Notebook On Cities and Clothes
1989 Directed by Wim Wenders. Starring Yohji Yamamoto.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 8, 1992
Notebook...that's a good word for this piece, for it's more a gathering of ideas and ruminations than a plotted-out, pre-designed film work. In this project commissioned by France's Pompidou Center, German director Wenders (Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire, Until the End of the World) was asked to make a film about “fashion.” At first he was reluctant, feeling he had nothing to contribute to the subject. But the more he thought about it, the more he came to believe that the process of creating fashion could be analogous to that of assembling a movie. Then he also remembered a particular shirt and jacket that, when he first put them on, felt so good that it seemed as though the clothing were “wearing him” and made him feel as “protected as a knight in his armor.” This clothing made him remember his childhood and his father. The designer's name was Yohji Yamamoto and Wenders saw this movie as an opportunity to go to Tokyo and discover the man's secrets. What ensues is the coming together of these two creative souls. Notebook opens in typical Wenders fashion with passing street images of Paris as seen out the window of a moving car while a tiny dashboard-mounted video monitor displays images of Tokyo. Or is it Tokyo out the window and Paris on the screen? Authors both, these two men discuss their respective crafts, their likes and their dislikes, their favorite cities, their desires to be understood. They shoot pool together, Wenders records Yamamoto as he works, they pore over photographs they both cherish. Often, Wenders' push to uncover the the similarities in their two metiers strains the inquiry and forces the investigation into tenuous comparisons and conclusions. Though, how can you resist when you listen to these two image makers discussing things like which comes first: the design or the fabric, form or content? At its weakest, Notebook comes across as Wenders' unedited musings, channeled without forethought or much afterthought. (You may also wish that Yamamoto's English was better or that the film took that limitation into greater account.) But at Notebook's best, you get snatches of Wenders, the film poet and the meditations of two thoughtful craftsmen of popular consumer goods.