Kings of the Road is the final film of Wim Wenders’ self-described road movie trilogy, where he found his cinematic voice, working in the genre that he would be most associated with throughout his long and varied career. It’s also the longest film of the three, clocking in at a running time that is nearly three hours long. However, the film doesn’t really have a dull moment, which is remarkable, because it’s a film where not a huge amount of action happens. Kings of the Road also marks the beginning of the end for Wenders’s German New Wave films, because he would next start working with American actors like Dennis Hopper, and eventually make films there like The State of Things and Paris, Texas, until his triumphal return to Germany with Wings of Desire.
Wim Wenders’s cinematic avatar Rüdiger Vogler plays Bruno Winter, a cinema projector repairman (a job that Wenders isn’t even sure existed then) who drives from cinema to cinema in his truck to carry out the repairs along the border between what was then East and West Germany. He stops at a river, and while he is getting dressed he sees a mysterious man Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler) attempt to commit suicide by driving into the lake. This attempt is unsuccessful to an almost comical degree, and soon they start talking and hit the road together. The rest of the film is basically Bruno and Robert travelling around the border to these small towns where they still have rinky-dink cinemas, often showing soft-core porn, and showcases the random, equally miserable, people they meet.
The aesthetic look of the film is elevated, as with most of Wenders’s best films, by the cinematography by the master Robby Müller. Müller shoots the long open roads almost like they were the American West. Wenders even chooses to cite the film’s aspect ratio in the opening credits, so the film’s widescreen black-and-white photography is so important to Wenders. The film has some existential musings, but it’s the visuals of the open road and the long takes that form its core. The film was mostly shot without any script, with the meeting of the two main characters being the only truly scripted segment of the film. Wenders and his crew also shot the film in sequence.
The film has some sociopolitical subtext in there around the state of post-war Germany, and specifically the state of cinemas in small towns, where many were closed down because Nazi party members ran them. Wenders, for god knows what reason, has included a handful of moments of full frontal male nudity, including a scene where Vogler has a shit on screen, none of which adds anything to the film. It’s a beautiful, poetic film, and while it may not be the best of his German Road Movie Trilogy, it’s an ambitious film that only Wenders could’ve made. I wouldn’t be surprised if the main reason Francis Ford Coppola brought Wenders over to make Hammett would be to eventually get him to direct an adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, Coppola bought the rights to the book in 1979, and he would later wind up producing the 2012 adaptation.
The disc includes a 15-minute interview with Wenders, along with some outtakes and a featurette on the restoration. The release also includes a nice booklet with various pieces on the film.