Saturday 18 April 2015


"After ten weeks' filming we were still only halfway through, though I'd aimed to finish the film in that time.There was no money to go on filming, and we were a long way short of an ending. The problem was: how should the journey end? Or: how might it be converted into a story? At first I thought of an accident. If it had been shot in America, it would certainly have finished with an accident. But thank God we weren't in America; we were free to do otherwise and get to the 'truth of our story'. Of course a film of that type can be literally neverending, and that's a danger. The solution, finally, turned out to be that the men would have to realize they couldn't go on like that; a break would have to come and they would have to change their lives."
Wim Wenders, 'Impossible Stories', in The Logic of Images
As described in the post on 'Ferries', Alice In The Cities ends with a shot of Alice and Philip on the train through the Rhine Valley to Munich, where Alice's mother has been found. Importantly, the film ends here, still in movement: there is no narrative need to depict the moment where mother and daughter are reunited. In the 'road movies trilogy', a sense of narrative resolution and the actual ending of each film do not coincide or cohere; while watching for the first time, the viewer does not know when the film may in fact end, and the point at which the film does end then retrospectively provides a sense of the resolution of the story within each film.

The only 'B-film' in the loose trilogy, in colour and based on a screenplay drawn from a literary source, The Wrong Move ends with Wilhelm, alone, having left behind the odd group of characters that he had accrued on his journey, on top of the highest mountain in Germany, his desire for experience, often vicarious, to make him a writer seems to have left a bitterness and inconclusiveness to his voice over at the point the film finishes. The spur for the break up of the group had been the industrialist's suicide. Peter Handke, who wrote the screenplay based on Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, interprets this ending with a note of positivity:
"Wilhelm Meister isn't really the hero at all. The heroes in the story are the individuals like the industrialist in his house, or the actress. Wilhelm attracts them to him, but only in order to get them to reveal something of themselves. They have far more courage and intensity than he does. He's just curious and rather invulnerable. He keeps saying he wants to write. One day he'll put down what he's seen. The heroes are the others."
Peter Handke, 'The Heroes Are The Others', in The Logic of Images
Kings Of The Road ends after Bruno and Robert fight at an abandoned border post, filled with graffiti from American soldiers, images from pornographic magazines and Coca-Cola bottles. Robert wakes up with a black eye. He gets out of the hut, urinates and leaves a note which reads: "Everything must change. So long. R." The film's story lasts as long as the two men are travelling together, from the moment that Bruno watches Robert's half-hearted attempt to kill himself by driving at high speed into a river, to their fight at the end of West Germany. A resolution of sorts is affected when both men confront something of their pasts. According the Wenders, these experiences improve their relationship, which paradoxically creates the situation for them to part: "They split up because, on their journey across Germany, they've suddenly grown too close. It's a story that you're not often told in films about men." (Wim Wenders, 'Kings of the Road', in The Logic of Images).

Robert arrives with his suitcase at a small railway station. There's a boy sitting, writing in a notebook:
"What are you writing?"
"I'm describing a station. Everything I see."
"And what do you see?"
"The tracks, the gravel, the timetable,
the sky, the clouds."
Robert picks up his suitcase which he has been carrying around for the duration of the film. It dangles on one finger.
"A man with a suitcase.
An empty suitcase.
A grin.
A black eye.
A fist.
Throwing a stone."
"It's as easy as that?"
"That easy!"
Robert swaps his sunglasses and the suitcase for the notebook. The scene then cuts to Bruno emerging from the hut, finding the note, walking towards the sign that demarcates the state border, and howling. He gets back into the truck. The film cuts to Robert, now on a train, apparently writing in the notebook he had swapped with the boy. The act of writing in Wim Wenders' films of the 1970s often accompanies a sense of accommodation for the characters who are writing: this may be a coming to terms with their past, or an aspect of their character, or Germany itself. Peter Handke believes that Wilhelm will write, "one day" - but this belongs to the future, outside of the film. In Alice in the Cities, Philip begins to write again once he has returned to Europe. Like Alice, the boy in Kings of the Road has the same clarity of vision. In Robert's conversation with him at the station, Wenders appears to be suggesting that the act of describing rather than telling is the medium's true strength. Through the window of the train, in a parallel movement, Bruno's truck is seen on the road. The viewpoint cuts from the train looking out to the truck, to the cab of the truck looking back at the train, as both keep pace with each other. Bruno is signing along to 'King of the Road'. As the train passes a level crossing where the truck is forced to stop, Bruno says, "Kamikaze, don't you think I haven't seen you!" From the train we then see Robert, quoting from something that Bruno said earlier in the film, "Getting by better and better eh?"

There than follows a brief coda, a bookend like the film's prologue, both showing Bruno talking to owners of the small-town cinemas that Kings of the Road is structured around. In the prologue this is an old man who was a silent film musician ("Those were tough days when the talkies came in.") In the coda, Bruno listens to a women in a cinema that's closed, but she wants to keep it ready for when the films return ("'Film is the art of seeing,' my father said", echoing Wenders himself). Bruno leaves the cinema, walking past the empty display cases where the imprints of long missing images show up on the faded backgrounds of 'this week's' and forthcoming films would be seen. A neon 'WW' is reflected in the windscreen as Bruno gets back into his truck, standing for the name of the cinema that is revealed as the camera pans away: Weisse Wand Lichtspiele. As well as the 'WW' only three of the letters of the sign are lit: the e and the nd.

Friday 17 April 2015

Thursday 16 April 2015

Other Viewpoints

"Every literary traveler has an habitual practice. [Norman] Douglas's is climbing up to an eminence whose height allows him to see something inaccessible to ground-dwellers."
Paul Fussell, Abroad
Stockholm's geology provides many interesting prospects. My copy of Hallweg's 1:15,000 map of the city shows five viewpoints, although this icon is not actually defined on the map's key. Three of these are located along the Northern edge of the island of Sodermalm, and two on Djurgården. Two of the five are buildings of a kind, the Katerinahissen and the Bredablick (a tower in Skansen: the name is literally 'broad-look' or view), and two are along the steep cliffs of the island. The fifth is in the Tivoli Gröna Lund, Although this amusement park was closed when I visited Djurgården to look for it, the viewpoint here can only be one (or more) of the rides. Three of the postcards recently drawn were from the viewpoints on Sodermalm. The Kaknästornet, as described in my post 'Panoramania', is not defined by such a symbol. The designation viewpoint is a value judgment by the cartographers, a reminder that maps are not a neutral display of geographic facts; that the Kaknästornet is not included makes it clear that there are of course other places in the city that the traveller may find panoramic views. The Kaknästornet is at a relative distance from much of the interest in central Stockholm that the other viewpoints provide, although its height and 360-degree views make it worth the entrance fee.

Having scrutinised the map of Stockholm, there are no viewpoints marked on Hallweg's similar map of Copenhagen. Copenhagen's geography is very different from Stockholm, but, as some viewpoints in the Stockholm map are not natural features (or at least are viewpoints from natural rises in the land significantly augmented by structures), it does feel anomalous that there are no similar designations in Copenhagen. The obvious candidates to be included would be some of the church spires that can be climbed, and the Rundetårn or 'Round Tower' in the centre of the city.

In the post 'Panoramania', I wrote about telecommunications towers in different cities as a symbol of technological progress and civic pride, many of which (although not all) members of the public can visit. Towers of different kinds had symbolic and other values in pre-modern cities, mostly being either religious in function or fortifications. The Round Tower in Copenhagen originally functioned as an observatory, as well as being attached to a church and university library; it is also open on a Monday, unlike many other attractions, a day that I was in Copenhagen on the route to St Petersburg. From the top of the tower it is possible on a clear day to see the route we would take the following day, across the Øresund Bridge to the indistinct shore of Sweden.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Some Thoughts On Railway Stations

“Like many others who have lived long in a great capital, she had strong feelings about the various railway termini. They are our gates to the glorious and the unknown.”
E. M. Forster, Howards End
Like Margaret Schlegel referred to in the quote from Howards End, having grown up in the suburbs of London, "the various railway termini" represented similar feelings for me, although rail travel had fallen out of grace during this period. The railway termini that had a hold on my imagination when younger were Liverpool Street and Waterloo, especially Waterloo, as this became the gateway to university life, just at the point that British Rail was broken up and privatised. To add to the "glorious and the unknown" of Waterloo, the Eurostar services began to run from the station in 1994; although our first year degree course trip went to Paris went by coach and ferry, two weeks later the Foundation Course also went to Paris, to the same hotel on the Boulevard du Magenta, by train.

Forster specifically defines the stations termini although he generalises "a great capital", which in Howards End is Edwardian London. London's main railway stations are of course all termini, due to factors in the historical development of the city's infrastructure, mainly the size of London itself when the railways were introduced to the city, making it a less than practical endeavour to lay tracks directly through the capital from one side to the other, as well as the factor of the railways being built by competing private companies. This situation is only now being changed by Crossrail. Other capital cities suffered from the same infrastructural complexities, notably Paris, also very large by the middle of the nineteenth century, and, like London, has the same arrangement of terminal stations in a ring around the centre. St Petersburg, as a planned eighteenth century city is the same. In smaller cities however, some that I have recently travelled through by train, Brussels, Cologne, Hamburg and Copenhagen, the main railways stations are of the type where the trains run straight through: the terminal station has an implication that the capital or other city is a natural destination rather than just a stop (other than old capital cities, terminal stations are most frequently found on the coast). This may, in some small measure, account for one aspect of the capital-centric economy of the United Kingdom.

Rail travel was one of the nineteenth century technologies that fractured space, along with advances in image reproduction, identified by Patrick Keiller in his relating Henri Lefebvre's ideas to early cinema, and quoted in my post The Phantom Ride. The great railway stations in Europe were designed with the necessity of steam, with the result that the high spans of the train shed roofs often brought comparisons to cathedrals. As a result, these stations were not built with an economy of space, which has meant for contemporary use these generous spaces can be re-purposed, and frequently filled with kiosks and shops, often on more than one level, maximising the footprint of the buildings. When no longer a necessity, these railway termini are also beautifully adaptable, being re-used for cultural purposes such as the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. The former cathedrals of the nineteenth century's new connectivity have become cathedrals of culture. Recent attitudes towards station architecture show a new or, perhaps more accurately, a renewed pride: from the low point of the rebuilt Euston Station, designed to be like an airport for the period when air travel being glamorously within reach of larger parts of the population, hiding the messy business of the trains themselves, to Berlin's new Hauptbahnhof and the renovated Kings Cross and St Pancras in London as just two recent examples.

It is a truism to ascribe large, general similarities to airports around the world, a feature of post-war modernity, "subordinate pseudo-places" in Paul Fussell's words (tourist destinations are "pseudo-places" par excellence). By contrast, many large railway stations’ architecture is very particular, even vernacular, often from imperial periods in modern nation states' development, with stylistic reflections: Cologne’s steel arch with its glazed soaring lunettes either end (with neon names of brands associated with the city), Helsinki's distinct Baltic Style Moderne, Copenhagen’s double-vaulted wooden beamed roof, suggestive of an oversized medieval lodge. The Bocca Della Verita in Copenhagen Central that I had photographed in 2008 has gone from its position by the photo booths. I photographed the original in Rome four years earlier, the replica of it in Copenhagen was a fortune-telling machine for travellers to consult, oracle-like, before a journey.

Tuesday 14 April 2015


Moderna Museet, Stockholm 14/4/15