Monthly Archives: April 2021

  • The American Friend (Der amerikanishe Freund) Wim Wenders (FDR; 1977)

    The American Friend  (Der amerikanishe Freund)     Wim Wenders (FDR; 1977) Bruno Ganz, Denis Hopper, Lisa Kreuzer, Sam Fuller

    Viewed BFI streaming 18 April 2021

    Boys just want to have fun

    The outstanding characteristic of Wenders’ movie, was that it felt like everyone making it was having fun, enjoying the caper in the knowledge they’re riding the crest of a wave of a different type of film making. Probably they knew like all surfers that the ride doesn’t go on forever. This wave, like all waves, would soon lap into the sands.

    In this respect ‘American Friend’ reminded me of those early movies by Godard: ‘Pierrot le Fou’, ‘A Bout de Soufle’, ‘Vivre sa Vie’ and in particular ‘Alphaville’.

    The overwhelming vibes from these films was that everyone was having a good time. These films of Godard were parties; the viewers were simply invited to join in and exit the cinema having had a good time. Godard set up these films as enjoyable spoofs. In themselves they were satires on ‘serious’ film making as practiced by the ‘film industry’ where the bottom line was the most important reading for the producers.

    Of course the content of Godard’s movies included felicitously directed and often barbed observations of the social situations and character types that made up most of the products of the film business. The characters in Godard’s scenarios played themselves. The point of their performances was to remain true to the tone of the films: detached, cool, but very direct, to camera if required. Godard made these movies with a spontaneity and élan that situated them within the tide modernism that was enveloping European societies. A tide that almost without being noticed was effortlessly transforming these societies at a pace that was outrunning most peoples capacity to understand.   They saw and consumed the tokens: the Coca Cola, the Marlborough cigarettes, the Automobiles, without knowing what they meant. In the cities, space and time were being redefined recasting the parameters of the possible and allowable interactions between people.

    In ‘American Friend’ Wenders sort of picks up where Godard left off.   Making a film in ‘play’ mode in the knowledge that ‘play’ has an specific political dimension. Wenders’ movie reminded me of ‘Alphaville’. Both are parodies of the ‘Noir’ genre, consciously imitating the form without any intention of taking it seriously, to exploit its potential for saying or observing something about social relations. In best ‘Noir’ tradition the plots of both movies are grounded in arcane far fetched propositions that are devices that permit exploration of social types and of contemporary spaces, and their interaction.  ‘The American Friend’ is a movie of pure surface without any pretence at depth (emotional, spiritual etc) and in this respect ‘American Friends’ design probes and exploits the social and spacial organisation of modernity.

    The ‘types’ Wenders puts in play are straight out of the top drawer of Brechtian analysis of Capitalism’s social strata. There are exploiters and exploited, the privileged and the victims. There is no appeal from exploitation, only death.  Criminality and gangsterism are necessary concomitants of a system that spawns caricatures of itself to control those areas of the social matrix that are beyond Capitalism’s immediate control. The caste deliver the mechanics of their lines with declamatory intonation as the plot delivers its neo-Brechtian design with appropriate filmic panache.

    What is interesting in Wenders’ scenario is the interrelating of narrative character and space.

    Traditionally large spaces such a churches palaces courts of law have been structured so as to overawe the individual. The vastness of these buildings with their concomitant symbolism, is designed to strip those entering of their individuation,   reducing them to objects of a metaphysical apparatus. As souls, petitioners, subjects, people are reduced to being adjuncts of these spaces. Many contemporary settings are also constructed on a monumental scale: subway systems, train stations, airports, atria, auditoriums, stadia, all built to serve functional purposes but designed as environments containing a meta-text to project the power of the institutions that own and run them.

    ‘American Friend’ points to a simple stratagem by which the individual can subvert or evade being subject to the meta-messages of alienated power to which you’re exposed on entering these domains. The individual can simply psychically re-purpose their response, assimilate these places into their own fantasy for the purpose of ‘play’. Seen in the spirit of ‘play’ the subways, the stations the atria the airports are transformed into huge playgrounds where individuals can pick up the energies of childhood in endless relayed adventures of hide and seek, spacemen and aliens, goodies and baddies, love and loss.  ‘Playing’ in and with space simply cuts through the power games of modernity; its structures and representations can no longer transmit their implied hierarchic meaning; we are free to create and act out our own desires, detached from the encompassing environment. Vast subway transportation systems become stalking grounds for assassinations, airport lounges sites of illicit assignation, underground walkways perilous passages of hell death and fear to be transitioned as quick as possible. Older ‘Noir’ movies had always realised this aspect of modernity, hence the appropriation of trains as locations of murderous action, and of course there is a classic killing scene in ‘American Friend’. But Wenders movie completes this aspect of Noir logic, and extends an ideology of play out into the systems of post modernist control logic.

    ‘The American Friend’ is a movie which is inclusive of its audience.  It envelopes those who watch. Wenders askes his audience to be part of the fun, to see what is happening in life as a playful provocation. It’s not made to exploit or manipulate emotions sentiments or beliefs. The characters are two dimensional and have no development or realisations, yet it is a subversive film that projects ‘play’ as transformative force capable of undermining the bleak physical and psychic structural messages of modernism.

    And certainly the caste look like they’ve enjoyed themselves. Hopper, Fuller, Wenders and Ganz all had reputations for raising hell big time, drink drugs everything. Of course some may have found it insufferable. In 1978 a year after ‘The American Friend’ was made Lisa Kreuzer divorced Wim Wenders.

    adrin neatrour

  • Minari Lee Issac Chung (US: 2020)

    Minari         Lee Issac Chung (US: 2020) Steven Yeun; Han Ye-re,Youn Yuh-jung

    Viewed: 28 March 21 BFI streamed

    metaphysics of overcoming

    Set in the early 1980’s Chung’s bucolic ramble is a feelgood type of product that documents the theme of overcoming. Unlike most movies these days it represents affirms and endorses the American Dream. This ‘Dream’ is the ideal that whatever your birth status, whatever your ethnicity, if you believe in yourself and your ambition, if you work hard and tirelessly to achieve it, America makes it possible for you to overcome all obstacles and succeed.

    I presume the movie is called Minari to encapsulate the immigrant success story theme. It’s a metaphor for the success of transplanted life forms. Minari is a Korean watercress type plant. Grandma carried some specimens of this plant from Korea which she plants by a creek on the Yi plot to see if it will grow. And Lo! After the fire that has destroyed Jacob Yi’s first years crop, Jacob wanders down to the creek and finds the Minari has taken root and flourished, it has gone forth and multiplied, sending out a message of hope and perseverance to the whole family enterprise. At this point it is best not to dwell on the invasive problems that can arise with imported species but that’s another story, a downbeat rather than an upbeat one.

    Despite its subplot of their young son having a heart condition, which plays out on the ‘cute’ factor, the script is worthy, correct but predictable in its direction of development. The attempts to build tension into the proceedings are addressed in two ways: the introduction of variegated unconventional characters and the relations between the Yi’s.

    The unconventional characters are drawn from the Hollywood stockpot of film drama stereotypes. We have in Minari, the straight-talking abrasive granny from back home untrammelled by the fears and inhibitions of the assimilating family; and there is introduction of a couple of full on Americana characters drawn from the substrate of weirdness in Cohn Brothers scripts. One of whose role, with his mangling of religious fundamentalism and the soil, is not to be dangerous but to attest to the tolerance of the Yi’s in their dealing with the local people. Perhaps as Koreans the Yi’s are all too familiar with the outer wild fringes of the Christian religion. But these American characters are kept well under control by Chung’s script, and the employment of these character tropes plays out as little more than baubles decorating the film’s structure.

    The other source of tension in Chung’s script, is the relationship between the Yi’s. Monica is never convinced by the move from California to rural Arkansas. The self sufficient farming life is Jacob’s dream project. Nevertheless she goes along with it, only to become increasingly disenchanted by the realities of both farming and the isolated nature of rural life itself. But their marital discord on this point never feels convincing rather it plays out like a carefully plotted script line. There is a managed deliberation in the manner in which their separate realities provoke Monica and Jacob to want to make different life choices.  What is lacking is an organic, psychic emotional strata at the core of their conflict. The mechanical aspect of their marriage is seen in the ‘Conversion of Monica’   This takes place at the end of the film in the resolved ‘happy ending’ to Minari. After the disaster of losing the harvest to fire, Monica sees that staying put, being resilient and believing in Jacob’s dream is the way forward. She is suddenly ‘happy’ in Arkansas. She is converted and so Minari ends on a high note of integration.

    In the name of ‘authenticity’ much of the film’s dialogue is in Korean. We know the Yi’s are first generation immigrants but in ‘Minari’ language functions as a token sign of the ‘otherness’ of the Yi’s, allowing the scenario to otherwise evidence their conformity and integration into American way of life. When we see Scorsese’s Italian families in New York, they speak English, but their life styles, their attitudes are Italian. They are Italians and they don’t have to speak Italian for us to understand this. The Yi’s on the other hand seem to have come right out of some Los Angeles suburb, to the extent that it is their suburban nature rather than their Korean nature that they have to adapt and bend to rural life.   Minari is a suburban epic rather than an immigrant odyssey.

    Chung’s film feels like a contemporary equivilent of the Soviet or Chinese propaganda films featuring young couples venturing forth into the hinterlands to till the soil. They come to the land; there is much is strange and unfamiliar, there are many obstacles to overcome and they have to get to know the local people. But with the correct ideology, the dream, they overcome all obstacles.

    adrin neatrour