Notebook On Cities And Clothes Review

Commissioned by the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris to contribute to an exhibition/installation on the theme of fashion, Wim Wenders documentary on the Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, like his earlier documentary Tokyo Ga, takes an unusual approach to the format and offers here a more philosophical look at the nature of creativity as it applies to the creation of clothes, aligning it with a self-reflective look at the nature of creativity in filmmaking.

Inspired by a shirt and a jacket he owned that had been designed by Yamamoto, in Notebook On Cities And Clothes Wenders considers the nature of image and identity, not so much from what they say about the person who wears them, but from the impulse and inspiration that led to their creation. Interviewing Yamamoto and watching him at work, Wenders considers the influence of the locations of Paris and Tokyo, the designer’s favourite places, and his relationship with people, with the models wearing his clothes, and with the students and apprentices who learn from his work.

As a filmmaker however, Wenders is concerned with the parallels between fashion design and the creative processes of his own work. He notes with interest a common book that he and Yamamoto share as the inspiration for work in a photo book ‘Men of the 20th Century’, and considers the fact that it is people, faces, and clothing – all the identifying characteristics that make people who they are - that are the things that inspire both of them to explore and create. Playing pool with Wenders, the fashion designer supports the auteur-ist notion of both their work, fearing no-one stealing his ideas or designs, since every creator uses the same raw materials, but the unique view he applies is distinctly his own and cannot be replicated.

The idea of copying, duplicating and the questions this raises about identity is also of interest to Wenders. Both men are artists who work in mediums where, unlike painting for example, there is no unique original creation or expression of an idea in a single form. Clothes take on their own form away from the model on the catwalk and become something else when sold through stores and when worn by individuals. Film making is a collaborative process and negatives are duplicated and issued as prints, the films taking on a life of their own as they become a product and are seen differently by individual viewers. Moving towards a digital age, Wenders is also aware of the lines of original creation becoming increasingly blurred.

All these are fascinating subjects to consider, but it must be said that Notebooks On Cities And Clothes isn’t particularly interesting in an of itself as a documentary. Essentially, much of it is made up of scarcely audible talking-head interviews with Yohji Yamamoto, with a droning Wenders narrating ideas. The director tries to make the whole essay visually more interesting and relevant to his theories by using back projections of Yamamoto at work, of fashion shows and of urban landscapes, with the interviews being played-out on handheld devices, recorded in a variety of 35mm and videotape media. Where it fails here is that Yamamoto works instinctively, his designs are his language, and what he does cannot be rationalised or put into words. Wenders on the other hand, tries too hard to think and conceptualise in a Chris Marker manner and the connection that he strives to achieve between fashion designer, filmmaker, cities and the people they work for never really feels like it is convincingly made.

Notebook On Cities And Clothes is released in the UK by Anchor Bay. The DVD is only available as part of their 10-disc Wim Wenders Collection boxset. The film is presented on a single-layer disc in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.

The video quality for the film is excellent, but evidently, with the amount of video footage, manipulated, projected and copied for effect, it’s difficult to rate. Direct 35mm footage however is strong and clear, although there is a slight pastel tone to the colours and a very faint flickering evident. It would appear to look much as it is intended to.

The audio tracks can be occasionally difficult to make out as Wenders’ narration drones on in a dull tone throughout, while Yamamoto’s halting English can suffer from the duplication of the video sourced material it is recorded on. This however is how the film is, but generally, it’s adequate. It is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, with a seemingly pointless Dolby Digital 5.1 remix.

English subtitles are optional, but as the larger part of the interviews and narration are conducted in English, they are only partial for Japanese language spoken by Yamamoto. The subtitles are in a white font, using a thin typeface which is mostly adequate, but it’s certainly not the clearest.

There are no extra features on the disc.

Notebook On Cities And Clothes is a fascinating visual essay that raises some interesting questions in its attempt to fuse the creative processes of fashion designing and filmmaking, but Wenders’ deliberated method, techniques and interviews work counter to the intuitive approach of Yohji Yamamoto. With a rather dry narrative and laboured filming technique, the film consequently lacks the spark of creativity that it is striving to capture. The film is presented well enough on DVD and although without any extra features, it is nonetheless an interesting film to consider alongside the other films it is gathered together with in the Wim Wenders Collection.

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Last updated: 27/06/2018 06:26:17

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