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Film / Alice in the Cities

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Alice in the Cities is a 1974 film from West Germany directed by Wim Wenders.

Philip Winter is a 31-year-old newspaper writer. He has been road-tripping around the United States trying to write an article about "the American landscape", but hasn't been able to come up with any copy, only taking Polaroid pictures. When he gets to New York without any story, his extremely irritated editor cancels his trip and tells him to go home.

Going home is not that easy, as an airport worker strike has cancelled all flights into Germany; Philip has to settle for a flight into Amsterdam. While at the airport he strikes up an acquaintance with Lisa, a German woman, and her nine-year-old daughter Alice. Lisa is trying to get back home to Germany while also having to deal with a troublesome boyfriend who wants to stay in the USA.

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Lisa winds up chasing after her boyfriend, making the reckless decision to leave her daughter in the care of Philip, whom she has known barely a day. Luckily for her Philip is a responsible fellow, and he dutifully escorts Alice to Amsterdam. Unluckily for Philip, Lisa does not show up at the airport in Amsterdam, leaving him stuck with a nine-year-old girl. Lacking any better ideas, Philip takes Alice to the city of Wuppertal, where Alice thinks that her grandmother lives, even though Alice can't remember the address, or the phone number, or Grandma's actual name.


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Tropes:

  • Binocular Shot: The typical bi-circular shot as Philip and Alice are looking from viewing binoculars at the top of the Empire State Building. Plot relevant, as this is how Philip finds out Lisa will not be joining them; he can see their hotel and he sees her getting into a cab.
  • Comforting Comforter: In case anyone was wondering if Philip really cares about Alice, he's shown putting a blanket over her as they go to bed in the house of the lady they met in the park.
  • Creator Cameo: Wim Winders is seen about five minutes in, standing next to a jukebox.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Shot in black and white and on a 16mm camera to boot, leading to a grainy monochrome image that screams "1970s art film".
  • Flyaway Shot: The last shot shows Philip and Alice looking out of a train window, on the way back to Munich to finally meet up with Lisa. The camera then flies up and away, showing the whole countryside and a town and the mountains in the distance as the train chugs away, before the cut to black and the credits.
  • Flyover Country: It seems that one of the reasons Philip didn't get much of a story in America is that he didn't like it.
    Philip: Once you leave New York City, nothing changes anymore.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: The grown man and the nine-year-old child strike up an odd friendship as they travel around New York and Germany.
  • Parental Neglect: It's pretty staggering that Lisa leaves her daughter in the care of a stranger she has known for only a day.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Many shots from Philip's POV as he's traveling around in cars and trains.
  • Reality Ensues: After showing the photo of grandma's house to a cabbie who gives them some advice, Philip and Alice go to Gelsenkirchen. It's not a small town, but to Philip's shock, Alice actually sees the house as they're wandering around the residential areas. Unfortunately her grandma moved away two years ago.
  • Road Trip Plot: An unusual one in that it involves three countries on two continents. The first act is Philip's aimless wandering around American back roads, ending in New York where he visits the Empire State Building and takes in a Mets game. Then he travels to Amsterdam and then to the Ruhr region of Germany with Alice, engaging in a frustrating search for her grandmother.
  • Shout-Out
    • Among the programs Philip watches on a blurry American television is 1939 film Young Mr. Lincoln.
    • Also a Call-Back, as at the end of the film, Philip reads a newspaper article about the death of the director of Young Mr. Lincoln, John Ford.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Charlie Chaplin's The Kid, another film about a vagabond type suddenly becoming responsible for a child.
  • Stock Footage: The shot of Chuck Berry playing "Memphis, Tennessee", as Philip watches in the audience, is actually from a 1969 concert film recorded in Toronto. Wenders filmed Berry at a concert in Germany but couldn't afford the rights, so he instead obtained some 1969 color footage and processed it into grainy black-and-white to match the rest of his film.
  • There Is Only One Bed: How the lady from the park gets Philip to get in bed with her, after laying out a cot for him. It's strongly implied that sex follows.
    Woman: I'm afraid the second bed is a bit lower.
    Philip: How annoying.
  • Toplessness from the Back: From Lisa as she is changing in the hotel room. It seems like a come-on to Philip but he doesn't respond.
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