I'll freely admit that I discovered the cinema of German director Wim Wenders considerably later than that of his friend and contemporary Werner Herzog. Of course before the easier access offered by video and especially DVD, actually getting to see the films was a task and a half – you had to be in London on the rare days that one of the independent cinemas was screening one of them, and of course you had to be aware of the work to know what to look for.
My introduction to Wenders came not through a film at all, but a black-and-white picture in a film magazine. It showed a young, electric-haired Wenders sitting on the back seat of a car next to an ageing, eye-patched Nicholas Ray. I can't recall for the life of me just what it was about this particular photograph that I found so intriguing, but I remember cutting it out and adding it to the montage of such pictures that was growing on my then girlfriend's living room wall.
It was to be another six years before I saw my first Wenders film. I hated it. I don't know what it was about that particular evening or the people I was with or my own mood at the time, but Wenders' 1984 Paris, Texas really pissed me off. Eight years and a good many movies later I revisited the film and was utterly captivated by it. I wanted to sit down with the earlier self and ask him what the hell he was thinking, why he was then unable to appreciate the film's now obvious qualities. But then that happens. That's why it's always a good idea to give any film a second chance, return to it a few years later and approach it with a fresh viewpoint. A note of warning, though – this sometimes works the other way and can trample all over once treasured film memories.
My turnaround on Wenders occurred three years later. I was working with a video artist who insisted I see Wings of Desire. I'd heard of it but not seen a single still or extract, and when I sat down in front of it I was astounded, genuinely blown away by one of the few films I would actually describe as beautiful, and I mean that in far more than the visual sense. There was no turning back now, and Wenders immediately found himself on an increasingly long list of filmmakers whose work I was eager to retrospectively investigate. Finding the films has sometimes proved hard work, but has almost always been worth the effort.
DVD distributors worldwide have been a little slow to latch on to Wenders' considerable back catalogue. In 2002 Anchor Bay UK released Paris, Texas with enough extras – including a Wenders commentary – to just about qualify as a special edition. This was joined in the months that followed by similarly specified releases of Wings of Desire and The American Friend. The last of these was also released in the US by Anchor Bay, the first two appearing courtesy of Warner and MGM respectively, and without the extra features of the UK discs.
In April 2004 the first Wim Wenders Collection appeared in the US, also from Anchor Bay, consisting of their stand-alone release The American Friend and the far less widely seen Lightning Over Water and Notebook on Cities and Clothes, all three with commentaries and extra features. In December 2006 this was followed by The Wim Wenders Collection, Volume 2, slightly misleading in that it included the same three films as in Volume 1, but was joined by The Scarlet Letter, Tokyo-Ga, The Wrong Move, Room 666 and A Trick of the Light, all with Wenders-approved transfers and commentaries by the director.
Back in Wenders' homeland, meanwhile, DVD distributor Kinovelt produced their own 10-disc Wim Wenders Director's Edition, consisting of Alice in the Cities, Kings of the Road, The American Friend, The State of Things, and 2-disc editions of Paris, Texas, Faraway So Close and Wings of Desire.
Anchor Bay UK have responded with The Wim Wenders
Collection, which takes its cue from the US Volume
2 release and expands on it, adding Paris,
Texas and Wings of Desire, which
along with The American Friend are the
same editions that appeared previously as stand-alone discs.
The only complaint I have about that is that I already own
all three, as I'll wager most fans of Wenders' cinema do.
The other discs are a different matter. The good news is
that the transfers are of a uniformly high quality. The
bad is that they are all missing the Wenders commentaries
that adorned the US release. The additional extra features
– deleted scenes and a Twelve Years Later featurette
on Notebook on Cities and Clothes, Nicholas
Ray: Especially for Pierre featurette and a 38 minute
lecture by Nicholas Ray on Lightning Over Water
– are also absent from the UK release. I can't help but
feel a little stiffed, given that both sets were released
by essentially the same company.
As an introduction to the cinema of Wim Wenders, the set has a great deal to recommend it. A pleasingly eclectic mix of documentaries and features, of the famous with the less well known, it includes three of his most widely and justly celebrated features, plus one that has will be less well known in the UK – the 1975 The Wrong Move – but is held in high regard in its native Germany. The inclusion of some of Wenders' documentary work is particularly welcome, some or all of which will undoubtedly be new to many, and include the minimalist (Room 666), the mildly experimental (Notebook on Cities and Clothes), the engagingly personal (Tokyo-Ga) and the playful and informative (A Trick of the Light). There's even a costume period piece to provide a complete contrast to the modern day urban settings and vehicular journeys that the we usually associate with the director's work. Such a varied collection makes for engaging and rewarding viewing, especially when watched together over the space of just a few days, an experience I felt was necessary to properly evaluate the films as a set as well as stand-alone works.
the course of researching each of the films I have several
times encountered the suggestion that the films of Wim Wenders
are "an acquired taste," a phrase I am always
amused by when referring to the work of any artist in any
medium – after all, can art really exist that is NOT an
acquired taste, at least for a portion of its audience?
What did surprise me was the hostility expressed towards
Wenders' work in some quarters, notably some American
viewers – I came across one scathing dismissal of just about
every film in the US Volume 2 release and
an American IMDb contributor who claimed he had kept his admiration
for the director's work quiet for fear of enraging the wrath
of his friends. There is no doubt that Wenders' films are
unmistakably European in tone and style, but in everything
that is good about that description – they focus on character,
atmosphere and place rather than incident, and tell stories
at a pace that encourages you to absorb the detail rather
than tap your toes to the accompanying rock track.
the Hollywood product leaves you weary then I would heartily
recommend a large dose of the cinema of Wim Wenders as a
pick-me-up, and the collection here certainly contains the
right sort of medicine. But my annoyance at those missing
commentaries and extras remains, and for fans who already
own the three separately available special editions and
are eyeing this set as the next logical purchase, I'd suggest
you give the US Wim Wenders Collection, Volume 2
a serious look before you take out your credit card.
In accordance with standard site policy, we will be covering each of the films individually rather than as brief summaries. All ten films and DVDs will be reviewed in the next few days,* and the links below will become active as the reviews are posted.
The Wim Wenders Collection – The Films
Scarlet Letter / Der Scharlachrote Buchstabe
Wrong Move (1975)
The American Friend / Der Amerikanische Freund (1977)
Over Water (1980)
666 / Chambre 666 (1982)
Paris, Texas (1984)
Wings of Desire / Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)
on Cities and Clothes / Aufzeichnungen zu Kleidern und Städten
Trick of the Light / Die Gebrüder Skladanowsky
* By a quirk of timing and off-site incident, Wings of Desire was never covered. Hopefully this will later be redressed.