Wenders, Wim (b. 1945)

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WENDERS, WIM (b. 1945)


German film-maker.

The director Wim Wenders, born Ernst Wilhelm Wenders on 14 August 1945 in Düsseldorf, has proved to be the most internationally and commercially successful representative of the generation of filmmakers who grew up in Germany during the immediate postwar period and are associated with the "New German Cinema" that emerged in the late 1960s. Defying the prevailing tendency in the industry that favored the tame entertainment of clichéridden genre films, these young filmmakers produced provocative and artistically innovative films that rivaled the accomplishments of German film during the Weimar Republic. After brief stints as a student of medicine, philosophy, and sociology at three different universities, Wenders moved to Paris with the intention of studying painting. He discovered his vocation in film after viewing hundreds of films at the Cinémathèque Française in his free time.

At the Film School in Munich (Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen), he wrote film and music reviews and shot several short films and one feature, Summer in the City (1970), his graduation project. Wenders's next feature and first notable film, The Goalie's Anxietyat the Penalty Kick (1972; Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter), marked the start of his collaboration with the Austrian author Peter Handke (b. 1942), which also yielded The Wrong Movement (1975; Falsche Bewegung), a liberal adaptation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's (1749–1832) Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, the first part of the novel Wilhelm Meister. Handke also contributed material to Wings of Desire (1987; Der Himmel über Berlin), Wenders's most lyrical film, which depicted angels reminiscent of the immortal beings in Rainer Maria Rilke's (1875–1926) Duino Elegies (1923) in the post-modern context of divided Berlin and which earned him international acclaim and inspired the American remake City of Angels (1998).

From his early "road films" with largely German or European settings—Alice in the Cities (1974; Alice in den Städten); The Wrong Move, and Kings of the Road (1976; Im Lauf der Zeit) —to his later American and international productions, the romantic themes of journey and quest have figured prominently in Wenders's oeuvre. Incapable of relating well to others, especially to women, his protagonists often experience identity crises as they search for a sense of validation associated with locations from their childhood or attempt to reestablish connections to estranged family members. Wenders applied such themes very effectively to the contemporary American West in his two collaborative efforts with Sam Shepard (b. 1943): Paris, Texas (1984), and Don't Come Knocking (2005), for which Shepard wrote the story and screenplay and in which he stars as a down-and-out cowboy actor.

In Wenders's multinational productions, his protagonists' rootlessness often comments on the erosion of national boundaries and cultural identities, with special emphasis on the global influence of American popular culture in the form of dominant cinema and rock music, which had had such an impact on him during his formative years. In his critically recognized The American Friend (1977; Der amerikanische Freund), an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's (1921–1995) crime novel Ripley's Game (1974), the confusing shot transitions among New York, Hamburg, and Paris underscore the homogenizing effect of contemporary urban architecture; and Wenders's casting of American film directors whom he held in high esteem (Dennis Hopper [b. 1936], Nicholas Ray [1911–1979], and Samuel Fuller [1911–1997]) in the roles of underworld characters involved in art counterfeiting and pornography reveal the ambivalence implied in the work's title.

In addition to the self-conscious allusions to film as a medium that occur in many of Wenders's films, film history and the conditions of film production have served as central themes. Whereas the feature The Brothers Skladanowsky (1995; Die Gebrüder Skladanowsky) treats the origins of German film, Wenders's "essay" films, which have a documentary character, recognize significant directors. Lightning over Water (1980) presents the last weeks of the terminally ill Nicholas Ray. In Tokyo-Ga (1985), Wenders pays homage to the Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu (1903–1963), while reflecting on film's current status vis-à-vis the increasing dominance of television and video. With the film Beyond the Clouds (1995; Al di là delle nuvole), Wenders realized his dream of collaborating with the celebrated avant-garde filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni (b. 1912). The films about film productions beset by financial and logistic obstacles, such as The State of Things (1982; Der Stand der Dinge) and Lisbon Story (1994), reflect Wenders's own challenges to the rigid structures controlling the film industry.

Since music documentaries marked the start of Wenders's filmmaking career, and rock music soundtracks have always featured prominently in his works, it is not surprising that a wide range of music has been at the forefront of his recent projects. This has included the country singer Willie Nelson (b. 1933) in 1998, the Cologne rock band BAP in 2002, several films involving the band U2, and the episode "The Soul of a Man" for the television documentary series The Blues in 2003. Wenders's documentary on veteran Cuban jazz musicians, Buena Vista Social Club (1999), earned him international recognition and an Academy Award nomination for best documentary.

See alsoCinema; Film (Documentary); Germany.


Primary Sources

Wenders, Wim. The Logic of Images: Essays and Conversations. Translated by Michael Hofmann. London and Boston, 1991.

Secondary Sources

Cook, Roger F., and Gerd Gemünden, eds. The Cinema of Wim Wenders: Image, Narrative, and the Postmodern Condition. Detroit, Mich., 1997.

Geist, Kathe. The Cinema of Wim Wenders: From Paris, France to Paris, Texas. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1988.

Glenn Cuomo