Kings of the Road (Im Lauf der Zeit)

Kings of the Road
(Im Lauf der Zeit)
Director: Wim Wenders
Screenplay: Wim Wenders
Stars: Rüdiger Vogler (Bruno Winter), Hanns Zischler (Robert Lander), Lisa Kreuzer (Pauline, cashier), Rudolf Schündler (Robert’s Father), Marquard Bohm (Man Who Lost His Wife), Hans Dieter Trayer (Paul, garage owner), Franziska Stömmer (Cinema owner), Patric Kreuzer (Little boy)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1976
Country: West Germany
Kings of the Road Criterion Collection Blu-Ray
Kings of the RoadKings of the Road (Im Lauf der Zeit), the third film in Wim Wenders’s so-called “Road Trilogy,” sits emotionally and experientially right between the first two films, the simple and poignant Alice in the Cities (1974) and the arch and emotionally distant Wrong Move (1975). Like Alice, Kings of the Road is about a pair of unlikely travelling companions who find some kind of connection via their interactions on the road, although like Wrong Move, their north-to-south journey through West Germany doesn’t have an intended destination, but rather a meandering quality that echoes their social and interpersonal alienation, which reflects their country’s political and social discontent in the mid-1970s.

Rüdiger Vogler, who also played the lead in the previous two “Road” films, plays an itinerant movie theater equipment repairman named Bruno Winter. A proud loner, Bruno travels from small town to small town along the western edge of West Germany just along the border with the newly formed German Democratic Republic (the barbed wire and guard towers of the Soviet satellite can often be seen just on the other side of the Elbe River) working on projectors in the decaying single-screen theaters. He lives out of a converted moving truck, which makes him beholden to nobody but himself. He gains an unexpected travelling companion in Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler), a well-dressed man who we first see speeding dangerously along various backroads and through small towns before driving his Volkswagen Beetle directly into the Elbe in what we can only imagine was some kind of suicide attempt. Bruno witnesses the event, and after Robert drags himself out of the river, suitcase in tow, Bruno offers him dry clothes and a ride.

And thus begins their journey to everywhere and nowhere, as Bruno and Robert travel together with no real guide other than the procession of movie theaters in need of service. Like Wrong Move, this brings them into contact with various characters who reflect in ways both obvious and subtle the social and political realities of West Germany’s past and present. At the very beginning of the film we see Bruno talking to an elderly theater owner who began his career during the silent era and worked for the Nazis during the Third Reich. The scene establishes the film’s fundamental preoccupation with cinema itself—technologically, aesthetically, and socially—which Wenders depicts in a state of artistic decay. While Kings of the Road is filled with allusions to Wenders’ favorite filmmakers, including Fritz Lang, Nicholas Ray, and John Ford, the only films we see depicted are the kind of trashy soft-core porn that dominated German film production in the 1960s and 1970s and against which stood the New German Cinema’s famed Oberhausen Manifesto. Later in the film Bruno speaks with another elderly theater owner (Franziska Stömmer) who would rather see her theater close than program such garbage, a stark contrast to another theater overseen by a disinterested cashier (Lisa Kreuzer) and projectionist who spends more time masturbating in the projection booth than tending to the take-up reel. Bruno takes all this in with laconic bemusement, which reflects the film’s overall tone.

At almost three hours in length, Kings of the Road gives Wenders and his recurring cast and crew plenty of room to work (according to Wenders, much of it was improvised over the four-month shooting schedule). It has an amiable, rambling quality that befits its emotionally dislocated protagonists, who reveal their pasts in bits and pieces, but never enough to become fully realized characters (they stand somewhere between the psychologically defined and recognizable characters in Alice in the Cities and the symbolic archetypes in Wrong Move). The film is in constant movement, with each self-contained sequence bookended by travelling shots along back roads, often punctuated with slide-guitar-inflected blues-rock by the Krautrock band Improved Sound Limited.

Wenders clearly relishes the open-endedness of his story and the twisting nature of its narrative structure, although it sometimes leads him into moments of needless excess, such as when we follow Bruno into a field and watch him squat and defecate on the ground, a stark moment of unsimulated naturalism that serves no purpose other than demonstrating how nothing was off limits in ’70s European art cinema (Wenders has said in subsequent interviews that he has ultimately regretted leaving it in). Some of the characters feel utterly contrived (such as a man whose wife has just committed suicide by driving into a tree and who spends the night in Bruno’s truck at Robert’s invitation), while others feel like they were plucked right off the street (such as a little boy who Robert meets at the end of the film). Cinematographer Robby Müller, one of Wenders’s frequent collaborators, captures both the open landscapes and the small towns with an eye toward both physical detail and metaphor, and at times he and Wenders put together moments a great emotional beauty, such as the sequende at the end with Bruno in his truck and Robert on a train running parallel to each other before eventually crossing paths and heading in opposite directions—a beautiful visualization of the film’s central relationship. Unfortunately, much of the film is uneven and several sequences drag, although its overall importance to both the New German Cinema and European art cinema in general is unquestionable.

Kings of the Road Criterion Collection Blu-Ray
Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy Blu-Ray BoxsetAlice in the Cities is available exclusively as a part of the three-disc “Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy” boxset, which also includes Alice in the Cities (1974) and Wrong Move (1975).
Aspect Ratio1.66:1
AudioGerman DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
Subtitles English
SupplementsAlice in the Cities
  • Audio commentary by director Wim Wenders and actors Rüdiger Vogler and Yella Rottländer
  • New interviews with Vogler, Rottländer, and actor Lisa Kreuzer
  • Outtakes from the film
  • “Restoring Time,” a 2015 short about the restoration work done by the Wim Wenders Foundation
  • Same Player Shoots Again (1967) and Silver City Revisited (1968), two newly restored early short films by Wenders

    Wrong Move

  • Audio commentary by director Wim Wenders
  • New interview with Wenders, directed and conducted by filmmaker Michael Almereyda
  • New interviews with actors Rüdiger Vogler and Lisa Kreuzer
  • Super 8 footage from the film’s production

    Kings of the Road

  • Audio commentary by director Wim Wenders
  • Outtakes from the film
  • New interviews with actors Rüdiger Vogler, Hanns Zischler, and Lisa Kreuzer
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateMay 31, 2016

    All three films in Criterion’s “Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy” boxset feature new 4K transfers that were commissioned by the Wim Wenders Foundation with help from the German Federal Film Board and supervised by Wenders himself. As none of the films were given significant theatrical distribution in the U.S. during the 1970s and have never been released on DVD in Region 1, this is a major moment for American fans of Wenders’s cinema. Each of the transfers was sourced from the best available elements. Alice in the Cities was transferred from the original 16mm negative, which had sustained serious damage and deterioration from years of printing to the point that some sequences had to be replaced with a 35mm duplicate negative that was made in 1988 (although I could never tell which was which); Wrong Move and Kings of the Road were both transferred from the original 35mm negatives. All three films were given extensive digital restoration and color correction in 2K, which has them looking probably better than they have since they first premiered in the ’70s. Alice in the Cities looks quite a bit different from the other two films, mainly because it was shot on 16mm, so it has a grainier, more textured look. Wrong Move is the only color film in the set, and the transfer nicely replicates the relatively subdued hues of Robby Müller’s cinematography. Kings of the Road is probably the best looking of the three; its 35mm black-and-white cinematography is beautifully transferred with sharp detail and excellent contrast. It is also the darkest film in the set, with several scenes shot in near darkness (all three films used primarily source and natural lighting). The soundtrack for each film was transferred from the 17.5 mm magnetic tracks and were digitally restored. Wrong Move and Kings of the Road were both remixed into 5.1-channel surround while Alice was kept in its original monaural mix. For the surround mixes, the primary beneficiary is the music, which is given substantial heft and spaciousness in the multi-channel mix. All of them sound quite good, especially given the rough, low-fi nature of the productions and the heavy use of source sound.
    This boxset has been a long time coming and has been heavily anticipated for years, and I don’t think any Wenders fans will be anything short of elated at the supplements Criterion has put together. Each film has a dedicated audio commentary. Alice in the Cities’ German-language commentary features director Wim Wenders and actors Rüdiger Vogler and Yella Rottländer; Wrong Move and Kings of the Road both feature a solo track by Wenders, with the former being in English and the latter being in German. The Alice in the Cities disc also includes a half-hour featurette of interviews with Vogler, Rottländer, and actor Lisa Kreuzer; 16 minutes of silent outtakes from the film; “Restoring Time,” a short documentary about the restoration work done by the Wim Wenders Foundation; and two of Wenders’s early 16mm short films, Same Player Shoots Again (1967) and Silver City Revisited (1968), both of which have been recently restored. The Wrong Move Blu-ray includes a new interview with Wenders that was conducted by filmmaker Michael Almereyda and runs for more than an hour, as well as new video interviews with Vogler and Kreuzer (22 min.) and four minutes of silent Super 8 footage from the film’s production. Finally, the Kings of the Road disc includes 21 minutes of silent outtakes from the film and a half-hour featurette that includes interviews with Vogler, Kreuzer, and actor Hanns Zischler.

    Copyright ©2016 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    James Kendrick

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