One of those late 70’s films I was watching on BBC 2 till 1 in the morning. A film about German goalkeepers. Saving, or not saving, penalties. Got to be good.
I don’t know about good. It was odd. It still is odd.
I was up for a bit of odd, back them, when I was an odd, at variance with everything, 19 year old. I associated oddness with otherness. And I was looking for ways of being anything ‘other’ than the boring ordinary I was.
Now, 40 years on, I still see how oddly ‘other’ this film is. But not in a good way. It’s an oddbodball of a film. Gloomily nihilistic. Coldly alienating and estranging. Not especially special of anything. Tediously underwhelming.
The goalkeeping sequence at the beginning is badly botched, well, faked up. Goalkeeper is sent off. He’s so upset at being sent off he has to go off and murder somebody; like the pretty cashier he’s picked up and slept with. Only, he’s not upset. And there’s no ‘has to’ about it. He’s not compelled to do it. He just chokes her off as arbitrarily as he’s fucked her. Doesn’t, didn’t, seem to mean a thing (the fucking, or the murdering). No change of expression. No visible affect or emotion.
And then he’s off to visit an ex living in a village on the Austrian border. Pesters her for the rest of the film. Doesn’t appear that he wants to, or is about to, kill anybody else. He listlessly wanders about swigging bottles of beer and fiddling with jukeboxes. Nothing about him, about his outer demeanour, gives anything away. And we aren’t going to be given privileged access to his thoughts, feelings, motivations. He doesn’t appear to be suffering inner torment or turmoil re the murder he’s committed.
He’s blanked off. A characterless colourless individual caught up in a perfunctory performance of sterile stasis. Kind of like a goalkeeper with nothing to do, no penalty kicks or shots to save. The vital action all happening in the other half, at the other side. He’s left guarding his desultory goal, passively observing the play from this redundant other end, marginalised, unnecessary, a spectator.
Yes, the experience of watching this film is like spectating a dull null game. A nil-nil draw. The main protagonist – the goalkeeper – removed from essential action, a mere passive spectator of unexciting nondescript none in-play events.
It was monotonous watching this goalkeeper doing nothing, saying nothing, feeling nothing, expressing nothing. A dislocated, disconnected, disengaged, existence. Could feel nothing for him. Because he was feeling nothing. Couldn’t even feel revulsion at the murder he’d done. Actually, I did start to feel something towards him: irritation at how irritating he was; boredom with how boring he was.
There’s a tune blowing throughout, a little 2 note refrain played by a brass band, its jaunty motif dislocates the gloom of existential ennui even further.
It was a gloom of existential ennui I was seeing, being meaninglessly subjected to. If I’d watched this film then – back in the 70’s – with the more aware awareness I have now, I’d have probably switched it off after 20 minutes, and gone to bed.
Dir: Wim Wenders, Germany
Footnote: About the title. It’s a snappy title. I’ve seen it translated as ‘The Goalkeepers Anxiety at the Penalty Kick’, But the better sounding translation is ‘The Goalkeepers Fear of the Penalty’. However, its a misnomer. It isn’t goalkeepers who fear penalties, its penalty takers. The expectation is on the taker to score; if he misses he disappoints; therefore he incurs greater risk, greater penalty, greater anxiety. There is much less expectation on the goalkeeper to keep the penalty out; if he saves it he’s defied the odds. Surely every goalkeeper must therefore relish, not fear, the award of a penalty; for it gives him the opportunity to become an instant savour, a rescuer, a hero.