Christopher Bray

Wonder of Wenders

The filmmaker has a deep understanding of painting; and Edward Hopper, in particular, has been an enduring influence

What know they of movies who only movies know? Wim Wenders’s latest collection of essays arrives at a time when the best-known film critic in England is unashamed to claim that tendentious tosh The Exorcist as the best picture ever made. Even though the slightest piece in The Pixels of Paul Cézanne is its title essay, it is good to know that there is still at least one film buff around who is alive to the first six arts.

As a young man in Dusseldorf, Wenders fancied himself a painter — so much so that, before the movies lured him away, he was planning to further his studies in Paris. So while he tells us nothing about Cézanne’s work that Meyer Schapiro hadn’t filled us in on way back when, there can be little doubt that Wenders knows his way around an image. I can’t say that his essay on Andrew Wyeth did anything to change my mind about that gothic puritan dullard. But there is no gainsaying Wenders’s insight that ‘Edward Hopper does not paint close-ups — something he has in common with John Ford’.

That claim comes from a piece originally published in Die Zeit in 1996, but Wenders was a Hopper-long kid long before that. There is barely an image in The American Friend — Wenders’s take on Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game — that doesn’t have its origins in one of Hopper’s canvases. The orange that frames or slices through pretty much every scene in the movie is borrowed from the petrol pumps in Hopper’s ‘Gas’. The low-slung, wide-angled Hamburg cityscapes pay homage to Hopper’s canvases such as ‘Nighthawks’ and ‘New York Office’. And the movie’s big murder scene, set on a train rushing through the German countryside, is lit and composed just like the surreally frozen lounge in Hopper’s ‘Western Motel’.

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