Wim Wenders: Road Movies (Directors Suite)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 18-Oct-2007

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Alice in the Cities - Dr Adrian Martin
Audio Commentary-Wrong Move - Wim Wenders
Additional Footage-Wrong Move - On Set Super 8
Deleted Scenes-Kings of the Road
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production ?
Running Time 374:32 (Case: 389)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring None Given
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $59.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown German Dolby Digital
Widescreen Aspect Ratio Varies
16x9 Enhancement Unknown
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Varies Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The three films comprising this set - Alice in the Cities, Wrong Move and Kings of the Road are collectively known as German director Wim Wenders' Road Movies.

This, however, is a misnomer as just about all of the German masters' films have an element of the road in them. Leaving aside the eccentric works of the late 80's and 90's his pair of masterpieces from the early 80's (and I use that word reservedly) Paris,Texas and Wings of Desire have the spirit of the road in every frame. Paris, Texas, of course, had the wide open spaces relentlessly trudged by Travis in search of his lost love. Wings of Desire may have been set above and amongst the streets of urban Berlin but the quintessence of the road movie - the existential journey for meaning in a soulless city seeps through the gorgeous black and white photography and out into the audience. But that is the 80's.These films all date from the 70's before Wenders had made his crossover from German arthouse to International arthouse.

Whilst Madman are to be commended for releasing these important early films by Wenders it is to be hoped that his classic from 1972 The Goalkeepers Fear of the Penalty isn't overlooked and gets a much deserved release.

The movies are all on separate dual layered DVD 9.

Alice in den Städten - Alice in the Cities 1973

Alice in the Cities (Alice in den Städten) is the first film in the Road Movies series. Phillip (Rudiger Vogler) looks much older than his declared 31 years. When we first meet him he is in America travelling from nowhere to somewhere else for no apparent reason. He drives and drives and stays in run down motel rooms with the TV as his constant companion. But TV is his friend and his curse and in one strangely muted bout of rage he destroys the hotel set. Phillips only activity is to take photographs with his funky Polaroid camera. In fact, the makers of the camera were sponsors of the film.

A semblance of a plot begins when Phillip reaches New York and meets with his publisher, ostensibly to ask for more money. Phillip is a magazine writer but he has hit a creative impasse. His article is well overdue and the publisher is horrified to find out that Phillip has done nothing but take a series of "holiday snaps". Phillips tells him that he intends to return to Germany. He asks for more money and is turned down.

At the travel agency Phillip learns that strike action has indefinitely stopped all flights going into Germany. He must go to the Netherlands instead. Phillip also meets another German pair - an unnamed mother and her young daughter Alice. They too are running away from America, this time due to a failed relationship. In a sleight of hand trick the mother asks Phillip to bring Alice to the Empire State Building at a designated time only to allow her a moment to slip out to reconcile with her lover. She leaves a note for Phillip asking that he take Alice to Amsterdam and she will collect her there.

When the pair arrive in Amsterdam it becomes apparent that Alices' mother is taking longer than expected to resolve her relationship issues. Phillip and Alice are stuck together - an odd couple if ever there was one. Alice is by no means a brat but she is considerably more demanding than Phillip is used to and he is about the most distant and guarded a person you could ever meet. We and Alice learn almost nothing about Philip other than that he has some family somewhere in Germany.

On the wildest of hunches the pair travel to different cities in Germany to find Alices' grandmother. Along the way Phillip learns the meaning of responsibility although, it must be said, changes in this film are subtle. At the end Phillip is a better person but he is still not much of a conversationalist.

Although this is no wittily scripted film (it was largely improvised) Alice in the Cities does actually have a lot to recommend it. Vogler is a watchable actor even if it is difficult to work out his motivations. The film is never tedious despite the slow takes and lack of dialogue. Fans of Wenders will be overjoyed to see him, in 70's hipster mode, in a cafe towards the beginning of the film. It is a film of quiet resonance that does actually build to quite a moving climax. Despite it's humble origins this film, which I had not seen before, made a significant positive impression on me and I can recommend it to those who like their road movies as well fans of Wenders.

Falshce Bewegung - Wrong Move 1975

Wrong Move (Falshce Bewegung) is the second film in Road Movies series.

Like the first film, Alice in the Cities, it features actor Rudiger Vogler in the lead. Also like the earlier film he is a man adrift from ordinary society, struggling to find meaning in modern Germany. Similarly, Wenders uses other regular ensemble players as well as cinematographer Robby Muller.

Wrong Move was written by legendary German playwright/screenwriter Peter Handke. Handke based it on Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship which deals with the journey to enlightenment of a young man as he makes his way through the German countryside. Those familiar with the novel and the development of the central character from naïve to responsible adulthood may find that Handke steers well clear of character development. Interestingly, in the audio commentary, which accompanies this DVD, director Wenders speaks about the fact that this film was shot with rigid adherence to the script whereas Alice in the Cities was largely improvised. Wilhelm, played Rudiger Vogler, is a writer except he has a severe case of writer's block. His controlling mother (Marianne Hoppe) has grown sick of his malaise. She decides to sell their house and promptly kicks him out, buying him a train ticket to Bonn. In bidding him farewell, she urges him not to "lose that anguish and discontent you have. You will need it for writing."

For the rest of the film we follow the wanderings of Wilhelm as he journeys between cities and collects a coterie of different characters. On the train he meets Laertes (Hans Christian Blech) a travelling performer with his mute daughter Mignon (played by Natassja Kinski in her first role and build as Natassja Nakszynski) who juggles and does amateur magic tricks for pennies.

Whilst stopped at Hamburg he spies Therese (Hanna Schygulla) who is a well known actress. She has her own sense of isolation and is drawn to Wilhelm in the hope that his journey will throw up some collective meaning. Whilst stopped at a hotel they met Bernhard (Peter Kern) a young poet (albeit a terrible one). The group travelled to the country house of Bernhard's uncle only to stray into the wrong house where they meet the industrialist (Ivan Desney) a businessman whose loneliness after the death of his wife has left him on the verge of suicide.

Essentially the film is plotless. Each character is cursed by the awful realization that their lives may just be meaningless. The actress can remember her lines but suffers from pauses during her stage performances as she ponders the reason for her craft. Wilhelm is struck by a real inability to empathize. He just doesn't care and this is reflected in his inability to write. Laertes was a runner in the 1936 Olympics who is ashamed of his actions during World War II. The fact that Mignon is mute throughout the film makes it difficult to analyse her issues.

In my view Wrong Move is the weakest of the Road Movies simply because of the overly symbolic and elliptical nature of the script. Characters almost never speak directly about their hopes and desires. Rather they speak about the ideas of their hopes and desires. For example, when they stumble into the industrialist's house he sits them down in front of a fire and announces I'd like to talk a bit about loneliness . He then proceeds to give a discourse on the idea of loneliness, in particular the German idea of loneliness, which is as obtuse as it is unsatisfying.

The film is still interesting from many viewpoints. Natassja Nakszynski was plucked precisely out of nowhere to make this, her first film. At the time Wenders was not aware that she is the daughter of one of Germany's most famous actors Klaus Kinski. As the mute Mignon she doesn't do an awful lot except perform some inept magic tricks (Wenders said that she tried to learn the tricks but found herself incapable of doing so). Her quirky performance will remind some of her later role as the bear in The Hotel New Hampshire. Vogler is different enough from his Alice character to be interesting and Marianne Hoppe, who was a dinner guest of the Fuhrer during the war provides a short but effective performance as the mother. The cinematography of Robby Muller is quite beautiful to look at and there is a quiet tension and beauty running throughout the film which made it engaging in itself. German critics found the film to be a particular comment on the failures of Germany in the 20th Century which reflected itself in the general angst of the ordinary populous. Some of those ideas might be lost on a non German audience. For my part I found Wrong Move an interesting piece of cinema certainly worth viewing although it is unlikely that I would be drawn to watch it again.

Im Lauf der Zeit - Kings of the Road 1976

Kings of the Road is the third and final film in the Wim Wenders Road Movies series.

It is not only the longest (by far) but it is also arguably the film that brought Wenders to worldwide attention.

The title is not a direct translation of the original title Im Lauf der Zeit which means something like "In the Course of Time". In fact either title is pretty fitting. Kings of the Road conveys the fact that it is very much the archetypal road movie but it also has an ironic dig at the inconsequence of the two protagonists, who barely count as servants let alone kings! The original title also carries the central tenet of the film, that change eventually comes even if it is subtle and almost imperceptible to outsiders.

Kings of the Road was a huge success for Wenders despite the near three hour runtime and black and white cinematography and won the FIPRESCI award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976. It enabled Wenders to work with Dennis Hopper and his idol Nicholas Ray in the US/German crossover The American Friend before coming to Hollywood for the disastrous Hammett in 1981.

Fans of Wenders will concede that he had two golden periods, one with the road films and the other in the early 80' with Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire.

I don't like being forced to create tension, to make people wait for something to happen.
Instead, stories and actions should add up to a fiction at the end of the film.
In Kings of the Road there is no story.

Wenders own words are a pretty good way to introduce the plot of the film.

Bruno Winter ( Rudiger Vogler) is a travelling repairer of cinema projectors. He sees the space between German towns and cities and the failing provincial cinema houses playing B movies or porn. He has no apparent home but his large truck, loaded with gear and memories. At night he just pulls up off the road and camps in the cab of his truck.

After once such camp out at the edge of a river he meets Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler) who screams past him in a VW bug and surfs into the middle of the river. Having nowhere to go and nothing particular to do he joins with Bruno and the two travel together on the cinema repair circuit. Bruno doesn't talk much which is fine by Robert as he doesn't want to talk. He is a specialist working with children and has just split up with his wife. He is aimless and careless. As the pair travel together they both come to confront their past, Robert with his printer father and Bruno at his long abandoned family home.

They are men without women. Robert is recently separated and Bruno has trouble finding a real connection. A long interlude at a cinema with Lisa Kreuzer is a touching example of the gulf between Bruno and normality. He has no frame of reference except his truck and the road.

The pair travel, often barely talking, punctuating their journey with Bruno's portable single player. Their journey is not exactly picaresque but they do meet a minor assortment of characters including a man who has just lost his wife as she intentionally drove into a tree. From time to time Bruno chats with cinema owners about the terrible state of the business.

The soundtrack includes not only the title song but, in a real blast from the past, Heinz' Just Like Eddie. At an abandoned border post the pair acknowledge that their subconscious has been colonized by the yanks. This may well be the underlying ache at the core of the film.

Germany, in particular German film, is washed up and defeated not by guns but the dominant culture of the US. It is fitting that the film ends not on the road but outside a cinema with its lights waning.

Kings of the Road is a film that is inevitably brought up in any discussion about road movies. At nearly three hours of many aimless travel it threatens tedium at every turn but the skill of Wenders and his cast makes the journey seem , if not a short one, at least a road well worth travelling.

A Word About the Ratings

The general rating slapped on the Road Movies box set is R18+ High Sexual Activity. That rating has carried over into each set and onto the front of each DVD . This is highly misleading as none of the films on offer deals with ordinary sexual relationships in a way that might be considered arousing.

Alice in the Cities contains nothing that is overtly sexual. Some commentators find the relationship between the man and the young girl to have a Lolita context but it is barely there if at all.

There is no real sexual activity in Wrong Move. Viewers should be warned, however, that there is a short partly naked scene featuring Natassja Kinski. This is sedate in itself (Wilhelm mistakes her in the near darkness for the Actress) until you find out in the directors commentary that the actress was just 13 at the time of the filming. In the commentary Wenders goes into great detail about the difficulty of shooting the scene because Kinski was unable to control her giggles however he says nothing regarding the question of whether it was appropriate to film the scene in the first place.

Kings of the Road has no actual sex to speak of but there a few moments which may shock the unsuspecting viewer. Wenders takes us deep into the mundanity of the lives of these men such that we are treated to a scene of Bruno defecating on some sand, delivering a t*** the size of a rattlesnake and there is one shot of Robert's p**** as he urinates and a cinema projectionist masturbating. Again, shocking but not actually sexual.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

  The case for this DVD set lists only one generic aspect ratio being 1.85:1 letterbox wide screen.

Information about the original aspect ratios of these films is a bit unreliable.

Alice in the Cities

This film was shot on 16mm film at an original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. No attempt was made to blow it up for cinematic release. The DVD transfer is consistent with that original ratio.

Given the extremely modest origins of the film it is perhaps no surprise that Alice presents in a fairly raw state. There is a consistent grain that varies in intensity but never disappears. At times intercut shots display a jarring difference in terms of grain and condition. In the scene between Phillip and his publisher at 11.08 and a scene at a Chuck Berry concert at 79.00 the grain looks like it has been laid on with a trowel.

Fortunately, real problems are rare and I only noticed one instance of obvious "dirt" where a hair crept into the frame. Otherwise it is intact and without print damage.

The cinematography by Wenders regular Robby Muller is earthy and slightly overexposed at times. Compression is no issue. There are subtitles in English for this largely German language film. Philip doesn't speak Dutch so there are some scenes where the Dutch language is not translated to convey Phillip's lack of understanding.

Wrong Move

According to IMDB, Wrong Move was shot on 35mm film at the standard European widescreen ratio of 1.66:1. As said, the case describes the film as In fact, the transfer looks somewhere in between. It approximates 1.75:1 and is 16 x 9 enhanced.

This should come as a relief for those expecting a non anamorphic transfer. In fact, I am pleased to report that in contrast to Alice in the Cities (which was shot on 16mm film) Wrong Move is a good looking film. You never forget that this is a movie shot towards the end of 1974 however, the print has held up well for its age.

There are artefacts to be seen however they are extremely mild and not disturbing. The level of grain is consistent with the film and the era and also does not present an issue. There was no alias to be seen and there is no problem with compression on this dual layer DVD. On my equipment I was unable to detect the layer change. The cinematography of Robby Muller is quite remarkable. In the commentary Wenders says that they had so much fun using a helicopter for the final scene in Alice in the Cities that they used one to film the amazing opening scene in this movie. It is quite a stunning opening as the camera, at times spattered with rain, passes through a peaceful German town right to the Centre Square. In a neat trick, Wenders then cuts to Vogler looking at his window at a helicopter going past!

The film is sub titled and the sub titles are yellow and easy to read. I noticed a curious example of bad grammar however it was during the delivery by the young poet of some awful verse and I would imagine that the mistake was deliberate.

There are a few short moments in the film featuring stock footage which is noticeably different in quality then the film. However the lengthy scene in the mid section of the film as the cast climb a hillside overlooking the Rhine is beautifully shot. Bearing in mind that this is over 30 years old, the colours have faded slightly but are otherwise reasonably accurate and the flesh-tones are acceptable.

Kings of the Road

There is no confusion regarding the original aspect ratio of this film. The opening credits include the following:

In black and white
Wide-Screen 1:1.66
Original Soundtrack
Shot in 11 weeks between 1 July and 31 October 1975
Between Lueneberg and Hof, along the border with East Germany.

This film was again shot by Robby Muller. It was done on the fly but the cinematographer has still managed to deliver a nice looking black and white film. There is a mix of close-ups, medium shots as well as plenty of long takes of the wide open spaces.

The film has held up pretty well and it is pleasing to report that there are no real defects to be found. It has not been remastered but otherwise it looks about as good as a low budget European film from the 70's can look. The level of grain is noticeable but not distracting. The print appears undamaged and though a bit softer than it was at the time of release it still has sufficient sharpness to pass muster. Compression problems are minor and aliasing is kept to a minimum.

The English subtitles are clear and easy to read.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

   

Alice in the Cities

Alice in the Cities has a Dolby Digital soundtrack running at 224 Kb/s.

As said above the film features a melange of languages but is predominantly in German.

This is not a dialogue heavy film but what there is of it seems to be clearly delivered. Once again, we are not dealing with a high quality production but the actual soundtrack is pretty good despite these humble origins. There is no real hiss or defect in the actual track although I did hear a brief waver in the closing credits.

Audio sync appears to be fine.

The music bears mentioning. As well as the smattering of Americana classics like Angie and Under the Boardwalk there is some guitar and piano music by Jurgen Kneiper that gives an haunting counterpoint to the characters and the road.

Wrong Move

Wrong Move features a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound track running at 448kb/s.

This is a film featuring characters who talk a lot. There is almost no opportunity for the surrounds to engage. The dialog is kept to the centre speaker. It is clear and of a reasonable quality. Audio sync appears to be fine.

The music is composed and played by Jurgen Kneiper. He plays a chord heavy piano scene accompanied by strings which is portentous and disturbing. I am not convinced that it entirely suits this film as it suggests menace and the eruption of violence which never occurs.

Kings of the Road

The DVD of Kings of the Road carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 Soundtrack running at 448 Kb/s. It is clear and without defects.

The dialogue, what there is of it, is clear and easy to understand providing you speak German! The audio sync appears to be fine.

The music for the film is a combination of the songs played on Bruno's portable record player and original music composed by Axel Linstädt. It has a sound which may remind viewers of the later score by Ry Cooder for Paris, Texas. It well conveys the loneliness of the open road.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Each of the DVD's comprising this set contains at least one extra feature.
Alice in the Cities

Commentary Track by Dr Adrian Martin

The only extra is nevertheless a goodie. Dr Adrian Martin provides yet another deeply researched and well prepared commentary track on the film. Sensing perhaps that the likely listeners are film students or serious fans he pitches it at a level which tends more towards the scholarly. Not surprisingly he looks at the film in the context of the entire Wenders catalogue and the Road Movies series and examines the themes and techniques at work in this fascinating film.

The commentary can definitely be recommended. Although serious as said above it never strays into obtuse film theory. It also passes as a sort of commentary for all the films.

Wrong Move

Directors Commentary : Wim Wenders

The commentary track by Wim Wenders is fascinating for those who are intrigued about the process of making the film. The commentary was given in 2002 and appears to be the same on the Region 1 Wim Wenders Collectors Edition of the film. Despite the 28 years that have passed since the making of the film and the commentary Wenders has an amazing level of recall about the making of the film.

It should be pointed out immediately that he does not delve at all into the meaning of the film. This may annoy some viewers who, like myself, were confused at a few of the key events of the movie. This may itself stem from the fact that the film was directed almost unchanged from Peter Handke's script. Wenders states that it allowed him the freedom to concentrate on the camera set ups and working out how to tell the story.

Interestingly, he believes that he has a shortcoming when it comes to directing women and feels that this is reflected in the wooden performance of Hannah Schygulla who was so great in the films of Fassbinder.

As said, his ability to recall production details is astounding. I did find it somewhat disappointing that Wenders put so many moments in the film from his own life that didn't necessarily have anything to do with the character. He filmed it in a town in Germany simply because its name means good luck and he gave some of the crew moments in the film that tend to jar.

He is an amiable speaker and though he has a German accent it is not too strong to make out.

Super 8 Footage

The film contains approximately 4 minutes of on set Super-8 footage. This is home-movie quality footage and shows Wenders and the cast at work. It is worth a look although the decision to back this silent footage with the doom-laden theme from the film makes it a disturbing watch.

Kings of the Road

There is only one extra with Kings of the Road. It is 20 minutes of what are described as deleted scenes. In fact, they are best described as cobbled together bits and pieces and include some genuine material left out of the film (nothing of any consequence) and a lot of shots of Wenders and cast on set. I must admit it took some perseverance to watch these silent extras after almost three hours of Kings but I managed it.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

  These three films do not appear to be available as a separate DVDs anywhere in the English speaking world. In any version they are a little hard to track down.

There are no competing Region 4 releases.

In Region 2 Germany Arthaus has released Kings of the Road and Alice in the Cities and Wrong Move as individual titles being part of a Wim Wenders Edition but there is no mention on German Amazon of English subtitles.

In Region 1 and Region 2 England Volume 2 of the Wim Wenders Collection contains Wrong Move, The Scarlet Letter, Notebook on Cities & Clothes, The American Friend, Lightning Over Water, Tokyo-Ga, Room 666, and A Trick of the Light. All are interesting films and documentaries (Tokyo-Ga is available as an extra on the Madman release of Tokyo Story by Ozu). It has also been released with Room 666 and Notebook on Cities & Clothes in the recently released Madman Wim Wenders Documentaries set

For those who speak German or can can read Korean a Region 3 Korean Wim Wenders Collection offers Kings of the Road amongst others.

In short, Wenders fans will regard this Region 4 set as a must-buy.

Summary

    These three movies are a challenge watched in succession and the viewer should be careful lest some of the loneliness of the road rubs off. All three are interesting movies. Kings of the Road is perhaps the only bona fide classic but for me Alice in the Cities was surprisingly moving and engaging despite the 16mm photography and age of the film.

The transfers are adequate. Beggars can't be choosers and I never felt that Region 4 audiences were being lumped with poor material.

The extras are interesting and a good complement to this set.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Friday, March 14, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
R2 & R4 audio - Solent