Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Criterion Collection - THE AMERICAN FRIEND on Blu-ray

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Criterion Collection - THE AMERICAN FRIEND on Blu-ray

THE AMERICAN FRIEND (1977; Wim Wenders)
I always find it interesting when, in revisiting a movie I haven't seen in some time, I come across a specific shot that resonates with me and I am unsure why. In this case, it is a shot of Bruno Ganz in the subway. He's kind of slumped to one side, looking rather downtrodden (and there is a reason why of course - within the context of the scene). For some reason it stood out as some kind of signature shot for me - not in the way it was composed, but in the way Ganz's expression and posture express so much without him having to say a word. It's the kind of shot where if you saw it out of context, it could represent a lot of things, but once you see it in the film it really conveys a lot. That said, I actually had to pause the movie to go and look up the old VHS cover of the movie to see if that's where I remembered it from. It was not. The VHS (pictured to the left) is definitely the one we had at my old videos store back in the day. I recall it specifically because it was one of the first movies I discovered in our inventory when I decided to put together our "Cult" section. This section was of course based on the writings of Danny Peary and his great Cult Movies books. That was where I first heard of THE AMERICAN FRIEND and I was delighted to find that we already had a copy of the VHS and I checked it out right away. That was the last time I saw the film and that must have been in the late 1990s. It was especially nice to have another look at this one, especially in a lovely Blu-ray presentation from Criterion. Clearly it is a film that other folks remember too as I was able to pick out at least once sequence that Wes Anderson "borrowed" for THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX. During one of the "heists" in that film, there is a scene where all the action plays out on security monitors as Mr. Fox and company make their way in and out of the location. Similarly, there is a nearly identical sequence which follows Bruno Ganz throughout a subway station in THE AMERICAN FRIEND. This kind of thing always makes me smile. To think that directors like Anderson are out there, tucking away cool little bits of movies for re-use later is kind of delightful to me. 
THE AMERICAN FRIEND is a neat little Hitchockian bit of business about a terminally ill man who is propositioned to murder another man for money. It's from the great Wim Wenders who is no stranger to the Criterion Collection. He already has WINGS OF DESIRE, PARIS TEXAS and PINA out on Blu-ray from them as well as several other rumored titles possibly in the works. He is an excellent filmmaker with a specific sense of pace which often consists of allowing scenes to play out with little to no dialogue in an almost poetic sort of way. This style is especially perfect for this story, which is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith. Highsmith has had a lot of her worked adapted for the screen, including one by Hitchcock himself in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. We've also seen movies of THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, and others in the "Ripley" series of books, which this film is based on. Her work is well suited to adaptation and plays well cinematically in the hands of good directors. Watching Wim Wenders take on similar material to Hitchcock is a really neat thing to behold. I actually recommend watching THE AMERICAN FRIEND followed by STRANGERS ON A TRAIN in close succession to get an idea of the differences between the two men and their visual and general storytelling approaches.

Supplements include:
-A New, restored 4K digital transfer, commissioned by the Wim Wenders Stiftung | A Foundation and supervised by director Wim Wenders, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray.
-An Audio commentary from 2002 featuring Wenders and actor Dennis Hopper.
-A New interview with Wenders.
-A New interview with actor Bruno Ganz.
-Deleted scenes with audio commentary by Wenders
Trailer.
-New English subtitle translation.
-PLUS: An essay by author Francine Prose.


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