Last night I attended the Dallas premiere of Don’t Come Knocking, directed by Wim Wenders and written by Sam Shepard. Wim Wenders was in attendance and this was primarily why I went.
I hate premieres because you stand in line with a bunch of people who are interested only in the free tickets and know nothing about the film, the director, or the writer.
As I waited patiently to get in, I listened to all kinds of misinformation being disseminated by my fellow theatergoers about Wim Wenders.
Those who actually knew who he was were there because of Paris, Texas, a film that was as much Shepard’s as Wenders.
I liked Paris, Texas but it isn’t my favorite Wenders’ film.
The first film that I saw by him and one of my favorites is Alice in den Städten (1974).
Interestingly enough Alice and Don’t Come Knocking share many common themes.
In Alice Phil Winter, a journalist, travels across America recording the sights and sounds of the country. On his way back to Germany he meets Elisabeth Kreuzer and her daughter, Alice, and they share a hotel room. In the morning, Elisabeth is gone and Phil is left with the child. Phil agrees to take Alice to her grandmother’s house in Germany. The problem is that Alice doesn’t remember exactly where her grandmother lives. The two displaced people travel across the world to find a home. In the process, the disconnected Phil assumes the role of father and becomes connected.
In Don’t Come Knocking, Howard Spence, played by Sam Shepard, an aging western movie star, flees the set of his latest film in an attempt to escape one more time. The insurers set a private detective, Sutter, played by Tim Roth, on his trail.
Howard is disconnected from himself and from time. When he arrives at his Mother’s home he picks up the thread of time where he left it. He wears his father’s clothes and drives his vintage fifties automobile to Butte Montana, where we learn he fathered not one but two children with two different women.
Note that this motif was used in Until in the End of the World, where Rüdiger Vogler, who once again plays Phil Winters, follows Claire Tourneur and Sam Farber on their journey to Farber’s mother. Through the journey home, the protagonist finds himself.
Howard has been sleepwalking for years, like Travis in Paris, Texas. Both men, Travis and Howard, resemble Odysseus; however, unlike Odysseus, Howard’s Penelope, Doreen, has not remained faithful nor does she want him.
He does, however, act as a catalyst that unites his children, who at the end of the film set off on their own journey.
Sutter takes Howard back to the shoot, where he finds a home at last in his work.
I heard several comments afterwards that the film did not seem realistic. This comment is accurate. However, I don’t believe that either Wenders or Shepard meant the story to be realistic; instead, it is supposed to be mythic and comic. It is comic because Howard is not ultimately tragic. Instead, he acts as a connecter, as a catalyst, reuniting the threads of time that he unraveled when he “disappeared himself.” He reappears and becomes conscious, accepting the structure of making films, making art.
After the film, Wim Wenders very patiently answered the audience’s questions. He is a soft spoken, intelligent man, who told us that he read Huckleberry Finn when he was six years old, that Karl May’s novels engendered his love of the American west, that one of his uncles flew with Baron von Richthofen, and that Red Harvest by Dashiel Hammet is one of his favorite novels.
I was too shy to ask him a question, but if I had had the courage, I would have asked him about Rilke’s influence on his best film Wings of Desire and does he really believe in angels.