Friday 1 July 2022

From the archive: "Alice in the Cities"

Upon its initial release in 1974, Wim Wenders' fourth feature
Alice in the Cities - about a jaded reporter (Rüdiger Vogler) wandering the globe with a young child in tow - would have most likely seemed like evidence that the 'Sick Soul of Europe' party, as Pauline Kael described the angst-ridden cinema of Antonioni et al., had started up anew in Germany. Seen today, as the flagship of the NFT's January Wenders retrospective, it has retained considerable historical value. 

Even as its protagonist berates photographic reproductions for not living up to the real thing, the film manages to preserve on celluloid such relics as Pan Am flights (with smoking passengers!), Chuck Berry gigs, and the Twin Towers. The sparse score is by noodly art-rockers Can, which should inspire further nostalgic pangs in those of a certain age.

An essential component of nostalgia, of course, is the feeling things aren't what they used to be. Too many art films of this era now seem sunk by their own moroseness, but Alice never gets stuck in the same place: it's the work of a young man (Wenders was 29) with his eyes wide open and an obvious yen for travel. Vogler, with his shaggy locks and broad, goofy smile, is incapable of staying in a sulk for long, and Yella Rottländer, as the girl, is a delightful, matter-of-fact presence.

The film is confident that anyone can make a movie about the state of things simply by sticking a camera on a car bonnet and observing the changes playing out on the horizon. If this sounds somewhat monotonous or inflexible, well, Wenders never was as funny or as angry as Godard, but Alice demonstrates he was similarly ahead of the game on the postmodern condition. Whether the ad-interrupted print of John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln that causes the journalist to trash a motel-room television or the Ford obituary upon which the film closes, everything is this particular universe is mediated.

(The Sunday Telegraph, January 2008)

Alice in the Cities is reissued to cinemas today as part of Curzon's Wim Wenders retrospective, and available to rent via Curzon Home Cinema.

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