Friday, February 14, 2020

A bend in the river

This is a detail from one of the colour Polaroid photographs taken by Wim Wenders in 1974, when he was working on The Wrong Move.  These Polaroids were on show in London a couple of years ago and I recently treated myself to the accompanying book, Instant Stories, where they are mostly reproduced in their original 7 x 9cm dimensions, re-photographed with all the dust and markings of age.  This particular image, along with a few others, is blown up to five times its original size, as if to see how it works as a photographic art, rather than a small physical artefact of the film making process.  When I saw this Polaroid in the exhibition, I thought it was the river bend the characters in The Wrong Move have behind them on their walk up the hill.  But memory mists over details and, as you can see from the embedded clip below, it is not the same place.

For this post I will just note three other highlights of the book (focusing on landscape subjects):
  • There are a small group of location scouting Polaroids from his unsuccessful adaptation of The Scarlet Letter (1973), eventually filmed in Spain.  New England hadn't looked right (I have written before here about the gap between the real American landscape and the way Europeans imagine it).  At first, when the archivist unearthed these Polaroids, Wenders thought they must be views of the Baltic. 'Those Polaroids had aged, but the amazing effect was: they had become more beautiful in the process.  They now showed the place that I had been looking for in vain. A lost America.' 
  • For the third of his road movies, Kings of the Road, Wenders says 'I traveled all along the German/German border and visited each and every movie theater that was left in that stretch of land from the Elbe river in the North down to the German/Czech border in the South.  the entire border covered some 1400 kilometres. A deep depression had befallen these lost little towns and villages that were cut off from their hinterland.'  In these places he took a poignant sequence of black and white Polaroids showing these small, drab cinemas with their grandiose names, Capital, RIO, LUX...
  • On this page you can see Wenders' shots of the Elbe where he filmed the memorable opening sequence of Kings of the Road. The location was near the old Dömitz fortress. 'There, across the stream, stood the watchtowers of the East German border patrol.  Wherever we shot, we saw their binoculars blinking.  I always wondered what they were thinking of us.'
Finally, I am embedding below a video of Wim Wenders in which he describes his use of the Polaroid camera.

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