Monday, May 2, 2016

Der Amerikanische Freund, Wim Wenders & The Kinks

I've just re-watched a favourite film, Wim Wenders 1977 adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel Der Amerikanische Freund, (supply your own English translation, I think even non-German speakers should get there). It's a flawed movie arguably, perhaps rattles off its rails in the last half hour, though you could say that in the tightrope walking this section attempts, on the verge of sanity, is as true a realisation of the essence of Highsmith's writing as has been managed in the cinema, perhaps more so than in the much more tightly controlled screen versions of others of her books, by Hitchcock and Minghella for example.

I'm writing about it here because it's a fiercely Rock and Roll film. In addition to a fine Bernard Herrmann inspired soundtrack from Jurgen Kniepper it's also littered with references, quotes and songs from Pop Culture. The cast includes Dennis Hooper, Nicholas Ray, Sam Fuller and, in a minor role David Blue. A sub-theme of the movie is the colonisation of the German subconscious by American and English Pop Culture. In many respects Wender stands as the German Scorsese and as in his films songs are used as solid realisations of emotions and desires the characters struggle to express for themselves. 

The characters of  Der Amerikanische Freund, particularly Ganz and Hopper's, are wracked with pain. Ganz's Jonathan Zimmerman has been told that he has a terminal illness, is drawn into a series of murder plots which he goes along with against his better instincts in an attempt to provide for his family after his passing. Throughout the film, Zimmerman, in his workshop for his picture framing business, constantly hums or sings The Kinks, 'Too Much On My Mind'  from the Face To Face album.  The whole film and his personal disintegration over the course of it might as well be scripted by this song.The sleeve of Face To Face also features at one point, late in the film. It was the first album Wenders ever bought, in his late teens.

Other Rock and Roll references abound. Zimmerman quotes from The Byrds' Ballad of Easy Rider. Later he does the same for Dylan's One More Cup of Coffee and I Pity the Poor Immigrant. A second Kinks song, the one posted above, also features. Hopper, in a line cut from the final film ad-libs the line 'Paint it black.' As I've indicated the film is far from immune to criticism, it's so full on and reckless. It walks a line. Perhaps it's all the better for that in that it remains true to the sources that inspire and fuel it.

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