- Actors: Rudiger Vogler, Hanns Zischler
- Directors: Wim Wenders
- Format: PAL
- Language: German
- Subtitles: English, German
- Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.78:1
- Number of discs: 2
- Studio: Axiom Films International Ltd
- DVD Release Date: 14 July 2008
- Run Time: 169 minutes
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- ASIN: B0019GJ4IS
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 25,755 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)
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Kings of the Road (In the Course of Time)  [DVD]
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The final part of Wim Wenders' loose trilogy of road movies (following on from Alice in the Cities and Wrong Move), KINGS OF THE ROAD (aka IN THE COURSE OF TIME) has been hailed as one of the best films of the 1970s and remains Wenders' most remarkable portrait of his own country. After driving his car at high speed off a road and into a river, losing all his worldly possessions, Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler) hitches a ride with Bruno Winter (Rüdiger Vogler), who travels across Germany's hinterland repairing projectors in run-down cinemas. Along the way, the two men meet people whose lives are as at odds with the modern world as their own. In attempting to reconcile their past, the two men find themselves increasingly at odds with each other. KINGS OF THE ROAD (aka IN THE COURSE OF TIME) is a meditation on the passing of the age of great cinema, an acute study of life in post-war Germany and to this day remains one of Wim Wenders' most accomplished films.
Marvelous... One of the great films about men... and about the effect of America in colonising the European subconscious --Time Out
Every turn in the road brings something unforeseen and intriguing --The Times
fascinating… compelling and witty --New York Times
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German film director Wim Wenders understands this. His lexicon for the process is ‘emotion-motion’, a clear yin-yang concept that’s self-reflecting, emotion giving rise to the urge for going and motion in turn (meaning travel) providing novel situations and experiences that lead the traveller to new ways of seeing, feeling, interpreting. The hero-wanderer does not learn through books, concepts and abstractions. He learns with the sun in his face, wind in his hair, rain on his clothes, dirt on his hands, mud on his boots or holes in his shoes. He travels through forests, mountains, villages and towns, journeys that mirror emotional journeys within. He travels to find his sense of self and place in the world, his spirit open and accepting.
‘Bildung’ means education, although another nuance is self-cultivation or formation of character through cultural maturation. ‘Roman’ of course means tale or story, or ‘novel’ in several languages, French and German included. The journey is therefore inseparable from the story, a tale that describes the emotional growth of the hero-wanderer. We travel with him as we read, his encounters and experiences resonating with our own, or with those we imagine. Thus his insights and liberations become ours as well. Goethe and his Wilhelm Meister gave rise through time to the German sense of ‘wandervogel’, a Rousseauian return to nature, a romantic wandering through forests and mountains and other natural landscapes to discover the source of one’s being.
Wenders thinks, writes and films in this tradition, or at least in his cycle of road films, a classic trilogy filmed in the 1970s: Alice in the Cities (1973), Wrong Move (1975) and Kings of the Road (1976). The German title of Kings of the Road is ‘Im Lauf der Zeit’ (‘In the Course of Time’) which may be truer to the spirit of what the film reveals.
Kings of the Road has at least six major themes:
• Cold-war politics, Germany divided
• Freedom, spontaneity, the open road
• Male bonding, friendship
• Difficulties with women, alienation from them
• Music as spiritual guide, expression of the soul
• The beauty, value and necessity of cinema in Germany (and elsewhere)
Cinemas in the provinces of Germany are dying. The film projectors and other equipment they require are old, the theatres themselves dilapidated, underused. In times past, especially between the two world wars, the cinema was a centre of village social life. No longer. Television and video have changed the world, killed the movies. Plus the movies are junk, commercial pap. This is so because the rural cinemas have no independence. They are tied to the monolithic and monopolistic film distribution system in Germany where the films distributed (the only ones) are hardly worth seeing. Revenue is therefore in short supply. Many of the cinemas are run by women who help subsidise them by working part-time jobs by day in order to show the movies at night.
Such is the sad state of things when Bruno Winter makes his rounds. Bruno, aged about 32, is one of the kings of the road. He drives a truck (a sort of large old camper van), delivering films to the cinemas and sometimes repairing cinema equipment. He’s good at the wheel and good with his hands. He travels solo, sings to himself, sleeps in the camper van. The highway is his home, as Merle Haggard says somewhere in song. It’s his way of life.
Robert Lander, aged about 35, is the other king of the road. But Robert is an accidental king, not self-crowned as Bruno is. Robert is in flight, the road a refuge for him, a temporary sanctuary, not a kingdom and home. He’s running away from his life and wife. He’s upset, his mind in turmoil. He looks ahead through the windscreen, sees the road as he drives, but he isn’t interested in staying on it. In fact he wants to leave it and does. He wishes to die and drives his VW bug into a lake, hoping to drown in it as he and the car go under. But the damn thing floats and won’t sink. At least not initially. This pause gives Robert extra moments to think. To think clearly, that is. The water’s cold, wet, uncomfortable. Is this really what he wants?
Apparently not. He swims away from the car and reaches the shore.
Bruno has watched this strange and pathetic spectacle unfold. His camper van was parked near the lake and he was standing outside it when Robert’s white Beetle zoomed past and onto the surface of the water, skimming across it lightly like a stone.
Bruno is mainly placid as he watches, though eventually he laughs at the absurd sight. He says nothing to himself and barely moves. He’s only busy trying to work out what has happened and perhaps why. He has had no hand in the event. Nor will he lend a hand afterward. He’s prepared to be a spectator, as most of us are most of the time in life, the chances for heroism quite rare. Bruno may be king, but he’s no hero. If Robert wants to drown, he’ll let him. Not that Bruno knows Robert, nor wants to. But he will. They will team up and go where the road takes them.
It takes them to the hinterlands of the republic, to areas hard up against the eastern borders of the country with the DDR. These roads are byways, wrong turns, dead-ends. They lead to depressed towns and villages, places on the fringes of affluence that might as well be in East Germany, so close they are physically and psychologically to it. Empires usually fizzle out gradually mile after mile, finally disappearing. China’s Silk Road goes on forever into the west until it’s consumed by desert dust. But West Germany was different. It slammed abruptly into an eastern border that seemed like a solid stone wall. That border was made by Hitler, the Russians and Americans. All carved up Germany, dismembering and desecrating it. The part of West Germany they pass through now feels like a graveyard. They visit cinemas located in graveyards.
Even so, there is room to roam. The villages are not all clustered together. The space between them is open road, and on it the two kings will sally forth. The beauty of uncharted territory is that it’s uncharted. Everything is pure, remains to be discovered, encountered. Maps only contain names of places. Bruno and Robert don’t know what will happen when they reach those names and places. Thus, in a way, adventure is built into travel. We can’t know what the next horizon will bring.
This beauty, this sense of the unknown, sustains them. What could be a source of anxiety for the tourist or salesman is a source of liberty for them. Dharma bums have this advantage. They don’t care about timetables and schedules. They’re like migratory birds who steer by the stars and sun. They’ll get there, if at all, when they get there, and that is contentment enough.
At first there is mainly silence between them as they travel, apart from the hum of the motor or tyres on the road. If there’s anything to say, both are reluctant to say it. They have learned their names and maybe where they’re from, but not much else. Everyone has a history. Yet there’s freedom in privacy too, in remaining ignorant, and both men know it. It will take time for pieces of their pasts to come into focus.
Bruno has always been a loner, it seems. His truck, his job, the road. He is untethered, unbound. If he’s lonely, he’s learned to accept it. Solitude requires a certain artfulness not all can master. Self-reliance, self-acceptance, independence — these are its main ingredients. The solitaire needn’t be a hermit, though he can be. He just needs to live well with himself, be comfortable in his own skin. Which is why, quite paradoxically, solitaires sometimes make the best social company. By learning to live well with himself the solitaire may be more open to others when they meet. It’s company he doesn’t want to sustain for very long, preferring his own to theirs, but he can do it well. Bruno is like this. He is friendlier than Robert.
But Robert’s situation is different. He’s a husband, perhaps a father, now in exile from these social and emotional responsibilities. The details of his banishment are not clear, but it’s certain they haven’t made him happy. He’s not an independent self-starter as Bruno is. He can’t be a loner. His exile is temporary, just as his attempted suicide was. If he were truly ready to die he would have died by now. Instead he lingers, wants to repair what he can of the past. The road is a reprieve, a chance to gather breath, a place in which to reflect and also look ahead. He wouldn’t tell himself that Bruno is his saviour or even that he’s a good Samaritan. He knows Bruno watched passively as his car went down. He didn’t lift a finger. No. Robert saved himself. He came to his senses and realised this is all there is — this life, this chance. Death is nothing, a total blank, the unending emptiness of eternal sleep.
Men have trouble relating, getting along. Often they don’t know where to start. This gets them into trouble, and not just with other men. Their biggest troubles are often with women. It’s because women are always a step ahead. Women know more because they’re sensitive and insightful, unafraid of their feelings. They trust their emotions, unlike men who fear and hide from theirs. Women embrace theirs, thinking it sensible to do so. Women are from Venus, they say, or some other rocky mass in the solar system. Heat and light fill up their world. Men come from caves and largely dwell in them emotionally — cold, dark, damp places. They are bad at emoting, unless the emotion is anger. Which is why they’re the ones who start wars, not women.
Robert knows all this. He’s a child psychologist and linguist professionally. He tries to understand how the human mind works, how children think and learn to write. He loves women and children. He’s at home with them. So it won’t be surprising if he eventually goes back to them. It isn’t fear that has driven him from them. It’s something else, circumstances the film doesn’t share with us. Robert is half a man without a woman to love and knows it. Perhaps deep down Bruno knows it too for himself. Perhaps he can’t face whatever fears keep him from the company of women. Perhaps the shell of the solitaire, at first a healthy defence, becomes a cosy home of its own through time. Perhaps he’s a hermit crab now, no longer a man.
Music unites them on the road: music, the first voice, the original language, beauty as melody coded in song. They sing together and are happy.
Cinema unites them too. They both love the movies, the art of light and magic. They approach these rural cinemas as pilgrims would, treating them like churches, cathedrals, monasteries – holy and hallowed places.
In the classic bildungsroman the hero-wanderer learns from his wandering. The principle is the same as told by Wenders here.
Robert hated how his father treated his mother. He returns to his home village, a place not far from a route he and Bruno are on. They stop for a day and night. Robert’s father is a retired newspaper man, a publisher. Robert works through the night at the printing presses in his father’s office, black ink on his hands and clothes. He’s been setting type all day. When the morning edition is ready the headline reads:
“How to respect a woman”
He lays the paper on his father’s desk and leaves. The father is stricken, crestfallen. Though Robert may not think it, the sins of the father may also cause sons to sin. Different sins, similar results.
Naturally, the first woman a boy loves is his mother. It is she who will teach him the value and importance of feminine love, the boy learning to love women by loving her. This is what Robert feels, and perhaps we even love him for it. But how can we love how he has treated his father? His love is smaller than it ought to be.
Bruno is stronger than Robert, less dependent on others than is Robert. But Robert would say his own strength comes from his dependence on others and theirs on him. Solitude is no solution for him. He cannot be as Bruno is and wouldn’t like to try.
The road was temporary for Robert. He needed what it taught him. It gave him time and space enough in which to think. Bruno is almost certain to carry on, to keep on singing Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” to himself, as he did in the time before Robert and he became a duo. In the long run the solitaire prefers to sing solo. He’s used to the sound of his own voice. And it’s abnormal anyway for a kingdom to have two crowns. So Bruno will stay at the wheel and Robert will return to the past.
The film ends with German indie rock musician Alex Lindstädt singing in English:
“Nine feet over the tarmac when I’m riding along in my rig…”
Lovely image, beautiful feeling.
This film by Wenders is a masterpiece, though only lovers of great cinema know and love it.
At the end of Kings of the Road I felt I had gone on a timeless journey. I loved that there was so little conversation. It made the conversation that happened rare and special. You really listen to what they have to say. Walk into any pub today and just listen the endless, nonsensical, inane and useless chatter. Honestly just go in one evening and listen.
Maybe it is Germany, but it could be anywhere. Any language. Any people. Road movies take you out of whatever culture you live in. Kings of the Road asks that you shut-down your sense of where you are now. Shut down your job. Shut down your friends. Shut down your town. Shut down the chatter. Shut down the terabytes of digital information on the electromagnetic spectrum. The 3 hours then pass by in a flash. You become the characters. You live in their world.
After you have watched Kings of Road, you will sigh, you will remember your life, and then.... re-boot yourself.
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