The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is the earliest Wim Wenders feature that is currently available in the English-speaking world. His debut film, Summer in the City (named after the Lovin’ Spoonful song), seems to have been written out of history. Supposedly not very good and, like The Goalie’s Anxiety, it’s chockablock with Wenders’ favourite songs… which he didn’t clear for international distribution (he was, he admits, a naive kid.)
The film itself is, like a lot of Wenders’ filmography, a mixed bag—it is very clearly a film by a young man who hadn’t quite found his niche, which would be the existential road movie. The hallmarks of his future work are there, however: the love/hate relationship with American culture and even a road trip. However, he attempts to do a baffling mixture of Bressonian existential doom and Hitchcock, which doesn’t gel at all.
Josef Bloch (Arthur Brauss) plays the goalie of the film’s title, who gets sent off in a match, wanders aimlessly through a small town and goes to the cinema. He picks up the box-office girl and does something deeply unpleasant to her. The rest of the film is him just living his life as if nothing has happened. It’s very much an homage to Albert Camus’ The Outsider – and Camus was even a goalie for Racing Universitaire Algerios, something I’m sure Peter Handke, the writer of the novel it’s based on, and Wenders were both aware of.
Wenders’ love of the jukebox is on full display here, and some of the musical choices are more effective than his later films. One of my main criticisms of Wenders is he chooses the greatest records, but just uses them as background music. The soundtrack in this release has been juggled due to licensing issues. The new soundtrack is a mixture of instrumental soundalikes recorded now and some of the previous songs, including The Troggs (they must be really cheap to license) and, most shockingly, the immortal original version of “Gloria” by Van Morrison’s original band Them. Wenders knew from the get-go that he needed that song, and it was impossible to take it out and put something else. The audio was only available in mono, and the scene where the song appears has various audio tracks layers on each other, so it was impossible. He wrote a letter to Van Morrison, whom he had never met, but to his surprise the grumpy old man said you can have it for free if you just sort out the legal stuff, which was considerably cheaper than the initial asking price.
Overall, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is a fascinating insight into Wenders as a young filmmaker. It’s got plenty of his usual concerns, but never quite comes together. Despite that criticism, I would still recommend checking the film out, even though it drags a bit and is not fully rewarding—but that’s what he was aiming for. The disc includes an introduction by Wenders, a featurette on the restorations of his ’70s and ’80s films, and an utterly pretentious and pointless student film that he made in the late ’60s.