Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
ALICE IN THE CITIES (1974)
Photojournalist Phil Winter (Rüdiger Vogler, who previously worked with director Wim Wenders on 1972’s THE GOAL KEEPER’S FEAR OF THE PENALTY and 1973’s THE SCARLET LETTER) sits under the boardwalk, singing the song of the same name, snapping pictures. He has collected an entire series, but finds he has not completed the correct assignment for his publisher.
This puts Phil on the route back to his home country of Germany, although a snag in the form of a flight controller strike sends him to Amsterdam. It is at the airport that he meets a woman named Lisa (Lisa Kreuzer, in her debut) and her young daughter Alice (Yella Rottländer, in one of just three film appearances). Lisa seems to suggest a reliance on Phil, but it will be Alice that winds up in his company.
The abandoned Alice and the creatively lost Phil initially prove to be an odd couple while on their respective-yet-joined journies, but the audience knows this won’t be the case for the duration, that there will he commonalities that cannot go ignored.
ALICE IN THE CITIES takes its time getting where it’s going. This allows the characters to develop and for leads Vogler and Rottländer—who both give strong, natural performances—to better present their characters and their needs. Yet, there is a lot of meandering and time wasted (see: the majority of scenes with Lisa, the aimless pop culture-driven scenes that lend little all around) that such a picture can’t afford.
There are hints of the sort of greatness that Wim Wenders’ road movies would soon show, but ALICE IN THE CITIES remains the weakness of the trilogy.
WRONG MOVE (1975)
Wilhelm (Rüdiger Vogler, previously seen in ALICE IN THE CITIES) sits at a desk, writing in his notebook: I’m not desperate, just angry and fed up…I want to be a writer. To do this, he must leave home. He boards a train to Bonn, some 500 km away.
It is onboard that he meets the young Therese (Hanna Schygulla, best known for her work with Rainer Werner Fassbinder), older gentleman Laertes (Hans Christian Blech, who had a notable role in 1962’s THE LONGEST DAY) and mute teen Mignon (Nastassja Kinski, in her debut). There is also later a man with access to a castle.
The characters seem like just the lot that Wilhelm would want to encounter to add personality to his book. Yet, there appears to be an air of emptiness that looms over. Perhaps there are greater concerns in the world than writing that book.
WRONG MOVE, a loose adaptation of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, is initially about Wilhelm’s journey but eventually reveals itself as being much about the past, which haunts the characters in complex ways that reflect on Germany’s own atrocities.
The primary theme found within WRONG MOVE is that of liberation—How does one achieve it? Is it possible to find it on one’s own terms or must it come organically?
WRONG MOVE feels less like a road movie than the others housed in The Criterion Collection’s box set (there is more walking than driving/riding), but it does present ideas that linger in the mind long after a viewing.
KINGS OF THE ROAD (1976)
Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler, 1970’s SUMMER IN THE CITY, also directed by Wim Wenders) speeds down the road, ripping a picture of a home he may never be asked to see again. He closes his eyes and drives right into a lake. He climbs out and encounters Bruno Winter (Rüdiger Vogler, rounding out his starring roles in this trilogy). They share a laugh at the absurdity of it all. At once, it is amusing, until they take a moment to reflect.
Robert is a former psychologist fresh from a breakup with his wife. Bruno is a film projector mechanic who is traveling to wherever his next job may be. And so here is a man whose dreams have dissolved and a man who is responsible for bringing them to the masses.
Of Wenders’ ROAD TRILOGY, its opus, KINGS OF THE ROAD, is the one that is the most grounded. (Interestingly, it is the only film in the trilogy that doesn’t begin with an aerial shot.) It has a fixation with observing its characters and allowing them to develop organically as they make that great lonely trip down the desolate roads. It considers the concept of being on the road while simultaneously evolving the men’s conditions.
At nearly three hours, KINGS OF THE ROAD takes its time. Certain portions could have been snipped, but, then, the length could be one of the benefits of the picture—how, really, can one rush from one destination to the next?
To a degree, Wenders has become almost synonymous with the road movie. KINGS OF THE ROAD is not his best (that goes to 1984’s PARIS, TEXAS, which would win the Palme d’Or; KINGS OF THE ROAD was nominated, but lost to TAXI DRIVER), but it is one of the defining examples of what such a film can be.
It is also, perhaps most importantly, a most fitting finale to the ROAD TRILOGY, which begins with a shot of an airplane and closes with a neon sign reading END.
Video: 1.66:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec on all three films. “This new digital transfer [of ALICE IN THE CITIES] was created from the original 16 mm negative and scanned in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner, using the wet-gate method, and color corrected in 2K resolution. Individual sequences that were too heavily damaged in the original 16 mm negative were replaced with sections from a 35 mm duplicate negative…These new digital transfers [of WRONG MOVE and KINGS OF THE ROAD] were created from the original 35 mm negatives and scanned in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner. The films were also color corrected in 4K resolution.”
Fans of Wim Wenders’ ROAD TRILOGY will be absolutely delighted with these high-definition transfers. While there is still some damage to be found here and there (especially on ALICE IN THE CITIES), these are the finest that any of these films will look on home video—details are strong, colors are natural and the landscapes captured by cinematographer Robby Müller are often stunning. Purists will also be pleased that the filmic quality remains, providing a look that maintains the style and authenticity of the trilogy and its director’s intentions.
Audio: German Mono with English subtitles on ALICE IN THE CITIES; German 5.1 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio with English subtitles on WRONG MOVE and KINGS OF THE ROAD. “The original monaural soundtrack for ALICE IN THE CITIES was remastered from the 17.5 mm magnetic track. The original monaural soundtracks for WRONG MOVE and KINGS OF THE ROAD were remixed in 5.1 surround from the original 17.5 mm magnetic tracks.”
Dialogue is clear, depth and complexity are present and the music plays without any fault.
ALICE IN THE CITIES
Audio commentary featuring Wim Wenders and actors Rüdiger Vogler and Yella Rottländer: In this commentary, recorded in 2005, the trio discusses the making of ALICE IN THE CITIES, with time spent on the look, soundtrack, locations and more.
Interviews (27:22): In this program, actors Vogler, Rottländer and Lisa Kreuzer sit down separately to discuss the production, collaborating with Wenders, the locations and more.
RESTORING TIME (15:15): This documentary “discusses the ongoing work by the Wim Wenders Foundation to restore the filmmaker’s early output.”
Short Films: Included here are two Wenders shorts: 1967’s SAME PLAYER SHOOTS AGAIN (12:33) and 1968’s SILVER CITY REVISITED (33:13).
Outtakes (16:20) from the set of ALICE IN THE CITIES.
Audio commentary featuring Wim Wenders: In this 2002 track, Wenders discusses the style of the film, discovering Nastassja Kinski, working with a small crew, locations and much more.
THREE FOR THE ROAD (1:04:03): Wenders sits down with filmmaker Michael Almereyda for an extensive and thorough interview, sharing his thoughts on his career, numerous collaborators (including cinematographer Robby Müller, who lensed all three films in this collection), THE ROAD TRILOGY and more.
Interviews (21:50): Rüdiger Vogler and Lisa Kreuzer discuss their work on WRONG MOVE and with Wenders.
Super 8 Footage (4:06) shot during the making of WRONG MOVE.
KINGS OF THE ROAD
Audio commentary featuring Wim Wenders: In this 2005 track, Wenders discusses the making of KINGS OF THE ROAD.
Interviews (31:22): Rüdiger Vogler, Hanns Zischler and Lisa Kreuzer reflect on the production of KINGS OF THE ROAD and its director.
Outtakes (21:10) from the set of KINGS OF THE ROAD.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is a 48-page book featuring essays on the films by filmmaker Michael Almereyda, filmmaker Allison Anders, author James Robison and critic Nick Roddick.