Tuesday, September 19, 2006

13. German director Wim Wender's US film "The Million Dollar Hotel" (2000): Stamp of a mature director

Here's an American film made with a European touch that provides social, psychological and political commentary. The story was conceived and the music provided by Bono (of U-2 fame). U-2, incidentally, provided the music for many of Wim Wender's recent films.

I watched this Wim Wenders film, 25 years after I last saw a film by this German director. I have only seen two others Kings of the Road and The Wrong Movement both made in the mid-Seventies. Wim Wenders impressed me then, he impresses me now. He is a social commentator who loves to deal with alienated individuals. He is a German who loves Americana, its varied hues of lifestyles and contrasting views of life.

The opening helicopter shot caressing the sleek LA skyscrapers well clad in glass and steel ends up with the skeleton of the Million Dollar Hotel neon sign. In the background an airplane is taking off. Those who recall Kings of the Road will remember a similar scene in a lonely landscape.

The film is not a mystery film. It is more a reflective, surrealist, social commentary. The first shot of the Mel Gibson FBI character is from his shoes only gradually revealing the man in the shoes. The man in the shoes is a modern Don Quixote, patched up by medical technology. No one in the film is real--each character is unreal with element of realism. Each statement of the script is loaded with social comment. Example "you have to vote in a democracy with a Y or a N, a Y for why and N for why not.." Everyone is manipulating everyone: the media moghul the media, the FBI the suspects, the denizens of hotel each other, the hotel owner his guests, the music business the musicians..If you are attentive the film is hilarious in its wacky social commentary. It reminded me of the fine Danny Kaye (his last regular movie) film The Mad Woman Of Chaillot directed by Bryan Forbes and based on Jean Giradoux' play, where the characters are equally farcical, while the social commentary is sharp as a knife.

Wim Wenders in America is different from Wenders in Europe. He uses American clich├ęs but his cinema remains European. That Gibson contributed his role without pay underlines Gibson's respect for Wenders. Wenders belongs to the era of German cinema (the Seventies) that spewed many talented filmmakers: Syberberg, Fassbinder, von Trotta, Schlondorff, Herzog and Hauff. That this film's true content and value are lost on many Americans is a social comment that must have amused Wenders. Wenders has not withered, he is as effective as he was in his prime, combining strong scripts with fascinating images and marrying both with good music.

See the movie and let the allegories sink in--a hotel that hosts mentally challenged people, too poor to afford medical insurance. If you can figure out the allegories, the movie is a treasure trove.


Matt said...

As a long time U2 fan, I actually saw this film because I had heard for years Bono had written a story called "The Million Dollar Hotel," and had been hoping it would eventually get made into a film.

And as a U2 fan, I found many things in it (a treasure trove as you might say) that someone who has followed U2 themes and lyrics would pick up on.

Everyone watches the little tv monitor while on set, while everything thats happening is RIGHT in front of them. But everything is always more interesting on television. Just one quick example.

Not to mix genres. But Bono's stamp on the story is felt. And yet it is a Wenders film through and through. I am glad my fandom for one artist helped me to discover another.

And it is not without humor. The man who thinks he wrote all the music of the Beatle's when singing "I Am The Walrus" and gets to a line and says "I dont know WHAT I was thinking with that line." Very funny.

Glad to see you appreciate it as well. I feel it is an underrated film.

Jugu Abraham said...


I find it interesting to compare the German directors Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog making movies in USA that are extensions of their earlier cinema in their homeland with the Australian filmmakers Peter Weir and Bruce Beresford who moved to USA and remain filmmakers in USA only to make movies that are quite different from the fascinating cinema they made in their homeland and established their names.