Kings of the Road (Im Lauf der Zeit, West Germany, 1976)

Would be superman

Would be superman

Rüdiger Vogler, who also featured in Alice in the Cities, plays an itinerant repairman, Bruno Winter, who journeys through Germany fixing film projectors. He meets up with Robert Landler (Hanns Zischler), who crashes his iconic German Volkswagen into the Elbe (the border between East and West Germany). Landler’s upset due to his wife leaving him and Winter clearly struggles to communicate with others. The overall feel of the film is one of ‘alienation’ however this is seen as natural condition of the time. Director Wim Wenders, with his location shooting, 11 weeks on the road mostly along the East-West border, offers a lament for the small town cinemas that are being forced to close or were reduced to screening ‘sex films’ . The overall tone, however, is often light as the friendship between the two men develops.

The film is a long (nearly three hours) investigation of issues of German identity, men’s relationship with women and the decline of cinemas. The love-hate relationship that Wenders obviously had with American culture is summarised by Winter’s comment that, ‘America has colonised our unconscious.’

Incidentally, the film also includes a peculiar scene were we witness Winter excreting.


The Merchant of Four Seasons (Händler der vier Jahreszeiten, W.Germany, 1972)

Hans holds court

It’s striking that this bleak, overtly stylised film should have been a commercial hit. Whilst Fassbinder draws upon Sirkian melodrama, no one would mistake this for a Hollywood film. Fassbinder had the talent to create an almost surrealist mise en scene from a banal setting. For example, Irmgard is framed against a shop window featuring a wedding dress when she’s mistaken for a prostitute in the street; the image above shows Hans pontificating about how hard done by he is to an almost mute coterie of men.

The stylisation is probably most notable in the performances; the robotic-like postures and glances of dehumanised bourgeoisie. Except Hanna Schygulla’s Anna, the commentator on the corruption of her family; even Renate, Hans’ and Irmgard’s daughter, looks like (a Hitler youth) automaton though she may just be traumatised by her parents.

If Herzog and Wenders, in the films blogged recently, were searching for identity then Fassbinder explains why they are looking.

Alice in the Cities (Alice in den Städten, West Germany, 1973)


On the road in America

On the road in America

This film is a terrific, improvised road movie. Wenders, apparently, based the idea of the film on the rapport between his actors (pictured above) in The Scarlet Letter (Der Scharlachrote Buchstabe 1973). This fits well with Stroszek (blogged three days ago) as here the movement is opposite: from America to West Germany. Phil (Rüdiger Vogler) is trying to write an article about America but his experience of its commercial soullessness has emptied him of identity. He watches Young Mr Lincoln (1939) on television but finds it infuriating that it’s interrupted by advertising – he destroys the TV. Later, he reads John Ford’s (Lincoln‘s director) obituary – his disillusionment with America is complete as what he loved about it has died.

It’s striking how debates about the malign, commercial influence of America have subsided considerably since the 1970s. The post-World War II anxiety about Americanisation still exists, but the commercial aspects of American culture are generally accepted in Britain now; and, probably, Europe.

The search for identity was an important theme of New German Cinema: trying to rebuild self-respect after the Nazi-inspired atrocities tempered with disillusionment with the authoritarian nature of the West German state in the 1970s.

Although the film sags a bit in the middle, the visualisation of ‘souless’ America is brilliant. The final, unresolved, journey is to Munich – is that meant to be into the heartland of the Fatherland?


Stroszek (West Germany, 1977)

Stroszek tries to earn a living

Bruno S plays Stroszek and there are clearly autobiographical elements in the character; whilst he’s patently a non-actor this works well in the role but might be off-putting at first. He and two other misfits go to live the American Dream where everyone who works hard can get rich. Does anyone outside of America still believe this; or are many people in such desperate straits that even badly paid dead-end jobs in America can count as riches?

The getting into debt is perfunctorily done but that works as part of the episodic narrative. The climax is truly bonkers with Stroszek clinging on to two American icons: a thanksgiving turkey and a gun. The final 10 minutes are hallucinatory.

Stroszek is from Berlin, then a centre of Cold War politics. Now East and West are reunited (see Yella) the political dynamics have changed. America, ‘the leader of the free world’ could then more readily justify its hegemonic position. After the invasion of Iraq and its concomitant abuses, such as Guantanamo, the lack of morality in America’s leadership of fawning nations – such as UK – is evident to all except cynics. Would Stroszek even be allowed into American now?

Herzog is great at framing scenes and offers a compelling view of the middle of nowhere.

Fear Eats the Soul (West Germany, 1974)

Possibly Fassbinder’s greatest movie; a remake of All That Heaven Allows. The ‘impossible love’ between old woman and immigrant worker, and the racism they have to contend with, is relevant now with the treatment of asylum seekers and immigrants. The ’70s decor and fashions certainly make it a decade to have avoided (unfortunately I remember it) and Munich looks dreadful. The references to the massacre at the 1972 Olympics can stand in for Sept 11. Now is nothing new. (DVD, 3)