Wim Wenders Biography
by Gary Johnson

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Until the End of the World

Wim Wenders emerged as a major filmmaker during the New German Cinema movement of the seventies. His first movie to attract attention The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1971) tells the story of a professional soccer goalie who abandons his team and sets off on a personnel odyssey.

Cassiel the angel perched on a statue in Far Away, So Close.

These themes of alienation and wanderlust would play a major role in the films throughout his career as he would direct a variety of "road movies," including Alice in the Cities (1972), The Wrong Move (1974), and Kings of the Road (1975).

Kings of the Road tells a story particularly appropriate for the state of German cinema in the mid seventies, as a repairman ventures from one small town to the next, fixing outdated cinema projection equipment. This unhappy portrait of the state of German cinema was sadly accurate, as the German theaters had deteriorated since their peak years in the late fifties. Many directors, like Wenders, worked extensively in television, for it provided them with a means for making a living not offered by German cinema. Other directors turned to the international market, as did Wenders with his next film.

In 1977, Wenders shot the American-French-German production The American Friend. It tells the story of an American art dealer (Dennis Hopper) who specializes in forgeries. A gangster pressures him to commit a murder, as payment for a past favor. Hopper then turns to a picture framer (Bruno Ganz), suffering from a rare blood disease, and convinces him to commit the murder. The American Friend is a haunting picture of mystery and alienation, where no one is quite who he seems. As the movie bounces back and forth between New York, Hamburg, Munich, and Paris, the world becomes one blurred tangle of skyscrapers, subways, highways, and trains.

Working for Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios, Wenders filmed Hammett, his first chance at a Hollywood-style production; however, Coppola wasn’t happy with the results and reshot large parts of the movie, delaying the release of the movie over three years.

But with Paris, Texas (1984) Wenders found great success, winning the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Telling the tale of a man (Harry Dean Stanton) who suffers amnesia after the breakup of his marriage and wanders through the desert, Paris, Texas is filled with haunting and discordant images of the American Southwest. Working from a screenplay by American playwright Sam Sheperd, Wenders created a movie filled with wide-open spaces, much like the void in the life of the movie’s central character.

His Wings of Desire and its sequel Far Away, So Close also brought him great acclaim. Telling the story of an angel (Bruno Ganz) who longs to experience the sensations of mere mortals, to taste food, to hear music, to feel rain, etc. Told with a camera that silently glides through the streets of Berlin, through libraries and apartment buildings like a ghost, Wings of Desire paints an evocative, wistful view of the world as seen through the eyes of an angel. Painted in cold black and white scenes for the angels, and then shifting to brilliant color for the humans, Wings of Desire is an elegant and beautiful film, punctuated by surprising doses of comedy, thanks to Peter Falk in a supporting role.

Sandwiched between these two movies, Until the End of the World leaps into the future for a picture of a world overtaken by technology. (See the related article.)

In his most recent movie, Beyond the Clouds (1995), Wenders shares writing and directing duties with Italian-master Michelangelo Antonioni.

Wim Wenders feature films:

  • The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1971)
  • The Scarlet Letter (1972)
  • Alice in the the Cities (1973)
  • The Wrong Move (1974)
  • Kings of the Road (1975)
  • The American Friend (1977)
  • Lightning Over Water (1980)
  • The State of Things (1982)
  • Hammet (1983)
  • Paris, Texas (1984)
  • Wings of Desire (1987)
  • Until the End of the World (1991)
  • Far Away, So Close (1993)
  • Lisbon Story (1994)
  • Beyond the Clouds (1995)

Wim Wenders on Video

Wim Wenders' early career is not well represented on video. In fact, of his '70s films, only Kings of the Road is currently available on video (although The American Friend has been available in the past and you might still find it for rental in video stores). But all of his '80s feature films are available, including Lightning Over Water, a collaborative effort with Nicholas Ray; The State of Things (available on Image laser disc); Hammet (Warner); Paris, Texas (FoxVideo); and Wings of Desire (Orion Home Video). Until the End of the World is available from Warner Home Video, and Far Away, So Close is available from Columbia/Tristar Video. Unfortunately, his two most recent movies, Lisbon Story and Beyond the Clouds, have not yet been released on video in the United States.

Photo Credits: Columbia/Tristar Home Video.