A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The American Friend (Wim Wenders, 1977)

Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper in The American Friend
Tom Ripley: Dennis Hopper
Jonathan Zimmermann: Bruno Ganz
Marianne Zimmermann: Lisa Kreuzer
Raoul Minot: Gérard Blain
Derwatt: Nicholas Ray
The American: Samuel Fuller
Marcangelo: Peter Lilienthal
Ingraham: Daniel Schmidt
Rodolphe: Lou Castel

Director: Wim Wenders
Screenplay: Wim Wenders
Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith
Cinematography: Robby Müller
Music: Jürgen Knieper
Film editing: Peter Przygodda

When I called Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967) "stoner noir" yesterday, I thought I had pretty much exhausted the genre with the exception of Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973). But then I watched The American Friend and realized my error. Actually, the plot and milieu of The American Friend, loosely adapted from Patricia Highsmith's Ripley's Game, is material more for a thriller than for film noir's brooding exploration of the lower depths of criminality. Here we are in what might be called the upper depths: art fraud and murder for hire. But mostly The American Friend is an exercise in watching the phenomenon that was Dennis Hopper, who came to the set fresh from the horrors, the horrors of working on Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979). It is, as most of Hopper's performances were, an exercise in self-destruction. And perfectly cast against him, in what was his first important film, is Bruno Ganz, struggling to keep his head. Ganz and Hopper eventually came to blows off-set, and then spent a night drinking their way into a fast friendship and an entertaining tandem performance. There is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it character to the film's set-up exposition about why mild-mannered picture framer Jonathan Zimmermann gets caught up in the manipulations of Tom Ripley and Raul Minot, but it doesn't matter much. Zimmermann's first job for Minot is beautifully staged, with just enough eccentric touches -- Zimmermann colliding with a dumpster and a stranger (Jean Eustache, one of the director cronies Wenders cast in his film) offering him a Band-Aid -- to make it more than routine thriller stalking. And the sequence on the train is a classic of cutting between on-location and studio set filming, culminating in Zimmerman's exhilarated scream from the view port on the engine. To my taste, The American Friend is a little too loosey-goosey in exposition and a little too self-indulgent in its director cameos, making it catnip for cinéastes but maybe not solid enough for mainstream viewers. The thriller bones show through, making me want to see the material done a little more slickly and conventionally. But as personal filmmaking goes, it's fascinating.

Watched on Filmstruck Criterion Channel  

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