The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1971)

Wim Wenders’s second film was virtually out of circulation for over three decades. It’s now been restored and will soon get a UK blu-ray release.  I was lucky to catch the restoration’s UK premiere screening at London’s historic Regent Street cinema.

It’s often stated that Wenders’s proper ‘first film’ is Alice in the Cities, the first of his road trilogy that brought him international recognition after the false start of the disastrous The Scarlet Letter.  The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick precedes both of these, and although it’s also an adaptation, it exhibits many of the traits, themes and signatures found in his more celebrated works.

Josef Bloch (Arthur Brauss) is the goalie.  We first see him in (in)action at a football game, patient at the goal posts.  After letting in a goal, mistakenly thinking the ball off-side, he starts a fight on the pitch and he is sent off in disgrace.

Goalies Anxiety Penalty Kick bench
Bloch on the bench, sent off after fighting with the referee
We then follow him around town in Vienna, visiting the cinema, wandering the streets, picking up women.  After flirting with a young woman who sells tickets in the cinema, he reappears at closing time and follows her through the streets and onto her bus, trying to get noticed.  Eventually she decides to accept him, and the pair go back to her flat for the night.  The following morning, they talk over breakfast.  She lies on the bed playfully and then, with no provocation, Bloch casually strangles her.  He calmly wipes the crockery for fingerprints and leaves.

He then travels away from the city to a small village to stay with Hertha (Kai Fischer), an old friend or perhaps lover, keeping an eye on newspaper headlines as the police seem to get closer to the killer.

Bloch is always an enigma.  We are never allowed to identify with him or get into his head.  We simply observe.  He displays very little emotion, he just exists.  He doesn’t even seem agitated after the murder, and seems more concerned with methodically hiding any incriminating evidence than being affected by his actions.  He doesn’t appear to have a motive or reason to kill, it just happened.

Goalies Anxiety Penalty Kick busstop
Arthur Brauss as  Josef Bloch
Women find Bloch attractive, and he finds it easy to flirt and pick up women.  He’s not always successful, but he’s always charming.  He’s physically fit and attractive, and more then once women speculate that he might be a sportsman, perhaps a boxer – that would explain the bruises (a reminder of the casual violence).

The murder scene isn’t filmed dramatically, the camera fades to black as the violence begins.  Nevertheless there’s a sense of unease in the sequence leading up to it.  In stark contrast with the relatively static visuals that precede the scene, the camera never quite stops, swaying and panning queasily as if to signify something is not right.

Goalies Anxiety Penalty Kick meal
The meal before the murder has a queasy tone due to the unsettling camerawork
The rest of the film maintains a calm sense of danger, by subtly reminding the viewer of the killing.  The murdered girl is named Gloria; she spells her name out, and then Bloch’s.  Much later, at Hertha’s house, the jukebox plays Them’s G.L.O.R.I.A. and we see Hertha drink from an espresso cup that’s very similar to the one used by the murdered woman.  Another time, over breakfast, Bloch remarks that he always has to do things twice for it to be meaningful for him.  Eat two eggs, drink two coffees.  The first one isn’t satisfying.  Given what we know of Bloch, the restrained threat of violence never seems far away.  Ironically, a couple of times he is mugged or beaten up but this is filmed almost inconsequentially, matter of fact. But, like the penalty kick, it emphasises his sense of inadequacy.

There is also a pervading mood of death and tragedy in the village.  We learn that the neighbour was found dead, and her kids are staying over until the body is removed.  The village seems to suffer a fly infestation.  There is recurring reference to a local mute child who has gone missing, and is eventually found dead. Everyone is talking about the daily updates in the local newspaper, but with disinterest, getting details wrong.  Ironically, they never seem to make the connection between Bloch and the murder reported in the national newspapers, even when the papers publish an sketch of the murder suspect that is a remarkable likeness.

Goalies Anxiety Penalty Kick standing
Bloch is unsuspected, unscrutinised in the village
Wenders considers this his most Hitchcockian film.  However, despite the treat of violence there is very little actual suspense; by contrast even the murder was deliberately emotionless and flat.  Bloch is the absolute opposite of an innocent man falsely accused, a common Hitchcock theme.  Some music echoes Bernard Hermann’s style but not significantly – the jukebox soundtrack is more important.  During a bus journey, the lady he sits next to recalls Margaret Lockwood in The Lady Vanishes, but this seems incidental.   This is far more existential than suspenseful or thrilling.

Goalies Anxiety Penalty Kick bus
A conversation in a bus, reminiscent of The Lady Vanishes
Hertha’s village seems like an idyll; we are regularly reminded that it is a place where there is no crime, ironically.  The hotel doesn’t have secure doors as nobody ever steals anything.  The local friendly policeman and Bloch share an umbrella on a rainy walk home one night, the policeman proudly explaining his rural policing skills completely unaware that he is ambling down the street with a ruthless murderer.  The police presence is pervasive, but muted.  Cars drive by, police cycle past, but they’re never a real threat.

There’s a long overhead shot circling over the village.  The sequence is strangely fascinating and is probably included because it looked interesting to Wenders.   The cinematography is by Wenders regular Robby Muller.  

Colour is important but I think just for aesthetic reasons, not symbolically. For example, the colour of clothing is often coordinated with the background.   

Some shots seemed to be filmed just for their inherent interest. I have read that Wenders and Muller kept a second camera loaded with film to capture interesting  images, an ‘art cassette’ or ‘imaginery film’. Some footage made it into the film such as a shot of apple, although that could be included to echo a separate scene where Kia Fischer is peeling an apple.

Wim Wenders said that he felt that he couldn’t use long takes in Goalie, but there are some exceptions, notably in a lift as Bloch and a woman he has picked up go up to her flat. First we just look at her, but not really through his eyes, the camera seems independent, then we watch as he gently caresses her and unbuttons her blouse.  It’s a bold choice to let the camera linger for so long, and still holds the attention.

Goalies-Anxiety-at-the-Penalty-Kick-2
Wenders sustains a long take when the couple enter the lift, letting events take their time, observing
Viewing this film with the hindsight of Wenders’s subsequent films, it’s fascinating to see his emerging style.

There’s a long road journey – a recurring fascination for Wenders – as Bloch travels to the village by bus. Characteristically, this takes its time.  The interest is in details, watching everyday life.

Wenders love of Americana is already apparent: jukeboxes, bowling.  American currency (Bloch has just returned from the US) is seen at the murder scene, in a bus, when paying a hotel bills, slotting quarters into a lift.  Cinema and television features frequently: Bloch goes to the movies regularly by himself or with others, people are constantly watching tiny TV sets to pass the time, to escape their everyday lives.

[Interestingly, in one cinema scene the film advertised is entitled The Tremor of Forgery.  This isn’t a real film, it’s the title of the Patricia Highsmith book that Wenders was reading at the time and was a nod of acknowledgement.  Of course he would later adapt Highsmith’s The American Friend (also due to be rereleased in 2018).]

Much like the Can soundtrack in Alice in the Cities, the music has a never ending continuous feel, almost minimalist, but in Goalie this music is too much in the foreground and it feels overused. By comparison the American music on jukeboxes subtlety enhances the narrative and is much more successful.

There’s also an charming short scene of young girl flipping coins with Bloch, with an unusual warmth that is a little reminiscent of Alice.

Dialogue in one of the last scenes sums up one of the film’s themes.  The observer always watches the ball not the player.  The goalie is anonymous, unobserved, until when the ball approaches and suddenly he is under intense scrutiny.  This seems to be a metaphor about being present but not observed, the quiet anxiety over the risk of being caught.

Goalies Anxiety Penalty Kick bed
The aftermath of the killing.  Bloch seems more tired than agitated
The film has been almost unseen since 1971 because of problems with music rights.  As in his later films, the songs played on jukeboxes and on the radio are carefully chosen to resonate with the characters or situations.  Unfortunately Wenders didn’t secure the rights, which was problematic when trying to release the film for home cinema.  For this re-release, they were able to secure (and afford) the rights for around half of these songs; those that proved impossible to obtain have now been replaced by similar sounding songs that were written and recorded specifically for the restoration.  It’s impossible to know what’s been lost, but these recordings, by a band called Loovegroove, don’t sound out-of-place and apparently used period instruments and recording techniques to make them sound authentic of their time.

This 4k restoration is probably as good as it could be, given the age and quality of the source material.  The soundtrack is still resolutely mono and the sound is a little flat, but perfectly acceptable.  The image quality looks good on the cinema screen.  The colours are very well balanced, and the 35mm film stock has a satisfying graininess.  The look is very much from the seventies, which can be a little distancing – contrast this with the Road Trilogy films that feel both otherworldy and contemporary.

Wenders has stated that this is a very close adaptation of Peter Handke’s source novel, scene by scene, lifting dialogue directly.  He retrospectively realised that his early films alternated between personal films and adaptations, his personal films were in black-and-white and the literary adaptations were in colour. Although Goalie is an adaptation, it features many of the characteristic motifs that would reappear in Wenders’s subsequent films, and with many of the same crew.  It’s not a classic, but for Wenders fans it’s a fascinating taste of the riches to come.

1 thought on “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1971)”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s