Alice in the Cities

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1974 – Directed by Wim Wenders

Some movies just feel right. What they might lack in complex plot points, cinematographic innovation or intense studies of character, they make up with a vibe or tone that resonates with lived experience. In the case of Alice in the Cities, Wenders manages to quite simply and clearly capture pure loneliness and disconnection. Maybe I just love road movies, maybe I just miss the 70s. Not sure: it doesn’t really matter.

Wenders is obsessed with the way the mediated image changes the direct experience. This is especially evident in the pervasive display of the televisions in lonely motel rooms. The Polariod photos as well create a distance between the immediate and the mediated. The photographer, Phil, seems happier experiencing his trip though his growing stack of snapshots, and seems incapable of finding anything to say about his actual journey. He is trapped.

The child, Alice, whom is dumped on him by her distracted and heartbroken mother before they travel back to Europe from New York City, does not “free” him or “transform” him or make life more immediate. She is in a world she has even less control over than he. She’d rather watch television at the little pay booth at the airport than deal with her reluctant and disgruntled caregiver. At least she can control this image. Yet, somehow, they manage to move through this world driven by images (the quest for grandmother’s house, the early presence of the John Ford film in one of the indistinguishable seedy motels, followed later by the news of his death, the overall sense that the world flattens and dies by by our ability to caputre it) in a manner that we start to belive, ever so slightly, in the power of motion, of movement and the chance to transcend, if not change: what we ultimately hope for in a road movie.

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