Tue, 23 Aug 1994

Wim Wenders featured in German film festival

By Jane Freebury

JAKARTA (JP): This week at the Teater Tertutup of the Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) arts center a retrospective of a key name of contemporary German cinema, director Wim Wenders, is being featured. The six films being screened are more recent pieces from a filmmaking career which began in 1967 and has resulted in over 25 films.

Wenders was among the new generation of independent filmmakers who broke with tradition in the 1960s and 1970s to explore possibilities for a film culture which spoke about the real concerns of German people, the young in particular. Wenders was among the founding members of the "Author's Film Publishers", a cooperative which distributed the films of young German filmmakers.

The State of Things (Der Stand Der Dinge), 1981-1982, was made at a time of public protest against the spread of nuclear weaponry in Europe. It won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.

The State of Things opens on the Atlantic Coast of Portugal, the edge of nowhere. A place from which you can well imagine it was once thought that the earth dropped away at the horizon. Behind the coastline, with its sober cliffs and crashing surf, the hinterland landscape is eroded, savaged by wind and sun - or by a calamity far worse? People come into frame and it looks like a nuclear holocaust has occurred and they trying to survive. They are forced into desperate acts when some of them begin to "melt".

The refugees clamber towards the shelter of some roofs and walls and a large skeletal building emerges; the bomb has hit it and it is now warding off the elements, with the ocean invading its lower balconies and the wind tearing at its heights. But hang on there, there's something funny going on. Suddenly, there are people without gas masks mingling with the holocaust survivors. Suddenly, you recall a "victim" you saw earlier was holding a film camera. Abruptly, the glare of the sun softens and the breeze drops with the change of mood. Gas masks come off and protection suits are undone as the people change from film characters to cast and crew.

Things are serious behind the camera on this film shoot. The film is a remake of a 1950s science fiction film called The Most Dangerous Man Alive and has run out of money. Gordon, the producer, has flown to Los Angeles with a rough cut to get more finance but has not been heard from since. Has he absconded? The crew has done a few weeks work but can no longer keep on filming on film stock leftovers. This is not the end of the world, but perhaps it spells the end of a filmmaker's career.

The unfinished black and white holocaust film (the film within the film) has a grainy look and perhaps we are not supposed to be surprised that it ran out of money. Juxtaposed to this, is the better quality black and white The State of Things . Wenders uses of black and white in many of his films: Alice in the Citie, Kings of the Road, Wings of Desire .

The state of mind of the film crew and cast is now disaffected, but they must sit it out and wait for the money to arrive. They begin to "show and tell" to the camera and to each other. To while away time, someone is relating his excruciatingly awkward youth in golden California, someone is painting (badly), someone is playing the violin (badly), someone is exercising and someone is reading a borrowed copy of The Searchers, which the lender keeps wanting back. In the midst of these distractions Fritz, the director, leaves the set for America to get to the bottom of Gordon's disappearance.

Even in black and white, the Californian sky looks wide and blue compared to the brooding vistas of the Old World. Fritz rents an convertible for his search and visits a high-rise office block glistening in the sun, a sign of promise and malevolence. Fritz begins to sense that he is being followed but manages to throw his pursuers off course. Then, one night outside a fast food kiosk he recognizes the pet dog of his long lost producer, and finally tracks him down, only to be traced and cut down himself.

In the way that art imitates life and life imitates art, The State of Things was shot during production intervals while Wenders was making a Hollywood film Hammett , (about detective story writer Dashiell Hammett) in collaboration with Francis Ford Coppolla. There was considerable disagreement between the two men and Wenders had time off from production to make both this film and Nick's Film - Lightning Over Water, a film about the Hollywood director, Nicholas Ray.


Wenders' films of this period focus on the Americanization of his country's culture (what he calls the "colonization of the unconscious") However, it is important to keep in mind that Wenders was an enthusiastic fan of American cinema and greatly admired the work of American directors Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller (Sam appears in The State of Things). Rather than deny the influence of American film Wenders incorporates both European and American elements into a new synthesis which brings about a blend of Old World intellectualism and New World contemporary rock music. The result is a film which can represent the ugly commercial realities of everyday life while contemplating the psychological dislocation of the inner being.

Other directors, Francois Truffaut, Robert Altman and Joel and Ethan Coen among them, have also gone behind the scenes to make films about filmmaking. But there is a significant difference with Wenders' piece which also touches on the demands of the mass market for commercial cinema and the need to revive the rich German film tradition. This is signified by the shot of a star in the pavement, Hollywood's tribute to the great German film director Fritz Lang.

Other films of the festival are: The Sky Above Berlin (Der Himmel Uber Berlin) Paris, Texas Nick's Film - Lightning Over Water Tokyo-Ga Aufzeichnungen zu Kleidern und Stadten (Notebook on Clothes and Cities)