New German Cinema pioneer Wim Wenders has had an eclectic career. Spanning four decades, he’s won the Palme D’or for ‘Paris, Texas’ (1984), created classic existentialist dramas, including ‘Wings of Desire’ (1987), adopted digital filmmaking earlier than most, and created music documentaries like ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ (1999) which spawned multi-million selling albums, and created an ahead-of-its-time 3D dance documentary with ‘Piña’ (2011 – even better than I expected). It’s a wonder that as prolific and talented an auteur as Wenders could be overlooked by the majority of film-goers (though arguably one of the most well known in our “In Praise Of…” series).
Wenders fell in love with Cinema but failed to gain admission to the French national film school at first. He began as an engraver while regularly attending the cinema until, returning to West Germany in 1967, he was employed by United Artists and accepted by the University of Television and Film Munich school for its autumn 1967 semester, where he remained until 1970. While attending film school, he worked as a film critic, began to make short films, and went on to make a feature film as part of his studies – ‘Summer in the City’ (1970).
Wenders gained recognition as part of the German New Wave of the 1970s, along with other directors including Rainer-Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog. His first handful of films, including the impressive, ‘Alice in the Cities’ (1974) and ‘The American Friend’ (1977) brought him acclaim, and led to his international breakthrough. He was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival for ‘The American Friend’, which was cited as Best Foreign Film by the National Board of Review.
His work in the 80s saw him reach his peak artistically, critically, and commercially. The American-made ‘Paris, Texas’ (1984), the best of his oeuvre in my opinion, received three awards at Cannes, including the Palme d’Or, and Wenders won a BAFTA for best director. ‘Paris, Texas’ was a prelude to what others consider to be his greatest success, ‘Wings of Desire’ (1987), made back in Germany. The film brought him the best director award at Cannes and was a commercial hit, even spawning an awful Hollywood remake (‘City of Angels’).
“Films can heal! Not the world, of course, but our vision of it, and that’s already enough” – Wim Wenders
Although some of Wenders’ later work was less well-received, his documentary works have been considered amongst the greatest of all time. His reputation as a feature film director never quite recovered in the United States after the bomb that was ‘Until the End of the World’ (1991). Since the mid-1990s, Wenders has distinguished himself as a non-fiction filmmaker, directing several highly acclaimed documentaries, most notably ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ (1999) and ‘Pina’ (2011), both of which brought him Oscar nominations.
A key element of Wender’s work is the search of the human soul. Having been born in 1945 in Dusseldorff, his generation had lost its immediate past thanks to World War II. He quickly found an identity through American Culture, particularly Rock & Roll. His filmography is a road trip to the West, in search of an identity, and looking for the soul of Germany through its Americanisation – a trip worth taking.
Paris, Texas // Wings of Desire // Alice in the Cities // The American Friend // Pina // Buena Vista Social Club