Ahead of its time in ways both good and bad, this 1976 film stars Dennis Hopper as a shell-shocked Vietnam vet tasked with transporting the body of his dead friend across America via a train journey. Predating the wave of PTSD movies that broke on screens in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Tracks is a largely scriptless and generally aimless work that, surprisingly enough, finds Hopper acting rather restrained. Having missed a proper cinematic release (it was confined to art-house theaters and festivals), the film makes the case that the subject matter was too much for audiences still smarting from the effects of the Vietnam war. However, it’s far more likely that it was simply because Tracks was too damned strung out to appeal to any but the most adventurous filmgoer. Hopper’s rambling interactions with various passengers on the train (not to mention a thoroughly disconcerting bit of full-frontal nudity) as well as an overload of ham-fisted symbolism on the part of writer/director Henry Jaglom makes Tracks almost unwatchable. This sparse DVD presentation doesn’t help its cause much, as the only bonus feature is uninformative commentary from Hopper and Jaglom. —Jason Ferguson
Wim Wenders Collection, Vol.2
Aside from Jean-Luc Godard, I can’t think of another filmmaker as obsessed with chronicling film itself as Wim Wenders. The cinema — as an art, entertainment and business — and its makers form the fabric of so many of the German director’s works, from Lightning Over Water to The State of Things, Lisbon Story to The End of Violence.
The Wim Wenders Collection Vol. 2 amasses three of his most obscure musings on his medium (Room 666, Tokyo-Ga and A Trick of the Light), plus two key early fiction works (The Scarlet Letter and Wrong Move), adding them to the previously released Lightning Over Water, American Friend and Notebook on Cities and Clothes for a 700-minute box set of largely neglected work.
Long in gestation — the commentaries, the discs’ only supplements, date back to 2002 — the collection is something of a disappointment given how long Wenders fans have waited, and given that early classics like Alice in the Cities, Kings of the Road and The State of Things weren’t included, but still languish in the moribund VHS netherworld.
Still, the three movies-about-movies are some of the finest of their kind. In the fascinating time capsule Room 666, Wenders sets up a 16mm camera and tape recorder in the only vacant room in a hotel in Cannes during the 1982 festival (the room is always available for obvious reasons, as Wenders suggests in the commentary). Fifteen filmmakers enter the room one at a time, press play on the camera and recorder, and answer a written question by Wenders: What is the future of cinema? Godard, Steven Spielberg, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (just three weeks before his death), Michelangelo Antonioni and others give rambling or curt responses indicative of their own personalities as to value of the subject, which, given the continuing decline of art-house theaters and the proliferation of downloadable movies and limitless cable TV options, is unfortunately prophetic.
In the video diary Tokyo-Ga, Wenders travels to Tokyo in search of the legacy of his favorite filmmaker, Yasujiro Ozu, 20 years after the master’s death. He finds a pulsating, Westernized city closer to the neon-washed bustle of Wong Kar-Wai’s Hong Kong than the Tokyo of Ozu’s humanist domestic dramas. But he immerses himself like an ethnographer discovering a culture, finding solace in members of Ozu’s cast and crew who are still alive.
Finally, the whimsical Trick of the Light is an idiosyncratic mash-up of silent film and documentary, recreating the stunted efforts of Germany’s earliest film pioneers, the Skladanowsky brothers, to invent the first cinematic apparatus. Reminiscent of the silent film-obsessed Guy Maddin, it’s the most technically audacious but least significant movie in the bunch.
The meandering existentialist drama Wrong Move and a surprisingly conventional retelling of The Scarlet Letter round out the new-to-DVD material, both made modern by their use of music, a trademark Wenders would perfect as the years progressed. —John Thomason
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