Wenders. It never hurts to be an incredible photographer who makes beautiful films. Wenders’ strengths here are Kings of the Road as his best film, The American Friend as his 4th best film, and the consistency and wall-art picturesque beauty of his body of work. He was one of the best auteurs on the planet from 1976-1987—absolutely. There’s not a lot outsider of that though and has spent the majority of his career post-Wings of Desire making documentaries (which again, for the purposes of this list and my site, is not something I track or archive).

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from Paris, Texas– a studied triumph of photography– the sunset in the background, red and blues, the ethereal neon green of the light in the foreground
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doorway work in The Kings of the Road

Best film:  Kings of the Road

  • Part of Wenders “road trilogy” which includes Alice in the Cities and Wrong Move
  • The narrative is sparse with little momentum—script-less- but this is simple description- not a negative critique as the film is brilliant
  • Beautiful rural black and white photography—said to be inspired by Walker Evans photography—minimalist folk score—reminiscent of Jarmusch in both aspects (this predates Jarmusch of course) and its beautiful rural decay (Paris, Texas director of course) not beautiful urban decay like Jarmusch. This is more sprawling than Jarmusch who, though a minimalist as well, is very structured and formally bound
  • Like the style by Wenders, the two protagonists are aimless- one a drifter fixing rural movie houses and the other a suicidal depressive
  • The wipe edit is a mistake- it’s so strange in such a protracted and spaciously paced and styled work—if you change the transitions to slow dissolves to mirror the music and landscapes it’s a markedly better film
  • Sad meditation on the death of cinema (who the hell could think cinema was dying in 1976 with the USA new wave and the German new wave with Wenders himself, Fassbinder and Herzog?) with these run down theaters—it’s a film about loss—past greatness (cinema, Germany, the past of these two men)- so many gorgeous set pieces in b/w photography- train stations, abandoned old printing presses, fair rides, it’s a travelogue like grapes of wrath and easy rider (scene in bike it’s impossible not to think of)
  • Shot sequentially— has the specs of the film to start the film which is strange (lens size, etc)
  • Meditation on self-discovery
  • I get what Wenders is doing but not sure I need to see his characters take a dump on screen
  • “film is the art of seeing” might be a to on-the-nose line from the film as Wenders talks about his style (this would bleed into the rest of his work including Wings of Desire which is a film about seeing)
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Robby Muller– Wenders long-time cinematographer who shot Alice in the Cities, The American Friend, Paris, Texas and this- Kings of the Road

total archiveable films: 6

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genius compositions abound in Wenders’ work– this from Wings of Desire

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films: 1 (Kings of the Road)

wall art photograph– Kings of the Road

top 100 films of the decade: 3 (Kings of the Road, Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire)

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perhaps the signature shot from Kings of the Road

most overrated:  Alice in the Cities is #535 on the TSPDT top 1000 and it would not be in my top 1000. I have it rated as a simple “Recommend”.

most underrated:    The American Friend is the reverse—somehow it is not in the TSPDT top 1000 and I would easily get to it. It’s gorgeous to look at, well-acted (Hopper, Bruno Ganz) and the narrative is Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley.  

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most of his work is unplotted– and deals with rural decay– The American Friend is certainly more story-driven (a Highsmith novel adaptation) and more urban– but no less beautiful
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Wenders love using both signs and neon lighting– both on display here in The American Friend
breathtaking shot from The American Friend

gem I want to spotlight: Paris, Texas

  • It’s another gorgeous travelogue road trip Wenders film with photography from Robby Mueller (dp of dead man, many of the Jarmusch films actually, and worked with Von Trier on breaking the waves and dancer in the dark) even if it isn’t half as beautiful as kings of the road (also shot by Mueller)
  • Sum of the parts are tremendous—we have a great lead performance from veteran supporting actor and this generation’s ward bond harry dean stanton. It’s written by sam shepard and ry cooder does the acoustic minimal music
  • Rustic photography of the southwest—plenty of road signs (ongoing visual motif) form into a slow burn poetic film about human relationships (with brother, son he abandoned, and wife who left him).
  • Dean Stanton is completely silent the first 25 minutes
  • It’s certainly meditative and at times it seems quite aimless
  • The opening helicopter establishing shot sure looks like ford’s monument valley
  • I love the reoccurring shot of harry dean Stanton just appearing in the frame from camera left or camera right- happens a few times to start the film (see above) almost as if he’s being photographed out of happenstance
  • Stockwell appears in a Stetson baseball cap in front of artificial background—it’s an odd statement—maybe showing he’s a fake dad to dean stanton’s son
  • Standout scene of dialogue in front of a gorgeous freeway overpass
  • Narrative influenced rain man (brother taking take of other brother with issues—can’t get on plane) and forrest gump– the dean Stanton character for the first 25 minutes is like the walking version of forrest gump
  • Slow-burn road trip movie
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a bit of Antonioni background and architecture as character here in Paris, Texas
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two of his best films were color, two b/w– here is an exemplary use of primary color in Paris, Texas
if it isn’t Harry Dean Stanton’s image above it’s this shot of the golden horizon with the advertising/signage that would be the most famous shot from Paris, Texas

stylistic innovations/traits:  Wenders, first and foremost, is a photographer. His top 4 films are magnificent– two in color and two in black and white. He made travelogues often ruminating on isolation, decay. He was highly influential to Jim Jarmusch (JJ borrowed his cinematographer Robby Muller). Jarmusch is the stronger formalist—Wenders the superior photographer. There’s no Dead Man without Paris, Texas. Wenders’ decay was more often rural. Wenders tended towards naturalism in the narrative (or lack thereof) with the clear exception of Wings of Desire–  but was great playing with neon lights in Paris, Texas and The American Friend. Wenders’ was just looser than Jarmusch—more unscripted and untethered—more romantic perhaps. The wall-art photography here is evidence of an strong auteur.

this could be Bela Tarr or Tarkovsky it’s so beautiful– from Wings of Desire

top 10

  1. Kings of the Road
  2. Wings of Desire
  3. Paris, Texas
  4. The American Friend
  5. Alice in the Cities
  6. State of Things
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incredible framing and symmetry here in Paris, Texas

By year and grades

1974- Alice in the Cities R
1976- Kings of the Road MS
1977- The American Friend HR
1982- State of Things
1984- Paris, Texas HR
1987- Wings of Desire HR

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives