Wim Wenders And Peter Handke Collaboration Adaptation Recomposition internationale Forschungen Zur Allgemeinen

by Joanne Leal and Martin Brady

Author Joanne Leal and Martin Brady Isbn 978 9042032477 File size 5 7 MB Year 2011 Pages 316 Language English File format PDF Category Other This is the first volume in English to examine in detail one of the most remarkable collaborations between a writer and filmmaker in European cinema Focusing on the four films Wim Wenders and Peter Handke made between 1969 and 1987 3 American LPs The Goalkeeper s Fear of the Penalty Wrong Move and Wings of Desire it explores the productive tension

Publisher :

Author : Joanne Leal and Martin Brady

ISBN : 978 9042032477

Year : 2011

Language: English

File Size : 5.7 MB

Category : Other

Wim Wenders and Peter Handke
Collaboration, Adaptation,


Internationale Forschungen zur
Allgemeinen und
Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft

Begründet von Alberto Martino und in Verbindung mit
Francis Claudon (Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne) – Rüdiger Görner
(Queen Mary, University of London) – Achim Hölter (Universität Wien) –
Klaus Ley (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz) – John A. McCarthy
(Vanderbilt University) – Alfred Noe (Universität Wien) – Manfred Pfister
(Freie Universität Berlin) – Sven H. Rossel (Universität Wien)

herausgegeben von

Norbert Bachleitner
(Universität Wien)

Redaktion: Paul Ferstl und Rudolf Pölzer
Anschrift der Redaktion:
Institut für Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft, Sensengasse 3A , A-1090 Wien

Wim Wenders and Peter Handke
Collaboration, Adaptation,

Martin Brady and Joanne Leal

Amsterdam - New York, NY 2011

Cover image: Carl Theodor Dreyer, Vampyr, 1932 (courtesy of Eureka
Entertainment Ltd.)
Cover design: Pier Post
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Die Reihe “Internationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden
Literaturwissenschaft” wird ab dem Jahr 2005 gemeinsam von Editions Rodopi,
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Die Veröffentlichungen in deutscher Sprache erscheinen im Weidler Buchverlag,
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From 2005 onward, the series “Internationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen
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by Editions Rodopi.
ISBN: 978-90-420-3247-7
E-Book ISBN: 978-90-420-3248-4
© Editions Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam - New York, NY 2011
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Table of Contents


Authors‟ Note




1. Politics, Poetics, Film: The Beginnings of a Collaboration


2. Parallel Texts: Language into Image in The Goalkeeper’s Fear
of the Penalty


3. Accompanied by Text: From Short Letter, Long Farewell
to Alice in the Cities


4. Mute Stories and Blind Alleys: Text, Image, and Allusion in
Wrong Move


5. Leafing through Wings of Desire










Joanne Leal would like to thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council
which awarded her a grant for this project under the Research Leave Scheme.
She would also like to thank Birkbeck College for providing her with the
Faculty Research Grant which made study leave possible. Her thanks go too
to the friends, family, and colleagues who offered support, help, and
guidance over several years, and particularly to Richard Johnson who
remained convinced that this project could be finished.

Authors‟ Note
This book aims to make material on the collaborative films of Wim Wenders
and Peter Handke available to as wide a readership as possible. For this
reason all quotations from German texts have been translated into English. In
the case of the principal prose texts by Handke and Wenders‟s essays, we
have used published translations where available. Elsewhere, all translations
are by the authors. For the sake of simplicity, and in line with current
scholarship, we have chosen to refer to the longer prose texts of Handke as
novels rather than „stories‟ or „novellas‟. In the case of the films, we have
used the published script for Wings of Desire, but otherwise we have
produced our own protocols.

film is film, literature is literature1
The feature film can step over every

1. Cinema as a mixed medium
Cinema is a mixed or, in the terminology of André Bazin, an „impure‟
medium. In the case of German cinema, literature has remained the dominant
ingredient in the mix. In 1962 the Autorenfilmer (auteurs or writer-directors)
of the „Young German Cinema‟ in the Federal Republic programmatically
announced their intentions in print, in the form of the famous Oberhausen
Manifesto. According to Alexander Kluge the „new film language‟ called for
in this manifesto comprised an amalgamation of different media. In an article
co-authored with Edgar Reitz and Wilfried Reinke in 1965 he was forthright
in his assessment of the benefits of this mix:
Because it already includes language anyway, film would actually have the capacity to
articulate meanings that elude the grasp of verbal expression. [...] Thus we would have an
accumulation of subjective and objective, of literary, auditory, and visual moments which
would preserve a certain tension in relation to each another. [...] The combination of verbal,
auditory, and visual forms and their integration through montage enable film to strive for a
greater degree of complexity than any of these forms in isolation. [...] We could imagine,
however, an experimental film (albeit one of extreme artistic intensity) which forcefully
utilizes the oscillation between literary, visual, and auditory elements as well as the gaps
between these elements [...].3

Rather than simply reiterating the well-worn mantra that cinema is overly
dependent on literary models, although it does say this as well, the essay
asserts that it is only in the „epic ranges of film‟ that language itself could
„fully unfold‟, to such an extent, indeed, that ultimately „cinema could
surpass even the tradition of literature‟.4 The use of the term „epic‟ is of
course significant here: in their discussion of film form, Kluge and his co1




Robin Wood quoted in Film/Literature/Heritage: A Sight and Sound Reader, ed. by Ginette
Vincendeau (London: BFI, 2001), p.xi.
Alexander Kluge, „Theses about the New Media‟, in West German Filmmakers on Film:
Visions and Voices, ed. by Eric Rentschler (New York-London: Holmes and Meier, 1988),
pp.30-32 (p.32).
Alexander Kluge, Wilfried Reinke, and Edgar Reitz, „Word and Film‟, in Film and
Literature: An Introduction and Reader, ed. by Timothy Corrigan (Upper Saddle River,
New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999), pp.229-45 (p.232, p.233, p.234, and p.238).
Ibid., p.231 and p.234.


Wenders and Handke: Collaboration, Adaptation, Recomposition

authors clearly have Bertolt Brecht in mind, and indeed at one point in their
discussion they go so far as to use the term Verfremdungseffekt (distancing
effect); montage, they assert, can generate „ambiguity, polyphony, and
The „Word and Film‟ essay is, alongside the Oberhausen Manifesto, one
of the most important documents of the nascent „Young German Cinema‟ of
the 1960s. Written under the influence of Kluge‟s mentor and friend Theodor
W. Adorno, the essay demonstrates a degree of sophistication in its
argumentation and rhetoric which belies the suggestion that German
filmmakers were intellectually out of step with European New Wave film
theory until the „New German Cinema‟ of the 1970s. On the other hand, the
fact that it was published in a journal of linguistics might suggest that the
institutional framework for discourse on film was still wanting.
2. Literariness
The Brechtian tenor of the „Word and Film‟ essay was of course to become
both more strident and more explicitly political in the years immediately
following its publication, not least in the writings of Kluge himself. It could
be argued, indeed, that this seminal essay established the tone which was to
dominate auteurist discourse in Germany right through to the 1980s.
Interestingly it does not address the question of literary adaptation itself in
any great detail – over and above the customary dismissal of a cinema which
„makes every film conform to the model of the novella‟ 6 – although a telling,
if brief commentary on Alain Resnais‟s Hiroshima mon amour (1959), based
on the screenplay of Marguerite Duras, does applaud the film‟s „immersion
of language in image, the emergence of language from image, the mutual
pursuit of verbal and visual texts, figures of parallelism and collision,
polyphony‟.7 Again the terminology applied to this early classic of the French
New Wave is that of critical theory and dialectics. Kluge himself has
strenuously avoided literary adaptation across his 50-year career as a
filmmaker, and his disparaging remarks on the practice – most famously that
„literary adaptations are always weaker than literature‟ – have become
canonical.8 This does not mean, of course, that he has restricted his activities

Ibid., p.232.
Ibid., p.230.
Ibid., p.240.
Alexander Kluge, BESTANDSAUFNAHME: Utopie Film: Zwanzig Jahre neuer deutscher
Film / Mitte 1983 (Frankfurt am Main: Zweitausendeins, 1983), p.436. Original sources
have been translated into English throughout this book. Where published translations are
available, these have been used. Otherwise all translations are by the authors. (See Authors‟



to the medium of cinema or renounced literature. He has remained a prolific
writer of fiction and non-fiction who explicitly cultivates cross-media
fertilisation. As Olaf Möller has observed:
People often complain that Kluge‟s cinema is utterly disinterested in images, meaning that the
images contain no emotional or intellectual surplus. Certainly from The Female Patriot on this
is true: images, texts (their fonts, sizes and colours), sounds (music, language, diegetic noise)
are equal in expression in a way that is unmatched in the work of any other living film-maker.
Within this poetics, a title card has the same sensual and information value as a piece of
Wagner or footage from a warzone [...].9

As we shall see, there are parallels to be drawn here with the output of Wim
Wenders and Peter Handke: alongside essays on film and music, Wenders has
also published a number of volumes of his photographs; Handke has directed
four films, frequently includes his own drawings and photographs in his books,
and has even recorded improvisations on a Jew‟s Harp. The cross-fertilisations
made possible by their work across different media will be an important
component of the intermedial „displacements‟ discussed in this study.10
The question of the „literariness‟ of the New German Cinema provoked
fierce debate in the 1970s. The so-called „crisis of literary adaptation‟
(Literaturverfilmungskrise) of 1977 highlighted the heavy reliance of German
art-house filmmaking on literary pretexts and made it a topic of polemic and
debate. Many of the stars of Germany‟s New Wave – including Jean-Marie
Straub and Danièle Huillet, Volker Schlöndorff, Hans Jürgen Syberberg,
Edgar Reitz, Werner Herzog, Werner Schroeter, Rainer Werner Fassbinder,
Peter Lilienthal, Reinhard Hauff, Helma Sanders-Brahms, and, of course,
Wenders himself – had directed Literaturverfilmungen (literary adaptations).
In July 1977 Hans C. Blumenberg wrote an article for Die Zeit in which he
quoted Niklaus Schilling‟s diagnosis of the malaise of German cinema: „In
this country we once again find ourselves confronted with a fatal


Olaf Möller, „Transformer‟, Sight and Sound, 18.2 (2008), 42-45 (p.45).
„Displacement‟ is a popular term in adaptation studies. In Concepts in Film Theory, Dudley
Andrew observes by way of explanation that: „Every interpretation is based on
displacement, since the interpreter redirects the original object by inserting it into a new
frame of reference‟. Dudley Andrew, Concepts in Film Theory (Oxford-New York-TorontoMelbourne: Oxford University Press, 1984), p.154. Whilst Andrew‟s remarks relate to the
concept of „identification‟ and what he terms „the hermeneutic endeavor‟ (p.154) they could
also be applied to the notion, discussed in what follows, of cinematic adaptation as
„reading‟. The term „displacement‟ subsequently crops up in the writings of Robert Stam,
Brian McFarlane and others (see notes 25 and 26 below).


Wenders and Handke: Collaboration, Adaptation, Recomposition

unwillingness to trust the power of the medium itself; instead films are
constructed on the basis of a literary source to avoid the dangers of having to
deal with images and tell stories with them‟.11 Kluge‟s laconic dismissal of
literary adaptation, which in fact post-dates the 1977 „crisis‟, has become a
mantra for those who, like Blumenberg, believe that German cinema has to
be saved from the hegemony of literature.
3. Adaptational events in the intersecting mode
The remarks of both Kluge and Blumenberg provide evidence of a welldocumented tendency to view literary adaptations as an inevitably inferior act
of homage to an aesthetically superior pretext. In a rather more nuanced vein,
Dudley Andrew identifies in his discussion of „Borrowing, Intersecting and
Transforming Sources‟ a specifically modernist strand to the transformation
of literary texts into cinema, or perhaps more accurately the interplay of
literature and cinema. His remarks, which at times echo Bazin‟s reflections
on adaptation four decades earlier, are relevant to the collaboration of
Wenders and Handke, and for this reason merit longer quotation:
The modern cinema is increasingly interested in [...] intersecting. Bresson, naturally, has
given us his Joan of Arc from court records and his Mouchette once again from Bernanos.
Straub has filmed Corneille‟s Othon and The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach. Pasolini
audaciously confronted Matthew‟s gospel, with many later texts (musical, pictorial, and
cinematic) that it inspired. His later Medea, Canterbury Tales, and Decameron are also
adaptational events in the intersecting mode. All such works fear or refuse to adapt. Instead
they present the otherness and distinctiveness of the original text, initiating a dialectical
interplay between the aesthetic forms of one period and the cinematic forms of our own
period. In direct contrast to the manner in which scholars have treated the mode of
„borrowing,‟ such intersecting insists that the analyst attend to the specificity of the original
within the specificity of cinema. An original is allowed its life, its own life, in the cinema.
The consequences of this method, despite its apparent forthrightness, are neither innocent
nor simple. The disjunct experience such intersecting promotes is consonant with the
aesthetics of modernism in all the arts. This mode refutes the commonplace that adaptations
support only a conservative film aesthetics.12

Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet are, as we shall see in the course of
this study, of seminal importance for both Wenders and Handke, and the
imprint of their work is unmistakable on both the early films of Wenders and
the later ones of Handke. Indeed Straub himself has characterised the
adaptational filmmaking process sketched by Andrew in strikingly similar

Hans C. Blumenberg, „Das Jahr des Teufels‟, Die Zeit, 8 July 1977.
Dudley Andrew, „Adaptation‟, in Film Adaptation, ed. by James Naremore (New
Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2000), pp.28-37 (p.31).



terms: „you don‟t “film” a book, you enter into a dialogue with it, you want
to make a film out of a book because the book relates to your own
experiences, your own questions, your own loves and hates. So the first thing
I do is to copy things out‟.13 One implication of Straub‟s remarks is that
adaptations are not only highly subjective, and thus inevitably partial and
partisan, but also constitute – or at least begin with – a process akin to
As we will see, Andrew‟s concept of a disjunctive, modernist
„intersection‟ of medial forms in cinema as opposed to a notion of less
frictional „adaptation‟ is a distinction that will prove to be useful in relation
to the collaborative projects of Wenders and Handke. A note of caution does
need to be sounded here, however. Andrew‟s observations suggest that the
intersections he identifies invariably have a historical dimension to them: a
film „adapts‟ a pretext distant from itself not only medially, but also
temporally: the interplay is between „the aesthetic forms of one period and
the cinematic forms of our own period‟. In the case of the films discussed in
this study the intersections are more complex than this. Whilst there are
diachronic intersections – with Goethe, Rilke, Romantic painting and so on –
those in the collaborative films which constitute the central strand of this
study are more typically synchronic, not only in Wenders‟s appropriation of
Handke‟s texts (whether written specifically for a given film or not), but also,
for example, in the use of contemporary popular music. It could be argued
that the very title of the first collaboration, 3 American LPs (3 amerikanische
LP’s, 1969), points to this synchronicity as well as, rather more obviously,
the film‟s intermedial component.
Although Andrew‟s observations are clearly not intended to imply a
hierarchy of value, it is still difficult to escape a subtle yet insidious inference
that source material (or „hypotext‟) is primary and that an adaptation (or
„hypertext‟) is secondary. This problem is in effect comparable to that
associated with Bazin‟s terminology of „purity‟ and „impurity‟. One of the
conclusions to be drawn from our study is that the Wenders-Handke films
demonstrate that non-hierarchical adaptation and collaboration is possible.
Indeed it will be demonstrated that the relationship between writer and
filmmaker can itself be reconfigured in the act of collaboration.


Wolfram Schütte, „Gespräch mit Danièle Huillet und Jean-Marie Straub‟, in
Klassenverhältnisse: Von Danièle Huillet und Jean-Marie Straub nach dem Amerika-Roman
‘Der Verschollene’ von Franz Kafka, ed. by Wolfram Schütte (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer,
1984), pp.37-58 (p.46).


Wenders and Handke: Collaboration, Adaptation, Recomposition

4. Recycling, remaking, repetition
What Andrew fails to mention, or perhaps takes as read, is that the directors
he cites all belong to what might be termed the „golden age‟ of European
New Wave cinema and are also, most obviously in the case of Straub(Huillet) and Pier Paolo Pasolini, engaged political filmmakers. It is their
brand of intertextual and intermedial practice, often not unreasonably
abbreviated to „Godard-Straub‟ or Brechtian cinema, which dominated the
discourse on auteurist adaptation during the sixties and seventies in Europe,
fostered by such eminent forums as Cahiers du cinéma, Filmkritik and
Screen. In a disarmingly simple formulation, James Naremore has described
such modernist films as „willfully difficult and formally “experimental”‟.14
He also prefers to view film adaptation as a subset of a much broader and
perhaps less readily definable practice. His conclusion, which has been much
quoted elsewhere, is persuasive in its rhetoric:
The study of adaptation needs to be joined with the study of recycling, remaking, and every
other form of retelling in the age of mechanical reproduction and electronic communication.
By this means, adaptation will become part of a general theory of repetition, and adaptation
study will move from the margins to the center of contemporary media studies. 15

Echoing the terminology of Andrew, and at one remove from that of Bazin,
Naremore argues that every text is already intersected with multiple others,
that film should be understood within a broader theory of imitation, and that
all films question notions of originality, autonomy and (at least by
implication) authorship. Of course this conviction, coloured as it is with the
rhetoric of postmodernism, is some way removed from those held by Kluge,
Straub-Huillet, Pasolini and others in the mid-1960s. Inspired by Alexandre
Astruc‟s caméra-stylo, the auteurists held not only that the film director was
a writer (armed with a camera rather than a pen) whose principal motivation
was a desire for personal expression, but also that expression should manifest
itself in an inimitable style. Within the genre of literary adaptation proper,
this motivation asserts itself in the form of a first-person reader replacing, or
at least in dialogue with, the source text‟s narrator (first-person or otherwise).
In this context Naremore quotes Fassbinder‟s confident claim that his literary
adaptations – of Alfred Döblin (Berlin Alexanderplatz), Theodor Fontane


James Naremore, „Introduction: Film and the Reign of Adaptation‟, in Naremore, pp.1-16
Ibid., p.15. As we shall see, there is a striking parallel here to Handke‟s theory and practice
of repetition, as demonstrated not least in the novel Repetition (Die Wiederholung, 1986)
which constitutes an important pre-text to Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin, 1986).



(Effi Briest) and Jean Genet (Querelle) – make no attempt to (re)construct a
general reading of the text but constitute „an unequivocal and single-minded
questioning of the piece of literature and its language‟. 16
There is a certain, one might argue productive, tension here between the
auteurist desire for personal expression, an individual authorial voice, and the
anti-auratic, mechanical apparatus of cinema itself. Naremore implicitly
alludes to Walter Benjamin in this context with his phrase „retelling in the
age of mechanical reproduction‟.17 In „The Work of Art in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction‟ Benjamin observes that cinematic reproduction
has a constructive and a destructive component to it: whilst reproduction
„reactivates the object reproduced‟ it is also „inconceivable without its
destructive, cathartic aspect‟.18
5. Affirmation and renunciation
Taking up Benjamin‟s distinction, it is clear from what has been said and
quoted thus far that there is a „destructive‟ component to much modernist
adaptation. Whilst its impetus is generally constructive politically, in the
sense that it explicitly or implicitly promulgates a (generally left-wing)
political conviction, it is correspondingly destructive in rejecting received
definitions of literature and film. To return to one of Andrew‟s own
examples: whilst Straub-Huillet‟s Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1968)
faithfully and meticulously reproduces the composer‟s church music in
original locations, with original costumes and on original instruments, it is
also explicitly dedicated to the struggle of the Viet Cong against American
imperialism and is implicitly an interrogation of the status, value and
autonomy of Western „high art‟. Whilst celebrating Bach‟s music in long
uninterrupted, often static takes, it also questions the patronage that produced
this very music and documents Gustav Leonhardt‟s performances of it in



Quoted in Naremore, p.12. The original remarks, made in interview, appear in Rainer
Werner Fassbinder, „Preliminary Remarks on Querelle‟, in Fassbiner, The Anarchy of the
Imagination: Interviews, Essays, Notes, ed. by Michael Töteberg and Leo A. Lensing
(Baltimore-London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pp.168-70 (p.168).
As early as 1968 Handke explicitly rejected Benjamin‟s claim that mechanical reproduction
deprived cinema of „ritual artistic aura‟. Peter Handke, „Theater und Film: Das Elend des
Vergleichens‟, in Prosa Gedichte Theaterstücke Hörspiel Aufsätze (Frankfurt am Main:
Surhkamp, 1969), pp.314-26 (pp.322f.).
Translated by Andy Blunden (1998 and 2005): http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/
philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm (accessed August 2010). See Walter Benjamin, „Kunst
im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit‟, in Illuminationen (Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp, 1977), pp.136-69.


Wenders and Handke: Collaboration, Adaptation, Recomposition

1967 in a manner that is now seen as „classically Brechtian‟ and that many,
then and now, find profoundly „uncinematic‟.
This destructive dimension – the dismantling of received notions of
cinema and the frictional realignment of its specific medial components – is,
we believe, axiomatic of Brechtian modernist adaptation and, as already
mentioned, dominated debates on political modernism in Screen and
elsewhere for well-nigh two decades. It is the contention of this study,
however, that there is another strand to modernist adaptation of that period,
one which distrusts the ideological constructions of political modernism: the
hegemony – real or perceived – of political, that is socialist, Brechtian
discourse within modernism and its strategies of adaptation. Whilst this
practice of „non-Brechtian‟ (or „post-Brechtian‟) adaptation may also,
especially in its earliest manifestations in the late 1960s, employ destructive
methods, they are adopted for regenerative, largely non-ideological ends.
Writing in 1968 Handke rejected what he termed Brecht‟s „lazy magic‟, an
„anti-illusionism that always requires illusions‟ and noted: „The method
adopted in my first play consisted of negating all previous methods. The
method in my next play will consist in reflecting on previous methods and
using them in the service of theatre‟.19
Handke‟s assertion, in summary, is that Brecht‟s political enthusiasm
prevents him from re-inventing or re-configuring his chosen medium, theatre
in this instance, because he requires its traditional communicative tools for
ideological purposes. An impetus potentially regenerative of theatre in its
destructive momentum remains unproductively trapped within the confines of
its medium or, more literally, within its four walls, because it must also serve
political ends. What we find in these early essayistic observations of Handke
and, as we will demonstrate, can also be identified in the collaborative films
that share these convictions, is a critique of mainstream political modernism
that not only manifests itself in advance of a widespread shift towards
postmodernist discourses, but which has also outlived the ideological battles
that engendered it.
At this point it is necessary to make three preliminary observations about
the body of films examined in this study. First, it should be noted that only
one of the collaborative works, The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty (Die
Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter, 1972), is straightforwardly a literary
adaptation, by which we mean a cinematic rendering of a literary text already
in the public domain and thus potentially known to the audience of the film.

Peter Handke, „Ich bin ein Bewohner des Elfenbeinturms‟, in Prosa, pp.263-72 (p.271). See
also: Peter Handke, „Straßentheater und Theatertheater‟, in Prosa, pp.303-07.



However, as well as representing different approaches to the question of
collaboration, all four of the Wenders-Handke films are „adaptational‟ in a
number of ways. Not only does each film represent an intersectional
encounter between Handke‟s texts and Wenders‟s images, but also each is, to
a greater or lesser extent, „adaptational‟ in the sense that it appropriates,
incorporates, and often frictionally juxtaposes material from cinema‟s
„inherited media‟ (literature, painting, music, theatre and so on). 3 American
LPs re-presents tracks from the three vinyl albums of the title, accompanied
by commentary and moody city and landscape imagery; as well as realising a
co-authored script, Wrong Move (Falsche Bewegung, 1975) alludes in its
dramatis personae, genre, and in certain motifs to Goethe‟s famous novel
Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, 1795/96) but
also quotes Romantic painting; Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin,
1986) quotes Handke, Rilke, Benjamin, and myriad other literary, pictorial,
musical and cinematic texts. Second, it follows from this observation that a
reading of the corpus of Wenders-Handke films using the „classic‟ tools of
literary adaptation discourse, what Andrew terms „frequently the most narrow
and provincial area of film theory‟, would be both inappropriate and
inadequate.20 It is our contention that the four jointly authored films of
Wenders and Handke represent a much wider spectrum of „adaptational‟
strategies than those implied by that ubiquitous but loaded German term
Literaturverfilmung with its implication of a hierarchy in which literature is
primary and cinema secondary. Third, our study will focus on the manifestly
productive tension in this particular creative partnership between „adaptation‟
and „collaboration‟, demonstrating that the four films represent a number of
strikingly different ways for Wenders and Handke to come together as
image- and text-makers within the medium of film. Moreover, it will show
that this coming together has significant aesthetic and conceptual
repercussions for both artists, resulting in a series of individually authored
works – both cinematic and textual – which are produced during the period of
the collaboration and which manifest the same kinds of disjunctive
intersection between a variety of medial forms within a single medium which
is also the hallmark of the collaborations. While the Wenders-Handke
partnership, as perhaps the most important collaboration between a writer and
filmmaker in the history of European cinema, is unique, it can also be
regarded as paradigmatic in that it demonstrates the variety of ways in which
the relationship between collaboration and adaptation can be played out. This


Andrew, „Adaptation‟, p.28.


Wenders and Handke: Collaboration, Adaptation, Recomposition

study will in fact demonstrate that there is a direct but inverse relationship
between the two – put simply, the more adaptational the film, the less
collaborational its production.
6. Adaptation and beyond
It is in this belief that our study departs from others concerned with Handke
and Wenders. The striking overlap in themes manifest throughout their
creative careers is the subject of Carlo Avventi‟s overview of their oeuvres,
while David Coury is concerned to show how the work of both filmmaker
and writer provides evidence of a new interest in narrative in contemporary
German culture.21 Closer to our concerns is the detailed analysis of the
Wenders-Handke films offered by Simone Malaguti in her book Wim
Wenders’ Filme und ihre intermediale Beziehung zur Literatur Peter
Handkes („Wim Wenders‟s Films and their Intermedial Relationship with the
Literature of Peter Handke‟) published in 2008. Malaguti offers valuable
insights into the ways in which the collaborative films (and others directed by
Wenders during the same period, notably Alice in the Cities (Alice in den
Städten) of 1974 and Paris, Texas of 1984) adopt a range of what she
variously terms „transtextual‟ and „transmedial‟ strategies:
Theoretical discourse allows us to differentiate between four models of adaptational strategy
– imitation, transfiguration, evocation and interpretative transformation – which are in
essence based on two factors: the director‟s reaction to the source text (an affirmative or
negative position) and the traces of the literary aspect of the source text in the film [...].22

She argues that The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty is imitative in
replicating its source novel as „faithfully‟ as possible, Alice in the Cities
evocative in its allusions to Handke‟s Short Letter, Long Farewell (Der kurze
Brief zum langen Abschied), Wrong Move transformative in its refutation of
Goethe‟s Wilhelm Meister, and Paris, Texas transfigurative in its implied
reworking of motifs from Handke‟s Slow Homecoming (Langsame
Heimkehr) tetralogy. In combining aspects of all four approaches Wings of
Desire is, in Malaguti‟s opinion, a „conglomerate‟ adaptation. Her argument
is persuasive and detailed, yet in deliberately ignoring non-literary



Carlo Avventi, Mit den Augen des richtigen Wortes: Wahrnehmung und Kommunikation im
Werk Wim Wenders und Peter Handkes (Remscheid: Gardez, 2004); David N. Coury, The
Return of Storytelling in Contemporary German Literature and Film: Peter Handke and
Wim Wenders (Lewiston-Queenston-Lampeter: Edwin Mellen, 2004).
Simone Malaguti, Wim Wenders’ Filme und ihre intermediale Beziehung zur Literatur Peter
Handkes (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2008), p.189.



intermedial (and in the case of film citations „intramedial‟) exchange her
analysis of the films remains necessarily partial. It is our intention to identify,
through close reading, ways in which in the course of the collaborative
process, and in other works of the same period, Wenders and Handke expand
intermediality beyond the literary to encompass a wider spectrum of
interactions and exchanges.
7. Non-Brechtian adaptation
Andrew has pointed out that every „representational film adapts a prior
conception‟.23 In the more limited sense that the term „adaptation‟ is
generally used in Film Studies, the text re-presented tends to be „already
treasured as a representation in another sign system‟, most commonly that of
narrative prose fiction.24 Without expanding the meaning of the term ad
absurdum, this study uses the term „adaptation‟ more flexibly (as its title
programmatically suggests). Across a twenty-year period Wenders and
Handke experimented with a multiplicity of intermedial transpositions, not
only in their four direct collaborations, but also in their independent works in
print and on screen. What is immediately apparent is that neither is willing,
even in the late 1960s, to adhere to the orthodoxy of the Brechtian models of
political modernist adaptation, despite their enthusiastic advocacy of certain
works by its practitioners. It is this which not only earned them a fair degree
of censure at the time, but which has also, we contend, impeded the
subsequent reception of their collaborative work. Their collaborations simply
fall outside the main thrust of the discourse on modernist adaptation. On a
more pragmatic level, of course, the generally lukewarm reception of more
recent Wenders films and growing hostility towards Handke in the wake of
his frequently intemperate interventions into debates on Serbia and its
neighbours have doubtless also played their part in re-directing interest away
from these films, as has the banal fact that the first two of the collaborative
films are not available commercially.
Yet these four films, and the numerous contemporary works of Wenders
and Handke related directly or indirectly to them, have much to add to
debates on adaptation and intermediality. In particular they exhibit a
rigorously critical take on image-making, linguistic expression, and narrative
(or story-telling) which we have chosen to term „recompositional‟. The
Wenders-Handke films dismember literature, cinema, and (less rigorously
perhaps) music. „Deconstruction‟, with its post-structuralist, post-68 and

Andrew, „Adaptation‟, p.29


Wenders and Handke: Collaboration, Adaptation, Recomposition

post-ideological connotations, is not the appropriate term for this process. In
the films (and texts) examined here the adaptational process in which, for
example, one medium is redefined or recomposed in terms of others – film as
photography, as music, as painting, as poetry, for example, or alternatively
literature as film – must, of course, be categorised as modernist. The
processes employed are related to the kind of disjunctive intersections
described by Andrews, but they are neither underpinned by, nor subservient
to, ideological considerations. Remaining outside any dialectical
configuration, they are frequently unstructured, intuitive, melancholic even,
and only partially amenable to exegesis. It is this that makes these films not
only unusual in their own time, but also, as suggested above, of lasting
significance. Unlike many politically modernist films of the same period,
Brechtian or otherwise, they have not aged with an ideology that spawned
them. This is not to say that they are not, in Naremore‟s words, „willfully
difficult and formally “experimental”‟; at times they are both. However, the
process which we have chosen to term „recomposition‟ is sufficiently organic
and flexible to evolve from film to film in unpredictable, undogmatic and
stimulating ways.
Brian McFarlane has rightly noted in the introduction to his seminal
theory of adaptation, Novel to Film, that the process of adaptation can
encompass anything from near-reverential fidelity to „a commentary on or, in
more extreme cases, a deconstruction (“bring[ing] to light the internal
contradictions in seemingly perfectly coherent systems of thought”) of the
original‟.25 The collaborations of Wenders and Handke encompass, we
believe, precisely this range of approaches to „source‟ material, sometimes
even within one film, and in so doing constitute a unique body of work
amongst writer-filmmaker partnerships.
8. Adaptation as translation and transcription
In his essay „Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation‟, Robert Stam
describes cinema as a „composite language by virtue of its diverse matters of
expression – sequential photography, music, phonetic sound, and noise –
[which] “inherits” all the art forms associated with these matters of
expression‟.26 At times his enthusiastic endorsement of cinematic
heterogeneity even comes close to the rhetoric of Kluge in the „Word and
Film‟ essay, albeit stripped of the political subtext. He also suggests that the


Brian McFarlane, Novel to Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1996), p.22.
Robert Stam, „Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation‟, in Naremore, pp.54-76 (p.61).

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