With Alice in the Cities I found my individual voice in the cinema.

Wim Wenders

Alice in the Cities cemented Wim Wenders’ reputation as one of the iconic European filmmakers of the 1970s. It featured many of the elements that would become staples of his work: a fascination with American culture, rock ‘n’ roll and the exploration of character through landscape. A deeply personal film, it was also made at a crucial point in his career. Its success, artistically, would decide his future as a filmmaker.

The only member of the German New Wave of the 1970’s to attend film school (Rainer Werner Fassbinder was turned down from Munich's Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen, from which Wenders graduated), Wenders attracted praise for his feature-length graduation film, Summer in the City in 1970. His first ‘commercial’film was an adaptation of Austrian writer Peter Handke’s novel, The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty. His direction on that film impressed its co-producer so much that Wenders was offered the chance to direct an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.


Wenders found himself adrift in the strict puritanical society of 18th century Boston. The budget could not stretch to a US location, so filming took place against the sun-drenched backdrop of the Portuguese landscape. Lacking the cultural signifiers of the mid-to late-twentieth century that were so central to his work, The Scarlet Letter was an unpleasant experience for Wenders. He swore that from then on, he would not make a film that prevented him from featuring a ‘car, service station, television or jukebox’.

A brief scene between Rüdiger Vogler and Yella Rottländer in The Scarlet Letter gave Wenders the idea for Alice in the Cities. He moved to New York to develop his story, although he almost abandoned it when he saw Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon. Considering his project too similar and in a state of desperation he contacted Sam Fuller, who he had met when the maverick American director was in Germany filming Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street. Fuller worked with Wenders on the script and prevailed upon him to continue as a filmmaker.

The film was shot on 16mm and in black and white (Wenders would later point out that he made two kinds of films: those in black and white were personal and more freewheeling, whereas those in colour were more faithful to the script). Unlike The Scarlet Letter, Wenders found the experience an enjoyable one, rekindling his passion for filmmaking. Alice in the Cities became the first in a loose trilogy of road movies (Wrong Move was made the following year and Kings of the Road in 1976), each featuring Rüdiger Vogler as an outsider attempting to come to terms with the world around him. They remain among the finest achievements of the German New Wave and have inspired countless filmmakers since their first release.

ALICE AND THE CITIES and many more Wim Wenders' titles are available on DVD and VOD through AX1 Films