Sunday, July 30, 2017

#601: Alice in the Cities

Directed by: WIM WENDERS
1974, TSPDT Rank #534

Alice in the Cities is a clear precursor to Wim Wender's later film Paris, Texas. Both present a vision of America as seen through European eyes, while portraying unexpected friendships between an adult and a child. However, in this film, we see the desolation and emptiness of America from the perspective of a foreigner (played by Wenders regular Rüdiger Vogler), rather than as a metaphor for an American character's detachment from those around him, and the relationship which develops between the main character and the young girl (Yella Rottlander) entrusted to him by her mother (Elisabeth Kruezer) is more unusual than the relationship between a father and his long-lost son in Paris, Texas. Nevertheless, the roots of that film are here. Cinematographer Robby Müller makes the identical-looking small towns and beaches of the East Coast look as forlorn as the desert landscapes of the Southwest, while the scenes in New York convey contradictory feelings of excitement and alienation - just as in the Houston scenes in Paris, Texas.

Wenders' contempt for television is also on full display here, with Vogler's character delivering multiple speeches against American TV's tendency towards constant commercial breaks and the promotion of an idealized American dream (a late night showing of John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln is used as an example). Unlike television, Alice in the Cities is a collection of fleeting moments, which fade in suddenly and fade out just as quickly - sometimes before they can even be properly registered. Other moments are more extended, such as the many small interactions between Vogler and Rottlander, which serve to gradually establish their relationship and make it believable to the viewer, despite the highly unbelievable nature of the film's overarching storyline. But what all of these moments have in common is that none of them are designed to sell a message or a product. Instead, they stand as a tribute to the unpredictability and inherent value of human relationships, which has remained one of Wenders' guiding principles throughout his career.

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