Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989)

Director: Wim Wenders

This certainly feels more like a “Wim Wenders film”—it has that somewhat ponderous quality his films seem to incline to—than Room 666, in which he basically had to work with what his interviewees gave him; certainly it’s rather literally “by” Wenders, in that he took the project on with the intention of doing something entirely by himself (barring a few bits shot by Robby Müller). The subject of said film was suggested by someone at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris who said “why not make a film about fashion”… and Wenders is upfront about his lack of enthusiasm for that subject, so he decided to focus on one particular figure, designer Yohji Yamamoto, and consider the parallels between his art and Wenders’ art. Now, the latter’s desire to work without a crew kind of dictated the nature of the film that would result, a fairly literal mix of film and video, which actually makes this an interesting follow-up to Room 666 in some respects; Wenders’ DVD commentary notes that his 35mm Eyemo film camera was only good for shooting very short rolls of film and was so noisy he couldn’t record live sound, so he had to use a Hi-8 video camera most of the time. This actually results in some kind of complex images. e.g. video footage filmed in 35mm off a monitor with Wenders holding up a Hi-8 player in front of it showing something else, or a rehearsal of one of Yohji’s fashion shows filmed in 35mm but the lower half of the frame contains two different video monitors, all shot simultaneously rather than optically composited. The problem, though, is the sound; conceding that the Hi-8 camera was the only way Wenders had to get live sound without dragging a professional sound recorder along, the sound of Yohji’s interviews is as rough as hell, not helped by his own hesitancy in English. That’s actually a lot more distancing than the visual tomfoolery, and combined with the rather slow pace of things it makes the film more than a little trying. Mind you, it was a useful follow-up to Room 666 in some respects; that film was about the future of cinema and the visual image, this one is Wenders taking certain steps into that future himself and considering the merits of the image in its various forms (he says something about feeling like the stuff he shot on video was insubstantial, and only became real after he transferred it to film and could physically cut it). Undeniably difficult viewing, or listening at any rate, though not without some pleasures.

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