The first in a trilogy of films from Wim Wenders, Alice in the Cities is a road movie with the usual hallmarks of Wenders’s work; angst, alienation and America. Phillip Winter (Rüdiger Vogler) a German journalist finds himself affected with writer’s block and decides to return to Germany. At the airport he meets a young mother and her 9 year old daughter Alice (Yella Rottländer). The mother enigmatically misses the flight and Winter finds himself responsible for his young charge. He and Alice go in search of her grandmother, with only faintly remembered details of where she lives. The story has at its core the nurturing relationship between Winter and Alice, remarkable in the light of today’s changed attitudes to children. (Cert U)
Dir: Wim Wenders 107 mins West Germany 1974
Thursday, 16 October 2008
ALICE IN THE CITIES
West Germany 1974 107 minutes Cert. U
In Alice in the Cities, Wenders is, like Canned Heat (on a jukebox in one scene), on the road again. Philip Winter, a German writer journeying through the USA to obtain material for a magazine article, is nearing the end of his trip with few words written but plenty of Polaroid prints. An airport strike delaying his flight back to Germany, he meets a Dutch woman and her nine year old daughter likewise delayed. After sharing a hotel room, the woman leaves her daughter, Alice, in the care of Winter while she returns to central New York to deal with a domestic crisis. Winter is to take Alice to Amsterdam with the mother following the next day. She does not appear, however, and Winter attempts to take Alice to her grandmother in Düsseldorf, with little more than a photo of the grandmother’s home to direct them. Their European journey together contrasts with the solitary and disaffected end to his American visit; yet further encounters with American culture in Germany renew his affection for the States from afar.
This is not a sentimental film – it is not Chaplin’s The Kid. Winter is a detached figure who, while recognising his responsibility for and to the girl, keeps his distance. Also, while the early Seventies settings seem modern and familiar, this is a film of its time. The story would be different if told now: burdened with concerns about adult-child relationships and with a plot-line that would be readily resolved with a few calls on Philip’s mobile.
Alice was the fourth feature from Wenders, following Summer in the City, The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty and The Scarlet Letter. After directing the last, an Eastmancolor period drama, Alice allowed Wenders to return to his favoured style of contemporary observation. He developed this through casting the film as a road movie, an approach he was to return to in later films, such as Paris, Texas. His next two films (The Wrong Move and Kings of the Road) were also road movies, forming a trilogy. Both Rüdiger Vogler and Yella Rottländer from Alice had appeared in The Scarlet Letter, and it was the interaction between them in that film that prompted Wenders to make one in which they feature. According to film writer Chris Petit, the concept of a man left in charge of a young girl came from Wenders having observed his friend, Peter Handke, the Austrian writer and a single parent.
Wenders has related how, early in the gestation of the film, the project was almost aborted after he went to a preview screening of Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon and believed his own film to have too similar a plot. He sought assistance from American director Sam Fuller and together they altered the storyline and the film was made, going on to win the 1974 German Critics Prize and becoming a key film of the neue deutsche Kino (New German Cinema).
The film was shot in black and white on 16 mm stock by Robby Müller, a long-time collaborator of Wenders. Look out for the cameo appearance by the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, the world’s oldest suspension monorail railway!
Philip Winter – Rüdiger Vogler
Alice – Yella Rottländer
Alice’s mother – Lisa Kreuzer
Publisher – Ernest Boehm
The Woman – Sibylle Baier
Director – Wim Wenders
Screenplay – Wim Wenders, Veith von Fürstenberg
Cinematography – Robby Müller
Film Editing – Peter Przygodda
Producer – Joachim von Mengershausen
“There are points when the director allows his voice to ring a little loudly from behind the camera, but the richness and depth of both the photography and the characterisation manage to brush any signs of preachiness and sentimentality from view.”, David Jenkins, Time Out.
“Yella Rottländer is unforgettable as Alice.”, Philip French, The Observer
“Simple story telling is always effective!”
“A simple story, I think”
“Beautifully done (but) worrying at times – great performances”
“Very enjoyable and funny too. Not sure if it was a very unlikely tale or just dated but great fun, anyway. (Set in) an era that seems like yesterday but, at the same time, a long time ago.”
“I liked the acting but a bit long”
“Something of a black and white puzzle?”
“Will leave me thinking for a long time. (I) will [shall] have to see it again.”
“After a very slow start, quite moving and poetic.”
“A very scratchy and slow start but it warmed up. It made change to see the real USA and Germany, particularly so, as it was 30+ years ago.”
“Very slow starting but finally quite charming. Showed development of (the) relationship well.”
“Some interesting camera shots”
“Very slow moving but this captured the atmosphere (well). Great photography and Alice [Yella Rottlander] was a superstar!”
“Crazy plot (but) marvellous performance by the little girl [YR] – authentically manipulative.”
“A road movie with a difference – YR’s acting was superb. There’s no place like home!”
“Interesting but hardly credible”
“A most improbable progression from photography of drab New York to a beautiful relationship”
“Was 1974 really such a lost age of innocence?”
“In 1973, would people have found the story of a 31yr old (man) looking after a 9yr old little girl somewhat disquieting, or is this only a worry in 2008?”
“A delightful study of the little girl – made the tedious start worth sitting through.”
“Like the curate’s egg …”
“Very tedious but (with) some lighter, delightful moments!”
“A bit too slow for me”
“(Like) watching amusing paint shapes dry”
“At least the uncomfortable seat kept me awake!”