Media Coverage 2006

How the West was spun: Wim Wenders 

Place: Toronto

Film director Wim Wenders has teamed up with playwright Sam Shepard for more deconstruction of the great American myth, writes James Adams

After the success Wim Wenders (director) and Sam Shepard (writer) had with Paris, Texas in 1984, you'd think they might have tried to make lightning strike twice and quickly start another collaboration. That, or just forget about ever working together again, figuring the odds of moseying into masterpiece territory once more were next to nil.

Instead, they struck a compromise: They waited almost 20 years, then started to work up a new movie. The result of that effort, Don't Come Knocking, opened in selected theatres last weekend.

Of course, words like "struck," "waited" and "compromise" suggest a certain premeditation. But, in fact, there was no such purposefulness, Wenders explained during a recent visit to Toronto, just hints, intimations, vague expectations that they'd meet again. [...]

"I think I always try to avoid doing what's expected," said Wenders, who is 61. "And I know I always try to avoid doing something just because I know how to do it. [...]

At this stage, it's unlikely Wenders sees himself as a candidate for the aesthetic of silence. For all its flaws, Don't Come Knocking reveals a director still besotted with the spaces, places and faces of the American West, not to mention the sound of American music that entranced him as a kid growing up in post-war Dusseldorf. Forget German rock bands such as Kraftwerk, Can and Tangerine Dream -- "I never went for that, really" -- for Wenders the real deal was Skip James, John Lee Hooker, Duane Eddy and Chuck Berry, as well as Brit bands heavily influenced by American R & B such as the Rolling Stones.[...]

Almost two years after its completion, Wenders sees Don't Come Knocking (or, as he once thought of calling it, 52 Miles to Wisdom) as "a deconstruction, as it were, of the myth of the West," similar to what Brokeback Mountain accomplished. "It's still outrageously beautiful; it's just that the stories there have become obsolete, the iconic American cowboy figure has vanished." Indeed, at one point he suggested to Shepard that Knocking be called Phantom of the West, "but Sam thought that was too much on the money."

Often described as the "most rhapsodically American" of the German directors who came to international attention in the mid-1970s, Wenders, like many Germans, had his first experience of the West through the novels of Karl May. Born in Germany in 1842, May never visited America in all his 70 years but his tales of cowboys and Indians "impregnated the German soul like no other literature," Wenders said. "Only the Bible is bigger." As a youth, "I read every one of his books -- 30, 40, maybe 50 titles -- before I finally saw a western movie, and when I did," he said, laughing, "it strictly confirmed what I already knew."

When it's mentioned that Hitler was a big May buff, the director nodded. "Very true. If only he'd gone into the West himself and got shot. History would have changed and the Indians would have spared us a lot of trouble."

Asked what he's up to now, Wenders confessed he really doesn't know. "Actually, I'm the kind of guy who should not know. Like with Buena Vista Social Club [the Oscar-nominated documentary from 1999], I had seven days notice. The Soul of a Man [part of the PBS-TV series The Blues] was this pretty sudden proposition from Martin Scorsese [who directed Feel Like Going Home for the series]. I mean, he told me about it but then I didn't hear from him for two years and then he called and said, 'It's on.' " [...] [I]t's totally okay to start from scratch. It means you have the surprise of doing something that you're not so good at. It suits me fine."
by James Adams
The Globe And Mail, April 27, 2006


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