Kings of the Road (1976)

Kings of the Road (1976), written, produced and directed by Wim Wenders.

Bruno travels around Germany repairing theater projectors. It is a gypsy life: he lives in his truck and keeps his own schedule. Theaters are declining and it is a small living.

One day depressed, perhaps suicidal Robert, driving with his eyes closed, speeds out into a river and loses his car. Bruno picks him up, gives him clothes and, without explanation or much conversation, they travel together for a while. It is a pure road movie: driving, stopping for a while and meeting people, then moving on.

It is 2h56m long but flows pretty well. Apart from the setup, everything was improvised on the day. Cinematographer Robby Müller gives a look similar to Alice in the Cities (1974) where the backroads and little towns are shabby and knocked about. That film, this one and Wrong Move (1975) are called the Road Movie trilogy although Wenders did not think of them that way at the time.

Featuring Wenders regulars Rüdiger Vogler and Lisa Kreuzer.

Some transgressive moments:

A lot of the score is lonesome American steel guitar and dobro. Also some saxophone and art rock that sounds like early Pink Floyd.

Other American influences: the novels they read and songs they sing, the Jack Daniels they drink. "The Yanks have conquered our subconscious".

I've started noticing how important children are in Wenders' films. Happy, innocent, always in their own golden age. Where do adults go wrong?

Newspaper headlines are always bad news; Robert visits his estranged father who runs a small town paper.

The film itself has a 1.66 aspect ratio calibration target at the beginning to remind the projectionist to frame it correctly. I've never seen that done before.

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion, restored from the original 35mm negative. The director's commentary track is in German with English subtitles.