Alice in the Cities marks Wim Wenders’s first foray into the road movie genre, which has arguably become his trademark. Alice, in terms of themes and shooting style, is a starting block for his 1984 film Paris, Texas, a sprawling journey of a work that he’s known best for. It’s a story of, like Paris, not belonging, and endlessly searching for something – for Alice, it’s her family; for Phil, it’s inspiration. The friendship in this film between Phil and 9 year-old Alice is totally unsinister and innocent, a true 20th century film, you couldn’t make it like this any more. The world is too jaded, to dangerous.
The world becoming more cynical is a central theme here, and oddly enough, its messages about technology and preservation of memory seem more reminiscent of 21st century life than the 1970s, where every moment is seemingly immortalised for all to see, preserved in a perfect image that can be interpreted in many ways. It’s a moment in time where each country was different from the other (mass cultural homogenisation was yet to come), instilling an unease and sense of fascinating observation with the different world of the United States, loving the foreign things it holds but hating how alien it is from home before nuances around the world faded. It eerily works better now.
An alternative title for this film about life viewed through a photo is ‘Life Through a Lens’. It’s aimless and feels truly lived in, like a documentary following two people around, not cutting at the ‘perfect’ end but instead how ‘scenes’ in life end – abruptly and without proper endings. The photography is natural and beautiful, there’s not much ‘fancy’ work going on here, sometimes it just stays stationary, just looking out of a train for minutes at a time. It feels like old Super 8 videos taken on holiday.