Whilst German filmmaker Wim Wenders is known primarily for Paris Texas and Wings of Desire, perhaps even Buena Vista Social Club, The American Friend is one of his most interesting and overlooked works. Using a then unpublished Patricia Highsmith manuscript of Ripley’ Game as a departure point, Wenders manages to weave in his familiar concerns about alienation, sacrifice and friendship in his idiosyncratic low key style. Every frame virtually screams of his love for cinema, from the noir lighting scheme tipping his hat to the gangster genre, to the beautiful framing and of course there’ his cast. The darker characters comprise of eight film directors, everyone from Sam Fuller and Nicolas Ray to the Ripley character Dennis Hopper. The chemistry between Hopper and Bruno Ganz (Wings of Desire) is amazing, possibly due to their conflicting approaches, and Hopper in particular, offers his own personal myriad of issues up on screen to provide one of the great albeit erratic performances of his career. At its heart there’ a certain energy and sense of freedom in the way it’s constructed, yet it is still quite classically helmed and crafted by Wenders. It’s a very low key film, it almost surprises you in its impact and it’s very much a product of the late seventies European filmmaking, when Wenders still felt vital. It’s a film that announced Wenders to the rest of the world, the first of his international pictures that he would continue to varying degree of success. It also marked Hopper’ re-emergence from his drug and ego fuelled post Last Movie haze.
There’ a fantastic commentary featuring Wenders and Hopper, in which they discuss Hopper arriving straight from the Apocalypse Now shoot picked up from the airport still in costume with horrible jungle sores covering his body. Also working with Ray and Fuller, the fistfight between Ganz and Hopper and other great insights into both Wenders and Hopper’ working methods. This commentary alone makes this disc essential. There’ also a bunch of trailers and a booklet containing a great analysis of the film and how it sits in relation to Wenders troubled career.