Sunday, March 28, 2010

1976: Kings of the Road (Wim Wenders)

1976: Kings of the Road (Wim Wenders)
Why Robby Muller isn't more of a household name is beyond me?  He's responsible for five or six of the most beautiful films ever made:  Dead Man, Alice in the Cities, Paris, Texas, Down by Law, Breaking the Waves, The American Friend, and Kings of the Road.  Okay, make that eight or nine!

I find that Muller has as great a sensitivity and relationship to nature as any cameraman that has ever worked in the medium.  There's a poetry to the way that he frames the outdoors and a lyricism to the way he lets his camera slowly absorb images that is deep and elemental.   And nowhere is his special gift so apparent, so affecting, as in this early Wenders road epic.  

This one demands patience, but if you can get hooked on its rhythms, it's an incredibly moving tale of friendship, love, and cinema.  It's also a definite desert island choice in these parts.  

Other contenders for 1976:  This is yet another strong year, in my opinion, even though there are a number of titles I still need to see.  These include:  Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot, Alan Rudolph's Welcome to L.A., Eric Rohmer's The Marquise of O..., Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900, Jacques Rivette's Noroit and Duelle, Joseph Losey's Mr. Klein, Francois Truffaut's Small Change, Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses, Larisa Shepitko's The Ascent, Ingmar Bergman's Face to Face, Luchino Visconti's L'innocente, Robert Altman's Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson, Dario Argento's Suspiria, Carlos Saura's Cria Cuervos, Don Siegel's The Shootist, and Peter Bogdanovich's Nickelodeon.  I need to revisit Sidney Lumet's Network as it's a film I've struggled with in the past.  From this year though, I really like Roman Polanski's The Tenant, Brian De Palma's Carrie and Obsession, David Lynch's Eraserhead, and John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13.  I love Alan Pakula's All the President's Men.  And my closest runner-up is Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver.

4/11/11 I watched Francois Truffaut's Small Change.  A strange film. Sweet, and at times Truffaut amazes at how he's able to remember and capture some of the aspects and feelings of childhood.  But it seems as awkward and distracted as most young children, and this meandering quality starts to take away after awhile.  

5/13/11 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot.  An unusual final film from a master.  It's fun, light in many ways, and still maintains much of the great Hitch touch.  Dern is perfectly cast, as is Barbara Harris and Ed Lauter.  

7/22/11 I watched Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses.  The ultimate film on co-dependency.  Incredibly intense and disturbing. Oshima proves himself one of the ultimate "cruel" filmmakers but also one who is unflinching and unafraid to take his subject into every single, possible realm, no matter the risk or daring involved.  Cold and not totally my thing, but I respect the achievement.

8/11/11 I watched Larisa Shepitko's The Ascent.  Incredibly visual, in the way a Tarkovsky film can be.  And particularly affecting when it comes to depicting torture and death.  Ultimately hard for me though to find a real window into it emotionally.  

8/19/11 I watched Luchino Visconti's L'innocente.  Another psychological and claustrophic chamber piece from Visconti.  Not my thing at all, but well done for what it is.  

3/7/17 I rewatched Michael Ritchie's The Bad News Bears.  Ritchie's slacker sensibility is a perfect match with the material.  I don't think this one gets near enough attention and should be in any conversation around the greatest sports movies of all time.

5/14/17 I watched Eric Rohmer's The Marquise of O.  The first period piece I have seen from Rohmer and it is a stunner.  What impresses most is the way that Rohmer uses his incredible talent for distillation to tell a story of transcendence and humanism in the unexpected backdrop of the late 1700s.  Rohmer proves that he learned much from Rossellini and the effects he is able to achieve do not feel terribly far removed from Rossellini's great La prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV.

8/14/17 I watched Larry Peerce's Two-Minute Warning.  An interesting cast and a somewhat promising plot are let down by pretty uninspired execution.  

1/12/20 I watched Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky.  May only made four features and I had seen the other three before seeing this for the first time.   In seeing her other work, it was already very clear that May was unusually good with her actors and had this very unique, punchy editing style.  Nothing else May had done creates the sense of dread so palpable here or has this level of realism.  It would rank on my list with any overview of key American New Wave films.  It is unrelenting, powerful and a bit different than anything else I have ever seen.   

4/12/20 I watched Joseph Losey's Mr. Klein.  Only the second or third film I have seen from Losey but what a film it is.  Delon's performance ranks with his very  best and Losey sustains interest and an uncomfortable mood and atmosphere throughout every single shot.  The camera is elegant, as are the locations, the set design and the wardrobe and Losey ends up making a film about the Resistance that might be every bit as powerful as Melville's Army of Shadows.  

4/20/20 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's Rang-ha.  One of the things that's most impressive about Kiarostami is his ability to have retained a childlike wonder with the world.  This film is different than anything else I have seen from him but it's a joy to see for anyone interested in a complete understanding of the Iranian master's career.

8/12/20 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's A Wedding Suit.  The premise is great and Kiarostami's patient, warm approach fully visible.  He lets the events slowly unfold, never really taking the story where you expect it to go.  Devoid of music except in the final frames, Kiarostami is already pushing his cinema to strong points of transcendence.  


  1. Duelle without a doubt for me. I recently re-watched it and I think it may be the best movie Rivette ever made.

    Jeffrey, way back in 1948 I admitted I'd never seen Ophuls' Letter From An Unknown Woman and I'd try to catch it. Well, it was on television last night and so obviously I watched it and it's fair to say I was completely blown away by it. It's certainly one of the most visually beautiful films I've seen in awhile, which isn't particularly surprising given who made it, and the set-ups for some of the shots are borderline insane. I really need to get my hands on a copy of it now, I need to see it again. Although a lot of my favorite films employ a flashback structure I do think it's a very questionable technique, and even within a cinematic context makes assumptions about human experience and its relationship to narrative that aren't necessarily true. But I am almost tempted to say that this is one of the most successful employments of flashback structures I've ever seen. I don't want to say too much after only having seen it once...but there's something really strange going on in it. It's like in inhabiting memories, it's unfolding layers of Fontaine's mind or something. I don't know. I have to see it again, but it's certainly one of my new favorite movies.

  2. Doniphon, wow what a great thing to hear! And you put it so well, "'s unfolding layers of Fontaine's mind..." It's a movie that's obviously had a profound effect on me, and I'm so glad to hear that you liked it so much, as well.

    I should have mentioned DUELLE in my list of things I still need to see. I will add it now.

    Thanks, Doniphon. Always great to have you here!

  3. Another great Robby Muller film to add to your list: Friedkin's TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.

  4. Tony, I completely agree! What a great-looking color film from Muller. Somewhat atypical for him I would say but another great outing for sure.

    Thanks, Tony. Always a treat to have you here!

  5. I have to stay with Joseph Losey's MR. KLEIN. It's a real "creeper" of a film and one that will slowly reel a view into it's atmosphere. It's not necessarily an overlooked film, but I do think that it sometimes is lost in the shuffle of some of the other great films of the decade.

    My closest runner up would be Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER.

  6. Dave, this one sounds great! It's one I still need to see but will absolutely make a priority now.

    Thanks, Dave. Always wonderful having you here!

  7. I also saw DUELLE recently Donophon and it was the #1 film chosen by Allan Fish in our 70's poll. I liked it enough to have it in my runners-up list by not quite number 1, though I do greatly respect that position as I do Jeffrey's choices with the Wenders, a film that never resonated with me for some reason.

    My Own #1 Film of 1976:

    The Ascent (Shepitko; Russia)


    Face to Face (Bergman; Sweden)
    L'Innocente (Visconti; Italy)
    Duelle (Rivette; France)
    Network (Lumet; USA)
    Taxi Driver (Scorsese; USA)
    Ai No Corrida (Oshima; Japan; France)
    Suspiria (Argento; Italy)
    Mr. Klein (UK; Losey)
    Small Change (Truffaut; France)
    Noroit (Rivette; France)
    Eraserhead (Lynch; USA)
    1900 (Bertolucci; Italy)
    All The President's Men (Pakula; USA)
    Bound For Glory (Ashby; USA)

  8. Sam, great to hear from you! I still need to see your top four picks. They all sound fantastic, and I look forward to doing something about that soon.

    Thanks, Sam. Always wonderful to have your perspective here!