Wim Wenders

ArtsWatch Weekly: diving for pearls

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

A pop singer, an artist, a director of commercials, a composer, a trio of designer/landscape architects, a songwriter, a violinist and physical therapist, an orchestra conductor, a celebrity journalist, and a bunch of dancers walk into a studio.

There are many ways to think about Pearl Dive Project, which opens Thursday evening at BodyVox, but it doesn’t involve a bartender, and it’s no joke. It is a gamble, and an experiment – a roll of the dice that tests the definitions of amateur and professional and the elasticity of the creative mind. Can a person who’s successful in one creative discipline transfer that success to a totally different form, one in which she or he has little or no experience? Or is that like trusting a top-tier dentist to do a heart transplant?

BodyVox's Jamey Hampton (left) and songwriter/musician Jeremy Wilson (center), novice choreographer, in a February rehearsal for "Pearl Dive Project." Photo © Blaine Truitt Covert

BodyVox’s Jamey Hampton (left) and songwriter/musician Jeremy Wilson (center), novice choreographer, in a February rehearsal for “Pearl Dive Project.” Photo © Blaine Truitt Covert

Or a pop singer to create a dance? Because that’s what the pop singer – China Forbes of Pink Martini, along with several other creative Portlanders, among them Oregon Symphony conductor Carlos Kalmar, artist Malia Jensen, songwriter Jeremy Wilson, and writer Byron Beck – are doing in Pearl Dive Project. Not a one of them has been a dancer, and yet, they’re creating choreography for BodyVox’s highly trained professional dancers to perform. “What will happen when artists and innovators working at the peak of their profession immerse themselves in a craft they’ve never considered?,” the company asks. What, indeed? You can find out during a run that continues through April 23.


A Weekend Full of Wenders

The Northwest Film Center's retrospective wraps up with a showcase including the director's cut of "Until the End of the World"

The Northwest Film Center’s retrospective of the films of German director Wim Wenders comes to an immensely satisfying conclusion this weekend, including a rare chance to see the expanded (and quite expansive) director’s cut of perhaps his most ambitious effort.

With Wenders’ earlier films, which have screened over the last several weeks, we’ve seen him come to terms with his own cinephilia, incorporating references to classic Hollywood through style, narrative, and the casting of icons such as Samuel Fuller and Nicholas Ray. In “Wrong Move,” “Kings of the Road,” and “The American Friend,” Wenders found his voice. In “The State of Things,” he expressed his disdain for what Hollywood had become, but he rediscovered his appreciation for American landscapes in “Paris, Texas.”

The titles playing this weekend capture a crucial pivot in Wenders’ perspective, from one looking back at the history of cinema and of Europe to one peering forward into a future fraught with peril and promise.

“Notebook on Cities and Clothes” (Friday, 7 p.m.), released in 1989, could be considered a minor entry in Wenders’ oeuvre. It’s a “diary film” that began as a commission by the Centre George Pompidou to do a documentary portrait of Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto. As such, it’s of interest to followers of haute couture, but the film ultimately becomes a meditation on the changing nature of filmmaking at the dawn of the digital age. Using handheld video cameras for the portions of the film shot in Japan, and luscious 35mm cinematography (by his regular collaborator, Robby Müller) for the Parisian-set segments, Wenders juxtaposes the two and asks questions about the nature of the digital image and how it offers a new aesthetic. 

The title “Notebook on Cities and Clothes” calls to mind the Talking Heads album “More Songs About Buildings and Food.” Like David Byrne, Wenders is an artist who has only grown more curious and open to change—technological, cultural, and aesthetic—as he’s gotten older.


With “Until the End of the World” (Saturday, 5 p.m.), Wenders expressed these concerns in a fiction film—in fact, a science fiction film—utilizing his favorite narrative trope, the road movie. But this is no ordinary road movie. It’s a globe-spanning odyssey, filmed in nine countries on four continents during most of the year 1990. The movie is set in 1999, as a nuclear satellite threatens to crash apocalyptically to earth, and follows Frenchwoman Claire (Solveig Dommartin from “Wings of Desire”) as she pursues a mysterious figure (William Hurt) from Paris to Berlin to Lisbon and ultimately, after several more stops, the Australian outback.

The movie’s vision of future tech features now-familiar stuff like videophones, GPS-style navigation systems, and very small cars. But its most meaningful device is the peculiar camera Hurt’s character totes, one designed, we eventually learn, to capture mental images that can be viewed by the blind. It’s a sort of perfect cinema, the ultimate virtual-reality machine, capable even of broadcasting our secret knowledge and forgotten dreams. The final 90 minutes of this nearly five-hour director’s cut amount to a fascinating metaphorical meditation on the joys and pitfalls of this level of immersion. I bet David Foster Wallace liked this flick.

The running time may make it sound like a chore to watch, and even the originally released, truncated version was a chore for some at 158 minutes. But if you can relax into Wenders’ absurdist-travelogue mentality, it’s a long, strange trip well worth taking. And it’s fascinating to watch him continue to play with the possibilities of digital filmmaking and ponder its implications.

This isn’t to say that he’s left the past behind altogether, though. Hurt’s character is named Samuel Farber, which feels like a reference to both Samuel Fuller and influential film critic Manny Farber. Max von Sydow and Jeanne Moreau, two icons of 1960s European art cinema, play Farber’s parents. And Wenders’ frequent leading man, Rudiger Vogler, tags along on this world tour as a sharp-dressing, fedora-sporting private eye.

Instead of relying on a soundtrack of classic American pop music, as he did in many early films, Wenders assembled an all-star roster of contemporary, forward-looking artists to contribute original songs. The presence of Talking Heads, Patti Smith, U2, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, and more helped to make the soundtrack to “Until the End of the World” more commercially successful than the film itself, which crashed and burned at the American box office. The movie cost over $20 million to make and earned less than $1 million in the U.S., which may explain why it stands as the last narrative film of this scope he would make. (The upcoming “Sumbergence,” starring Alicia Vikander and James Marsden, may change that.)

Until the End of the World 3

1999’s “Buena Vista Social Club” (Sunday, 4:30 p.m.) was a key film in Wenders’ transition from a narrative to documentary focus. Especially worth revisiting in these days of renewed American engagement with Cuba, this Oscar-nominated doc captures the process of assembling a group of venerated Cuban musicians to record an album in Havana. It’s an utterly charming, musically delightful, and intimate portrait, and it was shot, naturally, on a digital Sony Betacam.

“Wim Wenders: Portraits from Along the Road” comes full circle by closing out with a selection of his earliest short films (Sunday, 7 p.m.). Some of these are of interest to completists only, but as a whole, the 90-minute program sheds light on the concerns and fascinations that molded this still-vital (at 70) artist. He continues to push into the future with things like the 3-D dance documentary “Pina,” while remaining connected to his photographic roots with things like the Oscar-nominated “Salt of the Earth.” He doesn’t show any sign of slowing down anytime soon, so there should be plenty of material for another retrospective just a little further on down that road.


ArtsWatch Weekly: whale of a week

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

The history of art, in a way, is a history of obsession. And who is more obsessed than Captain Ahab, feverish hounder of the great white whale? Herman Melville, perhaps, creator of the novel Moby-Dick, or, The Whale, and thus creator of the monomaniacal Ahab. Or Orson Welles, the mad genius of the cinema, who attempted to latch on to Melville’s harpoon and ride it to obsessive triumph in an unlikely stage adaptation of a novel that might be both untamable and unadaptable. Or, maybe, Scott Palmer, the adventurous artistic director of Bag&Baggage Productions, who’s taken Moby Dick, Rehearsed, Welles’s obsessive adaptation of Melville’s obsessive novel, and brought it to the B&B stage. In his fascinating (and in its own way, obsessive) review of B&B’s production, ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell quotes Palmer on the book that started it all: “Moby-Dick isn’t a novel, it is an entire imaginative world. It is massive, bulky, colossal, terrifying, majestic and ultimately unfathomable. It is the physical representation of one man’s will, one artist’s transcendent vision, an entire internal universe externalized …”

Bag&Baggage's magnificent obsession. Casey Campbell Photography

Bag&Baggage’s magnificent obsession. Casey Campbell Photography

Giant whales and such, as Brett points out, have been something of a communal obsession in Portland lately, from Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s season-long serial [or, the whale] to Portland Story Theater’s The Essex, the Northwest Film Center’s Welles-fest, a reading of excerpts from the novel at Portland’s Mother Foucault’s bookshop, and the musically adventurous AnyWhen Ensemble’s Moby-Dick inspired Boldly Launched Upon the Deep.

And how does this magnificent obsession (or cascade of obsessions) work out? Campbell writes: “Neither Ahab nor Melville nor Welles nor Palmer let the challenges of their tasks daunt them. Ahab caught his prey, but it cost him his life and those of his crew. Melville’s novel was widely regarded as a crazy failure in its time, and its overabundance of non-dramatic material still repels many readers. Welles’s misguided attempt to turn so inward-gazing a novel as Moby-Dick into compelling stage drama amounted to hunting a white whale; as Palmer acknowledged in a pre-show talk, it’s perhaps a good thing that Welles devoted himself to filmmaking rather than playwriting. In nevertheless choosing to stage Welles’s whale folly (in his centennial year), Palmer again plays the white knight, this time trying to save the white whale. Does he catch the object of his obsession in this new production and redeem Welles’s hubristic vision? Like the others, it’s a foredoomed, magnificent failure that, if you can stick with it long enough, you ultimately can’t let go of.”

America is, of course, a land of magnificent attempts and magnificent failures, which makes this whole thing seem so, well, American. It’s like a magnificent stab at the great American production of the great American adaptation of the great American novel: Who needs perfection when you’ve got a series of obsessions the size of a great white whale?



Vin Shambry (left), Chantal De Groat, and Chris Harder in "We Are Proud To Presnt ..." Photo: Owen Carey

Vin Shambry (left), Chantal DeGroat, and Chris Harder in “We Are Proud To Present …” Photo: Owen Carey

America is also obsessed with race, and the great stain of its racial history, which continues to trouble and obsess us in everything from policing to housing to job opportunity to our political campaigns, where it is sometimes used like a hidden (or not so hidden) persuader of fear and loathing. ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson delves into this not-so-magnificent American obsession in his review of Artists Rep’s new production of We Are Proud To Present a Presentation About the Hero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s smart and searing play about race, and our continuing difficulty in talking about it honestly, often even when we have the best of intentions. “We Are Proud to Present is a scorpion of a play,” Johnson writes, “and its tail packs a serious punch made all the more deadly by the light tone of the beginning.”



Tamisha Guy and Vinson Fraley Jr. in Kyle Abraham’s ‘The Getting’. Courtesy White Bird, © Jerry and Lois Photography All rights reserved http://www.jerryandlois.com

Vinson Fraley Jr. and Tamisha Guy in Kyle Abraham’s ‘The Getting.” Courtesy White Bird, © Jerry and Lois Photography. All rights reserved. http://www.jerryandlois.com

And while we’re on the subject: In Kyle Abraham dances about race, Nim Wunnan writes for ArtsWatch about the dance troupe Abraham.In.Motion’s canny and provocative performance in the White Bird series, a trio of works rooted in hip-hop, modern, and contemporary dance. The show “confidently and gracefully engaged both historical and very immediate issues of race and the individual’s place in this culture,” Wunnan says, and adds: “We start to understand in this work that certain movements and positions are almost exclusive to black bodies in this culture. And we rightly start to feel uncomfortable in our seats, notably when the usually vibrant and fluid [Tamisha] Guy sinks to the floor with a leaden exhaustion, face down, with her hands behind her back in an unmistakable position of submission, of arrest. The one Oscar Grant was in when he was shot point blank in the back.” Grant, in case you’ve lost track amid the the seemingly endless string of “incidents” involving police and black citizens, was slain by a Bay Area Rapid Transit policeman in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009 in Oakland.



Heath Koerschgen and Danielle Weathers in "Davita's Harp." Photo: Friderike Heuer

Heath Koerschgen and Danielle Weathers in “Davita’s Harp.” Photo: Friderike Heuer

A few things to keep in mind on this week’s calendar:

Davita’s Harp. The Jewish Theatre Collaborative has been preparing all season for this world-premiere adaptation (by Jamie M. Rea and director Sacha Reich) of Chaim Potok’s 1985 novel about a contentious family in the New York of the 1930s, as the world is churning toward disaster. Opens Saturday; through April 9 at Milagro Theatre.

Arvo Pärt and The Ensemble. Justin Graff gets us all in the mood for the notable chamber and vocal group’s weekend performances of the mesmerizing music of Pärt, “one of the world’s greatest living composers.” And in A Pärt Pilgrimage, Graff gets considerably more personal, telling the tale of his journey to Talinn to meet the master, of sharing chocolates,  and a session at the keyboard. All pilgrimages should be so rewarding. The performances: 7 p.m. Saturday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church; 4 p.m. Sunday at Portland State University’s Lincoln Recital Hall.

Northwest Dance Project. The Portland ensemble’s newest concert is called Louder Than Words, which might be appropriate, because it’s been raising the roof lately with performances in New York and elsewhere. A new work from the company’s talented resident choreographer, Ihsan Rustem, plus one each from artisitic director Sarah Slipper and Brazilian dancemaker/filmmaker Alex Soares. Newark Theatre, Thursday through Saturday.




ArtsWatch links


Wangechi Mutu, “Histology of Different Classes of Uterine Tumors”/Courtesy of PNCA

Wangechi Mutu, “Histology of Different Classes of Uterine Tumors”/Courtesy of PNCA


Wangechi Mutu and the revolt of the female form. Grace Kook-Anderson looks at 511 Gallery’s Northwest premiere exhibition of this post-colonial, feminist, New York-via-Nairobi artist. “Mutu’s women are distorted figures, hybrids of animals and natural elements, bodies that are capable of great force,” she writes.

Michelle De Young: heavy going. What happens when a Wagnerian powerhouse of a voice meets an art song in recital? Katie Taylor went to the acclaimed singer’s Friends of Chamber Music concert and found the combination of voice and material sometimes disconcerting.

Oscar nominee Ciro Guerra: an interview. Erik McClanahan talks with the Colombian-born director of the foreign-language nominee Embrace of the Serpent. Bummed that he didn’t haul home an Oscar? “We were kind of relieved we didn’t win,” Guerra said. “There was a favorite going in and it’s great not to be the favorite. It can be a lot of pressure. Even winning can be a lot of pressure. So we just made the best of it and enjoyed it.”

Toxic glory: Heathers: The Musical. Christa Morletti McIntyre takes a look at the ’80s glory that was the cult teen movie, and the new glory of its musical-theater adaptation, which is is getting a slam-bang co-production from Triangle and Staged!

Born to run (and to film): Wim Wenders, continued. Marc Mohan looks at more of the Northwest Film Center’s fascinating series by the German director. This time around: Paris, Texas; Kings of the Road; The American Friend; The State of Things.

In Mulieribus: hours well spent. Bruce Browne celebrates the “happy marriage” at Mt. Angel Abbey of the outstanding choir’s Renaissance music and exquisite projected art from a medieval book of hours.

Last chance: Jacques Rivette’s twelve-hour Out 1. The French New Wave director’s ambitious, audacious, half-a-day opus has rarely been seen in the past forty-five years, but the Northwest Film Center’s been showing it, cut into digestible segments. Marc Mohan pays his respects.

Bullshot Crummond rides again. Lakewood Theatre’s world-premiere production of the latest Crummond comedy, a sequel to a 1970s parody of the old Bullshot Drummond British adventure series, revels in an old-fashioned sort of fun, Christa Morletti McIntyre writes.

Bolai Cao: abundant talent. It was a propitious meeting at Portland Piano International, Jeff Winslow writes – the rising young pianist Bolai Cao performing a new work by the veteran Oregon composer Bryan Johanson, a piece created in homage to Domenico Scarlatti.

Hello, My Name Is Doris: Sally Field talks about her new movie. ArtsWatch’s Marc Mohan chats with the two-time Oscar winner about her latest turn, as a “socially inept, eccentrically clad” office worker who develops a crush on her younger boss. “Some people have called it a love story, but I think it’s a coming of age story,” she says. “The challenge of being a human being is will we open up to every different stage of our life?”

Johanson and Prochaska: media speak. Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum “the medium is the message,” Paul Sutinen looks at new shows by veteran painter/printmakers George Johanson and Tom Prochaska and declares the medium does matter.


Tom Prochaska, "Hillside Nevada," 2016, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches. Photo: Dan Kvitka

Tom Prochaska, “Hillside Nevada,” 2016, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches. Photo: Dan Kvitka



About ArtsWatch Weekly

We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.


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Born to Run (and to Film): Wim Wenders Series Continues

The second weekend of the German director's retrospective includes "The American Friend" and "Paris, Texas."

The second weekend of The Northwest Film Center’s retrospective “Wim Wenders: Portraits from Along the Road” features some of the German director’s most accomplished work.  If the films screened last week were the work of someone exploring the possibilities of cinematic storytelling, the ones on deck show Wenders’ cementing his identity as a filmmaker and searching for his place within the history and industry surrounding the form.

In his early features “Alice in the Cities” and “The Wrong Move,” Wenders’ protagonists are a journalist who takes up photography and an aspiring author. In 1976’s “Kings of the Road,” the concluding part of his “Road Movies” trilogy, Wenders’ on-screen correlative, actor Rudiger Vogler, plays an itinerant projectionist named Bruno who travels from village to village repairing the machinery of movies.

Rudiger Vogler in "Kings of the Road"

Rudiger Vogler in “Kings of the Road”

The film opens with a conversation between Bruno and a cinema owner who recalls the glory days of silent films like “Die Nibelungen” and “Ben-Hur,” and the cinematic references pile up from there. After Bruno rescues a lost soul named Richard (Hanns Zichsler) who has driven his Volkswagen into a river, the pair form an existential-bromance sort of bond, traveling the byways along the border between East and West Germany.

Bruno’s usual costume, a pair of striped overalls, is as much his trademark as Chaplin’s cane or Keaton’s straw boater. In one sequence, the two men are repairing a speaker prior to a presentation in a school auditorium, and their backlit antics behind the movie screen entertain the assembled children as much as any silent film comedy. This post-1968 version of Huck & Jim floats along  side roads and through forgotten towns, their truckload of cinema ready to transport them to the past or the future, or even to help them fall in love, if only for a night.

I said that “Kings of the Road” starts with a conversation, but it actually begins with its own technical specs as opening credits: “in black & white, widescreen 1.66:1 and production sound, shot in 11 weeks between July 1 and October 31, 1975,” and so on. This sly self-consciousness about the filmmaking process is even more evident in 1982’s “The State of Things,” but in a much more curdled vein.

To understand why requires mentioning a film that’s not part of the Film Center’s series, the misbegotten “Hammett.”

Dennis Hopper in "The American Friend."

Dennis Hopper in “The American Friend.”

Wenders followed up “Kings of the Road” with 1977’s “The American Friend,” which was based on a novel by American crime writer Patricia Highsmith. It’s the director’s homage to film noir, features his first American lead (Dennis Hopper as Highsmith’s iconic antihero Tom Ripley), and has two of Hollywood’s most famously idiosyncratic auteurs (Samuel Fuller and Nicholas Ray) in supporting roles. It’s no surprise that Wenders was approached by producer Francis Ford Coppola to direct what would be his American debut, a fictional take on the life of pulp novelist Dashiell Hammett.

That experience, as it has for so many European filmmakers in Hollywood, turned into something of a nightmare. The movie was shot in 1979, essentially re-shot in 1981, and was eventually released in 1982 with, say some sources, only 30% of it drawn from Wenders’ footage. By that time, Wenders had completed a whole other feature, “The State of Things,” in which a filmmaker and his cast and crew are screwed over by their producer. Coincidence? Probably not.

Samuel Fuller, Patrick Bachau, and others in "The State of Things"

Samuel Fuller, Patrick Bachau, and others in “The State of Things”

Director Freidrich Munro (Patrick Bachau) is working on a postapocalyptic sci-fi B-movie in a seaside Portuguese town when his cameraman (Sam Fuller again) informs him that they are out of film and money. After languishing in the town’s dilapidated resort hotel for days while trying to reach the producer, Friedrich hops on a plane and heads to Los Angeles. In contrast to the Road Movie trilogy, “The State of Things” is about people who’ve come to an abrupt and paralyzing halt.

Once in L.A., Friedrich has encounters with a lawyer played by Roger Corman and eventually gets quasi-kidnapped by his mobile-home-dwelling producer (Allen Garfield, billed here as Allen Goorwitz). The atmospheric of cinephilia saturates these sections, with shout-outs to (then-)forgotten film noir classics like “They Drive By Night” and “Thieves’ Highway” juxtaposed against oppressive billboards for the forgettable crop of current box-office hits (“Ordinary People,” Ringo Starr in “Caveman”). Like Woody Allen had done with “Stardust Memories” and the Coen brothers would later do with “Barton Fink,” Wenders turned artistic frustration into a scathing, highly entertaining expression of itself.

Harry Dean Stanton in "Paris, Texas"

Harry Dean Stanton in “Paris, Texas”

This sort of primal scream can often clear a filmmaker’s aesthetic throat, and in Wenders’ case, it led directly to perhaps his greatest accomplishment, 1984’s “Paris, Texas.” This film begins a whole new chapter in the director’s career. Instead of fleeing America after the debacle of “Hammett,” he dove headlong into its landscapes and mythologies. (With European financing, though.)

“Paris, Texas” was written by Sam Shepard and adapted by L.M. Kit Carson, and on the surface it seems to fit the Wenders road-movie template. A haggard soul named Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) is found wandering in the south Texas desert after having been missing for four years. He’s retrieved by his brother (Dean Stockwell), who reunites Travis in Los Angeles with his young son Hunter. Travis then takes Hunter on a trip back to Texas in order to confront the events that led to his disappearance and the woman (Natassja Kinski) he left behind.

It’s a simple, moving story that’s as much about the blues—both the color of a wide Texas sky and the Ry Cooder soundtrack music—as it is about human fallibility and the happy endings that are always just out of reach. By the end of its two-and-a-half hour running time, it’s clear that Wenders has worked through whatever anxieties he may have had and emerged whole, confident in the knowledge that he was put on this planet to make movies.

(“Kings of the Road” screens Thursday, March 10, at 7 p.m.; “The State of Things” screens Friday, March 11, at 8 p.m.; “The American Friend” screens Sunday, March 13, at 4: 30 p.m.; and “Paris, Texas” screens Sunday, March 13, at 7 p.m. All screenings are at the Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.)


ArtsWatch Weekly: farewell jazz fest, young lovers, noblesse oblige

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Well, that was quite a week, wasn’t it?

  • We saw Downton Abbey off to that great fox hunt in the sky, with a whizbang final episode that brought babies and pairings-off tumbling into the untaped future and put a stamp on the age of noblesse oblige. All in all it was, we noted (quoting the most excellent Dowager Countess Maggie Smith, for so we tend to think of her), “happy enough.”
  • We wrapped up the latest PDX Jazz Festival, which was dedicated to John Coltrane and his fellow reed players but was at least as notable, Angela Allen writes, for the excellence of its pianists. Allen praised the likes of sax virtuosos Nicole Glover, Sonny Fortune, Ravi Coltrane, and others, then added: “The keyboardists, though, stole my heart — not only the soloists but the sidemen who played in trios and quartets, duos and big bands, alongside the headliners.” The esteemed jazz journalist Doug Ramsey was in town for the festivities, too, and filed several reviews on his excellent site Rifftides, which we’ve reprinted with his permission here. Also, do take a gander at Mark Sheldon’s wonderful photos accompanying both stories of musical moments frozen in time, including this one, of 77-year-old sound explorer Charles Lloyd:
Charles Lloyd © 2016 Mark Sheldon

Charles Lloyd © 2016 Mark Sheldon

  • And we took a multifaceted look at Oregon Ballet Theatre’s newly announced season and its just-closed revival of James Canfield’s Romeo and Juliet, a long-missing company cornerstone: Canfield, OBT’s founding artistic director, brought it into the company with him when OBT was formed in 1990, but until this production it hadn’t been seen onstage here in more than fifteen years. First, in Sweet tragedy: rehearsing ‘R&J’, Martha Ullman West delves into the rehearsal hall and the ballet world’s history with Shakespeare’s teenage tragedy. Then, in Ballet masters of the 21st century, dance journalist and former dancer Gavin Larsen follows OBT’s ballet masters Lisa Kipp and Jeff Stanton as they prepare the company’s dancers for the ballet. Finally, in A fresh ‘R&J,’ a fling with the giants, Ullman West talks about OBT’s just-announced 2016-17 season (called Giants) and reviews the performance of R&J, in which she finds Ansa Deguchi revelatory as Juliet.


Travels with Wim: Northwest Film Center serves up a baker’s dozen of Wenders’ wonders

Dive into the German filmmaker's five-decade career with this month-long retrospective

The Northwest Film Center’s retrospective of the work of German filmmaker Wim Wenders, which runs from Friday, March 5 through Sunday, April 3, is called “Portraits Along the Road.” It’s an apt moniker for a series devoted to a director known for his peripatetic characters and his fascination with character studies and photography as a medium. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Wenders was born in August 1945, barely three months after the surrender of Nazi Germany. Like the other standard bearers of the New German Cinema who emerged in the late 1960s, being a member of the first German generation to have little or no memory of the war shaped his work in significant, not always readily apparent ways.

His characters are more likely than not to be uprooted souls travelling through a world they struggle to make sense of, and the temptation would be to describe them as symbolically running away from the past. Instead, though, it’s more like they’re on a railroad track parallel to history, where it can be contemplated but remains forever out of reach.

Rudiger Vogler in "Alice in the Cities"

Rudiger Vogler in “Alice in the Cities”

Wenders was one leg of a triangle–with Werner Herzog, born 1942, and Rainier Werner Fassbinder, born in May 1945—who played a huge role in revitalizing German film. (Other notables included Margarethe von Trotta and Volker Schlöndorff.) If you ever want to impress someone with your knowledge of New German Cinema, be sure to drop the phrase “Oberhausen Manifesto” into the conversation. It was a 1962 document, signed by 26 German filmmakers, that promised a new style of film “free from all usual conventions by the industry.”

Wenders didn’t sign the Oberhausen Manifesto (neither did Herzog nor Fassbinder), but he did graduate from high school in Oberhausen the year it was signed. Coming from a presumably comfortable background—his father was a surgeon—Wenders may seem an unlikely radical. And in fact his films demonstrate a more detached, ironic perspective than Herzog’s operatic portraits of derangement or Fassbinder’s overheated queer melodramas. But he was a quiet revolutionary in his way.

After studying painting in Amsterdam, he returned to Germany and graduated from the University of Television and Film Munich. His thesis film and first feature, completed in 1970, took its title from the Lovin’ Spoonful hit “Summer in the City.” In the early years of his career, at least, Wenders shared the simultaneous sense of fascination and repulsion towards America that has animated so many European artists of the postwar era.

This is especially evident in “Alice in the Cities,” the 1974 film that’s the best and most significant of the three early Wenders features screening during the retrospective’s first weekend. In its first act, a German journalist named Philip Winter (Rudiger Vogler) has been travelling around the U.S., taking Polaroid photos of its highways, byways, and forgotten souls. He smashes a hotel TV at one point, enraged at the commercial interruptions to classic Hollywood movies, and attends a Chuck Berry concert later on.

The homeward-bound Winter is delayed in New York by an air traffic controller strike, and he strikes up a friendship with a single mother about to return to Germany with her ten-year-old daughter. The mother abandons Alice to Winter’s care, and they spend the rest of the movie meandering around Germany in search of her grandmother.

This familiar set-up—grouchy adult man bonds with precocious young girl–often leads to either quirky sentimentality (“Paper Moon”) or queasy subtext (“Taxi Driver”). But in the hands of Wenders, Vogler, and juvenile actress Yella Rottländer, “Alice in the Cities” is a refreshingly unadorned story of unlikely friendship and a man reconnecting with the world. It also continued fruitful, long-lasting artistic relationships among Wenders, Vogler (who played characters named Philip Winter in several later films), and Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller, whose black-and-white images in “Alice” are a direct antecedent to his work on Jim Jarmusch’s “Strangers in Paradise.”

“Alice” is often cited as Wenders’ first “road movie,” the first in an unofficial trilogy including “The Wrong Move” and “Kings of the Road.” But his second feature, “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick,” also stars Vogler as man on the move. Here he’s a soccer goalie who abruptly shoves a referee during a match and is ejected. He then begins an aimless, amoral journey across Germany, committing an emotionless act of violence at one point that seems to neither haunt nor hinder him. It’s the sort of depiction of existential malaise that a 25-year-old who grew up in a society haunted by unspeakable violence might make, and I mean that in a good way.

“The Wrong Move,” like “Goalie,” is based on the writing of experimental novelist Peter Handke, and it’s the least audience-friendly of these opening three films in the Film Center’s series. Volger again stars, again as a writer wrestling with how to engage with the world, and the people, around him. Travelling from his hometown to Bonn, he assembles around him, without trying, a makeshift crew of eccentrics that includes an aging athlete who competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, the mute young acrobatic woman accompanying him (Natassja Kinski, in her film debut), and the beautiful object of our hero’s desire (Hanna Schygulla).

There’s something Pirandellian about this random, allegorical group, although Handke’s screenplay is actually adapted from Goethe’s “The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister.” Even with very little real narrative to cling to, it remains a compelling experience, though not Wenders’ most memorable.

“Portraits Along the Road” will continue to trace Wenders’ career over the next few weeks, from the peak of his art house popularity in the 1980s and 90s with “Wings of Desire” and “Until the End of the World” (presented in its rarely seen 5-hour director’s cut!) to his Oscar-nominated documentaries: “Buena Vista Social Club,” “Pina,” and 2014’s “Salt of the Earth.” Along the way, there will be opportunities to see rarities including 1977’s “The Left-Handed Woman” (directed by Handke and produced by Wenders), 1982’s “The State of Things” (co-starring Sam Fuller), and 1985’s “Tokyo-ga,” a worshipful meditation on the cinema of Yasujiro Ozu.

The final moments of “Alice in the Cities” were shot from a helicopter, starting out focused on the face of Vogler in the window of a train and then rising into the sky. The opening of “The Wrong Move” is another helicopter shot, traversing the rooftops of a small town before settling on Vogler, again behind glass. He immediately shatters the window he’s looking out of, and soon embarks on his journey. These are the sorts of synchronicities that become apparent when you immerse yourself in the work of a film artist of Wenders’ caliber. There should be plenty more.


(“The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick” screens at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 4; “The Wrong Move” screens at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 5; “Alice in the Cities” screens at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 6; all at the Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. For a full schedule of “Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road,” visit www.nwfilm.org)


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