Blowin' Your Mind

film 5 of 5

The American Friend

Draft Review by Dean Duncan Apr 17, 2014

Hitchcock in excelsis, pushing the notion of the MacGuffin to its logical end: for AH the story was secondary, a necessary and not unpleasurable anchor to distract people from the anxieties and even existentialisms that the plots masked (though sometimes barely, cf. Vertigo); here the thriller thrills much less, or much more troublingly, and we’re left with oppressive mood without any of the normal causal reassurances, Wenders never much clarifies who’s being killed and why, cause and effect are connected randomly and even rarely–Ganz is told not to run and draw attention to himself after the first shooting, does so anyway, and then no one notices (also suggesting that no one cares or notices when the artist prostitutes himself for commercial acceptance), the wife finds out the Paris results were faked but it turns out the patient dies anyway so that they might as well not have been–all this, plus the art film pace makes this a pretty radical genre restatement, though set against all the darkness and ennui, the suspense stuff (subway station, the train, the last 15 minutes) gains special impact and makes it so the model isn’t completely thrown away; departures from the book provide insights apart from the uncovering of the existential underpinnings of the genre (Highsmith localizes the gangsters as regular mafiosos, which isn’t the most interesting choice in the book), Hamburg, not Paris, a German, not an Englishman; the framemaker is an artisan tempted by commercialized art which slides so easily into pornography (the gift exchange, Sam Fuller), the forger’s already lost (though there’s still craft and beauty, and does anyone care?), Ripley here can’t do anything but make money, so that though the Americans turn out to be pretty nice, they’re aesthetically hopeless–the casting of the psychologically shaky Dennis Hopper as the amorally charming Ripley adds special poignance and intertext to this–and can only wreak compromise or destruction, the only beauty in the industrial wasteland of the film’s settings are the cinema toys, the gyroscope and zoetrope and steropticon, or the frame shop, all the kind of intimate ma and pop stuff that can’t survive amidst industrialized production, the kind of stuff that’s already memory and lost to the world; so beyond the surface, this is a profound study of primitive cinema and its industrialization, the exodus of Weimar filmmakers to voracious Hollywood, and an uncanny prophecy about Wenders’ future; and the ending is very sad and affecting.