and he's trying to take Travis to find it. Where Hunter lives, at Walt and Anne's the blinds are red. In the Super 8 movie Anne swaddles child Hunter in a red shawl. But when Travis goes to meet Jane the final time there's no more red anywhere. And the reunion between Jane and Hunter is seen by Travis outside, from a rooftop, where he's drenched in green with a sunset in the background. And the final shots of the film find Travis weeping, in a frame where we only see part of his face, from behind, and red spills into the frame from somewhere. It's like it's behind him now.


Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Beware of a Holy Whore

The last 4 years I've worked on sets for production--movies, TV, commercials--and it's the best place I could ever want to work. Of all the movies about movies, the more experience I have the more I get out of watching the ones that depict the process of production itself.

So what do we have? Both The Bad and the Beautiful (1952, Vincente Minnelli) and its sequel Two Weeks in Another Town (1962, Minnelli), Le mépris (1963, Jean-Luc Godard), Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte (1971, Rainer Werner Fassbinder), La nuit américaine (1973, François Truffaut), and Living in Oblivion (1995, Tom DiCillo). I figured there would be more. Of course, there are other movies I'm not including because they only contain some sequences on set.

These films always involve bickering, creative conflict, affairs, and to some degree substance abuse. And my first reaction is hey it's not that bad, but then when I think about it, my only conclusion is oh yeah, that's right, all of that has happened even to me at some point. But it's still a lot of fun.

Initially I deliberated going to see Der Stand der Dinge (1982, Wim Wenders) because Robby Müller didn't shoot it, I had never heard of it, and because the log line I read was a film crew on location in Lisbon runs out of film and waits for funds to resume shooting, which sounded boring.

But having watched Hammett (1982, Wenders) the night before Der Stand der Dinge was to be screened in a theater, I said fuck it, I'm all in now. Restored from its original 35mm negative in 4K by the Wim Wenders Stiftung, the AFS Wim Wenders retrospective screened Der Stand der Dinge last night at the Marchesa theater and I went. And I was punching myself in the face for almost thinking about skipping it.

I don't know what happened with Hammett, but Der Stand der Dinge has the singular quality of the greatness Wim Wenders cultivates in Alice in den Städten (1974), Falsche Bewegung (1975), Im Lauf der Zeit (1976) into Der amerikanische Freund (1977). I've gotta start with the cinematography. Henri Alekan, best known for La belle et la bête (1946, Jean Cocteau), achieves photographic images that made me forget I was watching a movie and feel like I was in an art gallery discovering work that made me stop thinking and just enjoy the spectacle of viewing beauty. Der Stand der Dinge opens with sounds of wind, in a rocky barren landscape, on a post-apocalyptic figure wearing a particle-mask, oversized safety glasses, and a backpack, who carries a small handheld video camera. The black and white cinematography has a grainy, gauzed or greasy diffusion to it that gives the images a soft, classic, otherworldly German silent expressionist that probably never existed feel to it. And this phenomenal imagery doesn't stop until the end of the movie.

Wenders returns to his sparse dialogue, lyrical pacing, bypassing plot, focusing on authentic human nuances, punctuated by irreverent spontaneous humor, and casts an overall fatal, ominous sense of longing and loss in Der Stand der Dinge. The coastal Portugal resort where most of the film takes place provides endlessly gorgeous textures with the ever present beach waves serving as the aesthetically sublime dominion of black and white western European art films.

The opening movie-within-a-movie sci-fi piece uses a sinister Carpenter-like synthesizer score, which after a long gap, creeps into the world the characters inhabit outside the movie they're making.

Sam Fuller is back for his third consecutive Wenders film acting as director of photography JOE CORBY (wordplay on Hammett's DP, Joseph Biroc). Fuller is on-screen quite a bit this time and he's terrific: funny, seemingly ad-libbing, salty, world weary, cynical, and always puffing on his trademark cigar--he brings Joe Corby to life and makes this crew believable. One of Joe's complaints in a bar involves him lamenting the curse of the telephone, as he calls it: "good news, bad news, hypocritical news, news you never hoped for," and this is just one instance of a subtext of the impending fear of technology in the film. There's a later scene when DENNIS the screenwriter shows the director the movie they're shooting's assets on an Apple II computer. It's a prophetic warning: computers are going to devour the process of filmmaking.

The first two-thirds of the narrative show the humanity of the crew in a vacuum, or to be precise, placed on a will notify status--that's what the call sheet says the day before you are to show up for work when they don't officially guarantee what time you'll be starting, if at all. I can relate to the financial anxiety of the crew around this part of the movie. But the final act follows the director FRIEDRICH MUNRO (Patrick Bauchau) to LA where he's going straight to the source for finishing funds. King of the road Wenders again captures the location perfectly both tonally and photographically. Friedrich (or as the American crew call him, "fried rice") rents a large convertible, sun pouring down on him in an empty parking lot, and blasts X's "Los Angeles," cruising with the wind in his hair as Exene belts her furious anthem.

As fried rice passes a marquee what else but John Ford's The Searchers (1956) is being advertised.

Friedrich finally confronts the elusive producer GORDON (Allen Garfield) in an RV. While the mobile home drives all night, the two men discuss aesthetics, old Hollywood road movies, the economics of filmmaking and digress into other general ranting and raving as Gordon lounges with his dachshund while the aim of Der Stand der Dinge coalesces, and reinforces the bleak, hopeless demise of individual filmmaking. But oh so beautifully.

Aside from maybe the best black and white cinematography I've ever seen (as Joe Corby says: "life is in color, but black and white is more realistic"), it's the insightful musings on the process of filmmaking and entertaining glimpses into the restless crew, their hang-ups, and the little reflections and jokes that go far in delivering the most entertaining aspects of the film. Like the funny scene when the script supervisor (played by Viva) comments on the exclusion of females in the framing of the Polaroid shots her adolescent daughter takes on set; or what seems like an awkward scene where that girl and another child hear her mom in bed with another man but she says "do you think they're fucking"; or when the Geoffrey Carey played character has the hilarious moment with the child as he's hanging laundry, remembering his awkward characteristics as a teen in LA, from Clearasil, to braces, to stuttering to "wait, what was the last one, oh yeah, cancer." I hate to spoil these scenes though, the unexpected is part of the essence of why they're funny.

Der Stand der Dinge is way better than I could have imagined. Wenders at his most, eccentric and insightful. Beautiful. Very funny.


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Orphans of the Storm

As long as I can remember being obsessed with movies I've compiled my own lists. Sure it's fine and dandy when a critic focuses on a film and provides insight into what we are seeing up there. But what about the opposite?

Sometimes there are interesting elements of a movie that aren't up there on the screen as we watch it. How often have you heard someone asking, "have you seen the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now? it's actually better than the movie itself." I'd never go that far. But, that's just me. I worship Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Coppola).

There are tons of rumors and gossip like this. I'm not as drawn to that as I am to the confounding instances of a movie being disowned by its director. And this seems to always involve an up and coming auteur battling with a studio, and a large budget at stake. We'll never see Orson Welles' original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942); David Lynch wants his name off of Dune (1984), produced by Dino De Laurentiis; producers hijacked Backtrack (1990, Dennis Hopper Alan Smithee), which I learned about from Fat who shared this article; David Fincher says he lost creative control of Alien³ (1992) to 20th Century Fox; the producers taking Wild Side (1995) out of Donald Cammell's hands allegedly precipitated his suicide; Terry Gilliam didn't entirely get to craft his vision as he wanted on The Brothers Grimm (2005) because of the Weinsteins. I wish I had a list of these kinds of movies.

It is annoying to enjoy the work of a director and find out one of his or her movies ended up in a form that he or she wishes to ignore. But for me I still watch these orphaned movies, fascinated, stubborn, unwilling to skip over them. Admittedly, I've always been compulsively enamored with directors above all else.

The Wim Wenders retrospective is about halfway through and I am very into it. Chronologically the program is at the point where Hammett (1982, Wim Wenders) was released. The 4K restorations of all of the theatrical exhibitions so far have been released thanks to Wim Wenders Stiftung, and the foundation's website lists every title in his filmography except Hammett.

Last night for the first time I watched Hammett and it wasn't shown in a theater. I watched it on DVD at my home. Yeah, shitty, I know, tell me about it.

I'd first heard about Hammett a while back watching a documentary about filmmaking, or Hollywood, or directors, or Coppola, or American Zoetrope, I can't remember exactly. But on at least one occasion I know it was spoken of with a negative connotation, and even in the context of contributing or exemplifying some of the factors leading up to the demise of Zoetrope Studios along with One from the Heart (Coppola) released the same year.

I love thinking of the film school brats of the 1970s as an American professional sports league, and fans having their favorite teams, remaining loyal to them through thick and thin. From 1970-1984 I'm a Coppola fan all the way. But Carpenter during the same period is just as impressive to go back to, hell often more impressive.

So despite the evidence that points to Coppola bullying Hammett away from Wenders, wait a minute because of the evidence that points to Coppola bullying Hammett away from Wenders I was endeared by its trainwreck of creative conflict and other odd characteristics.

Throwing out my or anyone's sensible criteria for appreciating a movie, I couldn't get enough of the artificial look the sets and lighting give off. What I mean is the sources of the lights are hard and not as diffuse as other less distracting methods of lighting--but I like this effect. Having been shot at Zoetrope Studios plays into Hammett as a throwback to 1940s Hollywood studio filmmaking. Wenders' early films shot by Robby Müller are striking because Müller sculpts light like an artist, and the locations are pre-existing spaces not studio sets. And around 1982 no one wants movies to look fake like the 40s movies do now to us, but I do because I'm into nostalgia, especially for this time in film history.

Also Wenders' earlier films are as sparse with dialogue as his desolate landscapes are void of civilization. Even though that's one of the greatest strengths of those films, Hammett is a non-stop bombardment of machine-gun fire period pulp slang dialogue. It doesn't at all feel like Wenders but it works.

Finally, since I'm slowly now beginning to actually say something about Hammett itself, the casting from Frederic Forest as HAMMETT down to several supporting characters fits in and nails the homage of the 40s noir films this is modeled on. Forest is also one of Coppola's best collaborators going back to The Conversation (1974, Coppola), and Apocalypse Now (1979, Coppola). David Patrick Kelley plays a hoarse whispered gunsel worthy of Elisha Cook, Jr.'s turn as the counterpart goon in The Maltese Falcon (1941, Huston), which is funny because Elisha Cook, Jr. also stars in Hammett. And Roy Kinnear channels Sydney Greenstreet's heavy from The Maltese Falcon just as accurately.

Who knew Jack Nance would turn up in this thing as a sex-trafficking blackmailer? Hammett boasts a formidable array of cult character actors and Nance seems to be the clincher. Director Sam Fuller also shows up again in a Wenders movie after his noir appearance in Der amerikanische Freund (1977, Wenders).

In a case of history repeating itself, this rare instance of a movie about a writer unwittingly becoming a character in one of their own type of tales happens again with The Brothers Grimm, and in both cases it sound like the director started with their first choice of cinematographer only to see them fired during production--Robby Müller and Nicola Pecorini, respectively. Anyway initially I thought the premise of a writer stumbling into one of their own stories sounded unappealing to say the least, but afterwards I've found that in these two cases I really like these movies.


Monday, February 01, 2016

Strangers on a Train

The fourth film in the AFS Wim Wenders retrospective that I went to.

Unlike the previous films directed by Wim Wenders, each released annually and assembled together in his road movie trilogy (1974-1976), Der amerikanische Freund (1977, Wenders) emerges with a tightly structured plot, is steeped significantly in the noir genre, and floats lyrically in cinematic gravitas.

The tone of Der amerikanische Freund is one of foreboding. Like some of the most melodramatic pulp noir crafted by Nick Ray or Sam Fuller the protag is a virtuous everyman who falls onto the slippery path of crime and finds himself doomed to a pitfall of inescapable consequences.

In the opening scene Nicholas Ray plays a counterfeiter colluding in a rooftop rendezvous with TOM RIPLEY (Dennis Hopper), an American business associate on a stopover from his Hamburg home to tie up some loose ends in NYC. Anytime Hopper's on-screen his magnetic effortless cool cowboy-hatted grifter project that there's a lot more to this guy we're gonna find out and boy is he funny and fun to watch.

Next back in Hamburg we meet JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN (Bruno Ganz) in an auction of a painting that places these characters in a fortuitous crossing of each others' paths. We'll learn that Zimmerman plies his trade constructing frames, and may not have much longer to live due to a leukemia diagnosis, putting him in the dilemma of how to deal with its effect on his wife and young son. With Wenders ready to be flexible combining genres in Der amerikanische Freund, all of this dark heavy subject matter gets established only to have a buddy comedy element thrown in. And it all works. Very original too.

Zimmerman is the deadpan straight man foil to Ripley's eccentric loner and the chemistry is enjoyable on a variety of levels. Thus far from what I've seen Wenders' greatest strength is character. And there's so much detail going on with Zimmerman, like his fondness for antique film/photographic novelties, passion for rock 'n' roll, and all of the different choices he makes involving his escalating high stakes embroilment in the film's straightforward plot that empathizing with him is easy and the pith of the story.

And like the best pulp crime Wenders' characters here don't feel unrelatable or like caricature, they feel like people you've met or could meet any night out. He has this humble way of expressing human objectives.

The train sequence in the third act is the high mark suspense-wise of an all around taught narrative. But somehow all still bears the brand of Wenders offbeat humor and appreciation for the requisite spontaneous aspects of life.

Robby Müller finds his compositions in urban jungles this time. The overhead angle on Zimmerman running down the escalators in Hamburg gave me vertigo. And the scenes of Zimmerman sprinting down the tunnel motorway in desperation is as good as noir imagery as evers  been done. Müller also seems as though around this time he's becoming keen on the green spike certain film stocks exhibit when photographing green flo tubes (the lamp on top of Ripley's pool table is the best example) as aesthetic device. But the red curtains and sheets in Ripley's apartment are pretty far out too. And the boat yard outside Zimmerman's Hamburg flat is perfect for the extreme long shot vistas Müller revels in.

The climax sequence of the Cad ambulance and VW bug trip also finds one of Müller's greatest examples of his style and talent.

Der amerikanische Freund is highly enjoyable even though wrought with some darkly fatal quality to it, and even though I can't say why exactly, the maniacal Hopper as Ripley writhing in spasms of release while taking selfies of himself with a Polaroid remind me of the magic of movies.