Nationality: German. Born: Wilhelm Wenders in Düsseldorf, 14 August 1945. Education: Studied medicine and philosophy; studied at Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film, Munich, 1967–70. Career: Film critic in Munich for Süddeutsche Zeitung and Filmkritik , late
Films as Director:
Schauplätze ( Locations ) (short); Same Player Shoots Again (short)
Silver City (short); Victor I (short)
Alabama—2,000 Light Years (short); Drei amerikanische LPs ( Three American LPs ) (short)
Polizeifilm ( Police Film ) (short); Summer in the City ( Dedicated to the Kinks ) (diploma film)
Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter ( The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick )
Der scharlachrote Buchstabe ( The Scarlet Letter )
Alice in den Städten ( Alice in the Cities )
Aus der Familie der Panzerechsen ( From the Family of the Crocodilia ) (short, for TV); Die Insel ( The Island ) (short, for TV); Falsche Bewegung ( Wrong Movement )
Im Lauf der Zeit ( Kings of the Road ; In the Course of Time )
Der amerikanische Freund ( The American Friend )
Lightning over Water ( Nick's Film )
Hammett ; Der Stand der Dinge ( The State of Things )
Paris, Texas ; Room 666 (doc)
Der Himmel über Berlin ( Wings of Desire )
Aufzeichnungen zu Kleidern und Städten ( Notebook on Cities and Clothes ) (doc)
Until the End of the World
In weiter Ferne, so nah! ( Faraway, So Close )
Lisbon Story ; Beyond the Clouds (co-d with Antonioni)
The End of Violence (+ pr)
Buena Vista Social Club (doc) (+ sc)
The Million Dollar Hotel (+ pr)
I Played It for You (Blakley) (role)
Helsinki Napoli: All Night Long (Mika Kaurismaki); Yer Demir, Gok Bakir (Livaneli) (pr)
Isabelle Eberhardt (Pringle) (pr)
Delivering Milo (Castle) (pr)
By WENDERS: books—
The Film by Wim Wenders: Kings of the Road (In the Course of Time) , with Fritz Müller-Scherz, Munich, 1976.
Nick's Film—Lightning over Water , with Chris Sievernich, Frankfurt, 1981.
Paris, Texas , with Sam Shepard, Berlin, 1984.
Written in the West: Photographien aus dem amerikanische Western , Munich, 1987.
Emotion Pictures: Reflections on the Cinema , London, 1989.
The Logic of Images: Essays and Conversations , London, 1992.
My Time with Antonioni , translated by Michael Hofmann, New York, 2000.
Signs and Relics , with Sylvia Plachy, New York, 2000.
By WENDERS: articles—
" Alice in den Städten ," an interview with W. E. Bühler and P. B. Kleiser, in Filmkritik (Munich), March 1974.
"Wim Wenders über Im Lauf der Zeit ," an interview with H. Wiedemann and F. Müller-Scherz, in Film und Ton (Munich), May 1976.
"Wenders on Kings of the Road ," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1977.
"King of the Road," an interview with Carlos Clarens, in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1977.
"Filming Highsmith," an interview with Jan Dawson, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1977/78.
Interview with P. Lehman and others, in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 2, no. 4, 1978.
Interviews with Serge Daney, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1980 and June 1982.
Interview with Richard Combs, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), March 1983.
Interview with John Gallagher, in Films in Review (New York), June/July 1983.
Interview with Michel Ciment and Hubert Niogret, in Positif (Paris), September 1984.
Interview with K. Dieckman, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1984/85.
Interview with Coco Fusco, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 16, no. 4, 1988.
Interview with Robert Seidenberg, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), vol. 13, no. 8, 1988.
Interview with L. Antoccia, in Films and Filming (London), August 1988.
Interview with Sean Penn, in Interview (New York), January 1992.
"Wenders's Wanderlust," an interview with James Greenberg, in Connoisseur (New York), January 1992.
"Wim Wenders's Guilty Pleasures," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1992.
" Until the End of the World ," an interview with A.M. Bahiana, in Cinema Papers (Fitzroy), May-June 1992.
"Sleeping with Guns," an interview with Manohla Dargis, in Sight and Sound (London), May 1997.
"Crime Scene," an interview with S. Macaulay, in Filmmaker: The Magazine of Independent Film (Los Angeles), no. 1, 1997.
"Wim's of Desire," an interview with David Eimer, in Time Out (London), 7 January 1998.
On WENDERS: books—
Dawson, Jan, Wim Wenders: Cinema as Vision and Desire , New York, 1976.
Geist, Kathe, The Cinema of Wim Wenders 1967–77 , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.
Johnston, Sheila, Wim Wenders , London, 1981.
Buchka, Peter, Augen Kann man nicht Kaufen: Wim Wenders und seine Filme , Munich, 1983.
Franklin, James, New German Cinema from Oberhausen to Hamburg , Boston, 1983.
Grob, Norbert, Die Formen des filmische Blicks: Wenders: Die fruhen Filmwe , Munich, 1984.
Phillips, Klaus, editor, New German Filmmakers: From Oberhausen through the 1970s , New York, 1984.
Devillers, Jean-Pierre, Berlin, L.A., Berlin: Wim Wenders , Paris, 1985.
Geist, Kathe, The Cinema of Wim Wenders: From Paris, France, to Paris, Texas , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1988.
Rentschler, Eric, editor, West German Filmmakers on Film: Visions and Voices , New York, 1988.
Boujut, Michel, Wim Wenders: Un Voyage dans ses films , Paris, 1989.
Elsaesser, Thomas, New German Cinema: A History , London, 1989.
Estève, Michel, Wim Wenders , Paris, 1989.
Joyce, Paul, Motion and Emotion: The Films of Wim Wenders , London, 1989.
Künzel, Uwe, Wim Wenders: Ein Filmbuch , 3rd edition, Freiburg, 1989. Grob, Norbert, Wenders , Berlin, 1991.
Kolker, Robert Phillip, and Peter Beiken, The Films of Wim Wenders , New York, 1993.
On WENDERS: articles—
Rayns, Tony, "Forms of Address," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1974/75.
Ghali, N., "Dossier-auteur: Wim Wenders," in Cinéma (Paris), December 1976.
Covino, M., "Wim Wenders: A Worldwide Homesickness," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1977/78.
Stamelman, P., "Wenders at Warners," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1978.
Corrigan, Timothy J., "The Realist Gesture in the Films of Wim Wenders: Hollywood and the New German Cinema," in Quarterly Review of Film Studies (Pleasantville, New York), Spring 1980.
"Wenders Issue" of Caméra/Stylo (Paris), January 1981.
" Alice dans les villes Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 May 1981.
Bishop, R., and T. Ryan, "Wim Wenders: An American Saga," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), August 1984.
Wim Wenders Section of Cinéma (Paris), September 1984.
Wim Wenders Section of Positif (Paris), September 1984.
Ranvaud, Don, " Paris, Texas to Sydney," and John Pym, "The Road from Wuppertal," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1984.
Combs, Richard, "Ich Bin Ein Englander or Show Me the Way to Go Home," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), May 1985.
Corrigan, Timothy, "Cinematic Snuff: German Friends and Narrative Murders," in Cinema Journal (Champaign, Illinois), Winter 1985.
Geist, Kathe, "Filmmaking as Research: Wim Wenders's The State of Things ," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Winter 1986.
Snyder, Stephen, "Wim Wenders: The Hunger Artist in America," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Winter 1987.
American Friends Section of Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 16, no. 3, 1988.
Paneth, Ira, "Wim and His Wings," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), vol. 42, no. 1, 1988.
Green, Peter, "Germans Abroad," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1988.
Riley, Vikki, "From Dusseldorf to Los Angeles and the Journey Back," in Filmnews , July 1991.
Levy, Sean, "Until the End of the World: Wim Wenders's Dance around the Planet," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), January/February 1992.
Andrew, Geoff, "Wenders Way," in Time Out (London), 29 June 1994.
Falkowska, J., "American and European Voices in the Films of European Filmmakers Wim Wenders, Percy Adlon, and Aki Kaurismaki," in Canadian Journal of Film Studies (Ottawa), no. 1, 1997.
Horton, Robert, "Wim Wenders On the Road Again," in Film Comment (New York), March-April 1997.
* * *
Of the three young German filmmakers who achieved the greatest international fame in the 1970s as the vanguard of a German New Wave, Wim Wenders had perhaps a less radical though no less distinctive film style than his compatriots R. W. Fassbinder and Werner Herzog. Though critics typically cite American influences upon Wenders's "road trilogy" of the mid-1970s, there is a greater affinity with the modernist tradition of the European "art film" exemplified by the Antonioni of L'avventura and Red Desert —dramas of alienation in which restless, unrooted individuals wander through haunted, sterile, but bleakly beautiful landscapes within a free-floating narrative structure. (It is most appropriate that Wenders has directed the "frame" sections for some short pieces by the aged Italian master.) True, the ennui in these films shades into angst and American Beat gestures, and the alienation has strong roots in the spiritual yearning, the love of loneliness and wandering, of German Romanticism. Romanticism seems too to be at the root of Wenders's conception of himself (well articulated in numerous interviews) as an artist: one who evolves spiritually with each work, or reaches dead ends (as he has called The State of Things ) from which he must break out; and who sees each new work as an adventure, not to be mapped out too much in advance.
A crucial observation about Wenders's art is found in cinematographer Ed Lachman's remark that "light and landscape are actors" in his films. Wenders's characters are typically revealed against urban or rural landscapes, upon which the camera frequently lingers as the actors pass from the frame. Most of the films take place predominantly out-of-doors (the studio sets of Hammett making that film all the more of an anomaly), or offer striking views from high-rise windows and moving vehicles. The urban views most often suggest sterility but have a certain grandeur, sharing with his views of desert ( Paris, Texas ) or sea ( The State of Things ) that vastness the Romantics called "sublime." The climactic scene in the peep-show booth in Paris, Texas is all the more powerful and inventive in the context of the epic vistas of the rest of the film. And the urban scene finally becomes the central "actor" in Wings of Desire/Himmel über Berlin , indeed a "Symphony of a Great City," in which the Wall is no barrier to the gliding camera or the angelic inhabitants.
Wenders's films are dialectical: they structure contrasts not as simple polarities but as rich ongoing dialogue, and the later films seem to be in dialogue with the earlier ones. Among the central concerns from film to film are American versus European culture, the creation of mood versus tight narrative, a sense of "home" versus rootless "freedom", and even black-and-white versus color photography.
Wenders's ambivalent fascination with America has been a favorite topic for critics. None of his films is without interest in this regard, but Alice in the Cities is the first to be shot partially in America—a world of boardwalks, motels, neon, and skyscrapers, though still not so different from the urban, industrial Europe of the second half; it is also his first feature to make extensive use of American music, including the Chuck Berry concert in Wuppertal. The American Friend is a dizzying vortex of allusiveness, with its gangsters and cowboys, iconographic presences of Nicholas Ray and Dennis Hopper, miniature Statue of Liberty in Paris, Ripley's digs in Hamburg, hints of an allegory of the American film industry in Germany (the pornographers seducing the hapless framemaker), and a narrative derived from a novel by an expatriate American and strongly echoing Strangers on a Train. Wenders's "American period" from Hammett through Paris, Texas is of course of central interest here, with a whimsically mystical and lyrical embracing of humanity and the particulars of physical life that recalls Walt Whitman. Wenders still calls his production company "Road Movies" (in English).
The mid-1970s films may owe much to the American "road movie" of a few years earlier (themselves echoing Kerouac's On the Road ), but the classical Hollywood cinema is defined by its tight narrative structures, and Wenders can be felt to be wrestling with such a structure in The American Friend. He has said of Paris, Texas , in a Film Quarterly interview, "For once I was making a movie that wasn't meandering all over the place. That's what Sam [Shepard] brought to this movie of mine as an American writer: forward movement, which is very American in a way." Still, Paris, Texas is very unlike a classical Hollywood film, though the problematic Hammett , ironically enough, is like one; and the later Wings of Desire is much more a fantasia upon a great city than a classical symphony. ( Tokyo-Ga too meanders through a great city rather than being a tight documentary on Yasujiro Ozu.)
Also explored dialectically are the concepts of home and homelessness, omni-present concerns in Wenders's films. Alice in the Cities , Kings of the Road , and Until the End of the World could all have as epigraph a Barbara Stanwyck line from Clash by Night quoted by Wenders in a piece on Fritz Lang: "Home is where you get when you run out of places." The State of Things is perhaps Wenders's most bleak portrayal of homelessness, while Paris, Texas expresses the greatest yearning for home, and Until the End of the World portrays home as a trap (both womblike and filled with scientific gadgetry) of obligations to parents—a place the viewers too are trapped for the second half of a long film. Wings of Desire features an angel wishing he could "come home like Philip Marlowe and feed the cat;" an acrobat who has always felt "alone" and unattached, but now, in love, can feel "loneliness," which means "I am finally whole;" and a conclusion in which the former angel muses, "I found Home . . . instead of forever hovering above"—like Wenders's camera in this film. Obviously the issues of home/homelessness shade into the other prominent Wenders theme of aloneness versus tentative human bonds, explored especially in terms of adult-child friendships, unstable male bondings (see Faraway, So Close for its treatments of both of these), and in Wings , the angelic/mortal possibilities of adult heterosexual love.
Until the End of the World , Wenders's most ambitious project to date, indeed a would-be magnum opus, is quintessentially Wenders in its fascination with home and the road, memory and dream, the mundane and the sublime; yet it disappoints, despite its fine moments. Its early scenes splendidly evoke a future world through decor, a few striking process shots, and multiple uses of video and computer screens; yet the film is flawed in its vague and inconsistent notions of science in the second half, the amateurish handling of the few action scenes, the implausibility of some of the heroine's motives, and above all in the lack of enough meaningful connections between the "dance around the world" of the first half and the Australian home-as-science-lab second half. The Australian landscapes, and the European ones of the very beginning, are hauntingly resonant, like so many in other Wenders films, though the hopscotch around the continents in the first half seems to turn the beauties of Lisbon and rural Japan into mere postcards, an effect seemingly unintended. Perhaps the film succeeds best in its use of various video or computer-generated images to suggest the working—and inseparability—of dreams, memories, and desires. Faraway, So Close , the sequel to Wings of Desire in which Damiel's angel partner Cassiel too becomes a mortal but finds it much harder to adjust to a world of time, suffers artistically from an attempt to include too many plot strands, to work farcical gangsters and daring rescue attempts into an otherwise private, meditative film. Wenders seems at his best when his stories are starkly simple, with complexity coming from the textures of the films' environments.
Wenders once claimed, with some relish of paradox, or perhaps recollection of The Wizard of Oz , that black-and-white was suited to realism, color to fantasy. Hence those stylized tales of murder The Goalie's Anxiety and The American Friend , as well as the science-fiction Until the End of the World , were in color, and the "road trilogy" not, with Kings of the Road immediately declaring itself "a Wim Wenders film in black/white." He further claimed himself to be incapable of making a documentary in color—though he was soon to make more than one. Once again Wings of Desire seems a synthesis of previous concerns, if not a downright reversal, with the angels seeing the spiritual essence of things in black-and-white but humans perceiving the particularities of mortal life in color. Such inconsistency—or rather, willingness to change perspective—may be taken as representative of the exploratory nature of Wenders's film work as a whole.