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.

#600: Pandora's Box

Directed by: G.W. PABST
1929, TSPDT Rank #262

Louise Brooks is an American anomaly. A girl from Kansas who somehow made her way to Berlin to become a timeless symbol of feminine allure and beauty. She is truly radiant in this film - although she seems to represent the prototypical femme fatale in the collective subconscious, the character of Lulu is really like a ray of light in a world full of chaos and ugliness. Everyone else leads the way to their own demise, all blaming her on their way down. This film is full of Greek tragedy, but is Lulu really a modern-day Pandora, or just a victim of her own otherworldly beauty? That's up to the viewer to decide. Overall, this film is a masterpiece of light and shadow, beauty and darkness - made right at the peak of the silent era, when all the possibilities of the medium were finally being realized. Watching this film unfold, it seems like such a shame to think that this era would be over so suddenly, and with it, Brooks' career. Her moment of stardom was just beginning, and like so many other silent stars, she never really recovered from the transition to sound. As a result, she remains etched upon film history as a beautiful anomaly, a blinding ray of light. And this film, as a whole, is a flickering memory of a time when everything came together for one magnificent moment.