The State of Things Review
The contrast between his European roots and sensibility and his love for American filmmaking is clearly evident when one compares Wim Wenders’ early German films with those made in the second half of his career in his adopted homeland. The personal upheaval and conflict that this involves seeps into almost all of Wenders’ American films, the director trying to reconcile the America of Hollywood films with his own experience of the country, but there are several films that deal specifically with his disillusionment of the US film industry itself and how it treats its legends (Nick’s Film - Lightning Over Water), as well as the dangers of a young European filmmaker being swallowed up by the business. Alice in the Cities sees a writer returning to Europe to try to regain a sense of himself in a semi-improvised film undertaken as a kind of therapy and release, one that necessarily had to break away from a more conventional way of making films.
Most directly of all however The State of Things is about the filmmaking crisis in America. Having run out of money while making a science-fiction film in Portugal, film director Friedrich Munro (Patrick Bauchau) is forced to take a long break in filming while he waits on his American producer in LA to come up with more funding. Holed up in an abandoned semi-ruined hotel on the coast near Lisbon, artistic tensions and personal insecurities give rise to conflict among the cast and crew. Wenders captures the volatile combination of egos and insecurities of the various talents involved on a personal as well as a professional level, taking into account the unusual process by which filmmaking throws together people of different personalities and abilities, of different cultural backgrounds, of varied age and experience. Comparisons to Fellini’s 8 ½ and fellow German New Wave director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Beware of the Holy Whore are inevitable, considering as they do the conflict of the European artistic sensibility with the very nature of filmmaking as a business, but Wenders is not so much interested in an egocentric exposé of creative block or artistic excess, as much as seeing in his film as a microcosm of society in general, or at least his experience of it as a European filmmaker in America.
But The State of Things is more than just the personal crisis of one director who has to focus his own energies and take into consideration the abilities and personal issues of others. This is all very much a part of the necessary collaborative creative process that goes into making a film, but what this European film director doesn’t need in addition to these issues are problems of financing, dealing with ruthless and faceless industry executives who really have no interest in the film other than how its bottom line fares on the balance sheet, and they certainly couldn’t care less about the nurturing or respect of artistic talent. The State of Things then is also an ode to filmmaking, to Sam Fuller (who has a great part here as Munro’s cinematographer Joe, his personality really enlivening the film), to John Ford and Nicholas Ray – cinematic pioneers idolised by young European filmmakers of Wenders’ generation – and Fritz Lang, who made the same difficult journey from Germany to Hollywood before Wenders.
The State of Things then covers a lot of ground, considering the creative process of making a film, considering the nature of filmmaking as an industry and taking into account the personalities involved from a historical perspective as well as from his own filmmaking experience. Most complicated of all, Wenders considers all this within his very approach to the making of the film itself, the split in personality between his European sensibility and the requirements of the US market being reflected in the film-within-the film and in the pace and tone of how the moody Portuguese sections are contrasted with the LA sections, which are indeed shot like a crime thriller, full of big cars, guns and intrigue - Henri Alekan’s stunning cinematography (The State of Things truly is one of the most beautifully shot films you’ll ever see) fully capturing the essential qualities of both.
Wenders’ approach to narrative then is defined by this split and the conflict between European and US sensibilities, finding in the conventions of the road-movie the perfect expression for progression and a bridging of the divide. What the film also shows is a director not allowing himself to be ground down, overcoming his own reticence and the lack of confidence in his own work and ability, determined to regain those qualities and fight for his belief in his work and in cinema itself, something that Wenders’ subsequent intriguing career – where signs of those struggles still show – has perhaps only partially achieved. For Wenders, life and cinema are inseparable and The State of Things lies somewhere in-between as one of the director’s most intriguing expressions of his craft, one that he would refine further for the mid-career heights of Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire.
The State of Things is released in the UK by Axiom. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc and is in PAL format. The disc is encoded for Region 2.
If you’re not too picky, the transfer here could almost be considered perfect – and when you’re talking about a film that features the cinematography of veteran Henri Alekan (La belle et la bête, Wings of Desire), that really counts for something. Shooting in black-and-white, with the film-within-film in a striking yellow tint, with impressive location shooting, the images are simply stunning, the monochrome tones wonderfully defined, with crisp, clear detail. The transfer, progressively encoded and anamorphically enhanced at a director-approved 1.78:1 aspect ratio handles the film’s tone and grain almost perfectly. Although the majority of the film is perfectly stable, there is however some troublesome shimmering in one or two brief places, mainly on the shots of LA skyscrapers towards the end of the film.
The audio options are listed as Stereo 2.0 and Stereo 5.1, stereo presumably being the original audio mix for the film, remixed to 5.1 but retaining the characteristics of the original. This would seem to be the case, with ambient presence being noted on the 5.1 mix, but not overly emphasised. Both mixes are excellent, the dialogue clear and well toned almost entirely throughout, with any minor failings being part of the original track.
English subtitles are included and are optional, but only translate one or two brief Portuguese sections of the film. The majority of the film is in English and is not captioned.
The only extra feature on this Axiom Wim Wenders release is a reel of selected Deleted Scenes (24:58). A few of the scenes are of interest but, rather slowly paced,they would drag the film down quite a bit without adding anything significant. A 4-page insert however is also included, with film credits and an essay on the film, Wenders’ difficulties on coming to work in America, and his intentions for the film.
There’s a lot of contemplation and self-referencing in The State of Things where Wim Wenders considers his approach to filmmaking, and how best to adapt his narrative style to the demands of the US film industry, while at the same time bemoaning the nature of the Hollywood dream machine. That’s going to make the film appeal more to those interested in the director and his outlook on filmmaking than it those looking for a coherent and engaging storyline, but there are plenty of other compensating factors, not least of which is the film’s amazing cinematography. Axiom’s DVD release isn’t feature packed, but the Deleted Scenes are a worthwhile addition as is the brief overview of the film in the enclosed insert, but it’s the transfer itself which is the main selling point and one that makes the film worth a fresh look.