NOTEBOOK ON CITIES AND CLOTHES

1989; written and directed by Wim Wenders; 81 mins

One of the things film can do is to open up whole worlds to you. Why would an atheist in New Zealand care to watch angels pottering around Berlin? Well, when I watch Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, nothing else seems as important. The thing cinema can do is to relate human stories that traverse boundaries of nationality, age, race, creed, gender and so on and give you someone else’s perspective on the world. In many ways, documentary does this better because, whatever the style, it directly deals with the real world. Just recently, a few fashion films have turned up on my radar: Paul Thomas Anderson is reported to be developing a film about the industry in the 50s, I recently sat through an atrocious French farce called Chic!, I was thoroughly infuriated watching the trailer for the upcoming doco The First Monday in May and I sat through Notebook on Cities and Clothes. So far, the best film concerning fashion that’s passed these eyes was the Ab Fab movie and that’s mostly cos it rips the piss out of that world. Maybe PTA will get me stoked about fashion because everyone else has yet to do so.

A portrait of Japanese fashion designer, Yohji Yamamoto, as he prepares for a fashion show in Paris but also conveying Wenders’ own questions about art and commerce. After Tokyo-ga, I approached this one tentatively but with a desire to have a good opinion on it because I’ve seen enough great work by Wim Wenders that it bothers me that it may come across like this is an anti-Wenders blog. I shall get a review of The American Friend in here soon to rectum-fy this!

On the plus side, the film is ahead of it’s time in the way that it’s shot, with Wenders employing a lot of video footage alongside 35mm film. It’s very fitting that a film about fashion should be rather gorgeous to look at, particularly the nighttime cityscapes. Also, Yamamoto seems to be a very humble and thoughtful man which is in stark contrast to the petulant twats you see elsewhere.

The problem is that, a lot of the time, we are hearing his voice through low-grade sound off a video camera so this softly spoken man is near incomprehensible and he doesn’t have a particularly thick accent so it becomes apparent that it’s the sound quality that’s the problem. Coupled with Wenders’ narration, the delivery of which is so flat but the writing so flowery, it becomes a terrible combination of unbalanced, boring and (I hate to say it) pretentious. With someone like Errol Morris, there is a lot of style but it’s in aid of what the interviewee is saying or projecting. It seems there was an interesting story in there, particularly Yamamoto touching on his father’s fate in the WWII and his relationship to women but as with Tokyo-ga, you get the feeling that Wenders, with all his artistic musings, just really wants to talk about himself.

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