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Gordon, P. (1996). On looking and relating: the films of Wim Wenders. Free Associations, 6(4):568-577.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(4):568-577

On looking and relating: the films of Wim Wenders

Paul Gordon

Wim Wenders and I got off to a bad start. It was a Friday evening in winter in the late seventies and, having nothing better to do, I went to the university film society to see his 1976 film, Kings of the Road. I cannot now remember what, if anything, I expected but what I saw was a film quite unlike any other that I had ever seen: a contemporary film, yet one shot in black and white, three hours long (and so it certainly seemed) where nothing much seemed to happen and which included, moreover, a shot of a man taking a shit in the middle of a field which left nothing to the imagination. I would be lying if I claimed that I enjoyed it, but it made an impression. I would remember it for a long time, before I came to love it and value it among Wenders' best work. More immediate was the impact of Wenders' next film, The American Friend (1977), a taut thriller which left me shaking and which still has the power to do so, even after many viewings, but something more.

My fondness for Wenders' films has often perplexed me. Here, after all, was a director who seemed to eschew the more overtly political film-making of many of his colleagues in the new German cinema—Fassbinder, Schlondorff, von Trotta, and others—and which I found both laudatory and impressive. Although an early short film of his, Polizeifilm (1969), dealt with the policing of political demonstrations, Wenders took no part, for instance, in the collaborative film, Germany in Autumn (1978), the radical German cinema's response to the events surrounding the killing of Hans Martin Schleyer by the Baader Meinhof group. Wenders, by contrast, seemed to be making a different kind of film.

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