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Star director Wim Wenders captures the audience right away with an anecdote of his early work “The American Friend”: He tells that actor Bruno Ganz wore a loaded revolver during the shooting: “A replica would have been too expensive”. And the film director also carried this loaded revolver with him for one day “to get a feeling for the role”. Actor Bruno Ganz had asked him to do so – since he thought the gun was too heavy.

Wenders’ film classic on St. Pauli

Wenders entertains viewers at the Alabama Cinema in Hamburg with such stories about his successful film from 1977. “The American friend” with Bruno Ganz, Dennis Hopper and Lisa Kreuzer in the leading roles plays in Paris and New York, but mainly in Hamburg on St. Pauli in the area around the fish market.

Regisseur Wim Wenders mit Dennis Hopper bei den Dreharbeiten © Wim Wenders Stiftung
Director Wim Wenders with Dennis Hopper during film shooting © Wim Wenders Stiftung

A city is watching a movie

The classic film was shown on one day in fifteen cinemas in Hamburg – motto of this action: A city is watching a movie. For the third time, art-house cinemas in Hamburg honoured a special film – with readings, discussions, a photo exhibition – and as a highlight there was a guided tour, the “Walk with Wim” to the original locations.

“A lot has changed in Hamburg,” Wim Wenders rightly remarks. A once picturesque piece of old Hamburg with likeable old buildings at the Fischmarkt is now modernized and tourist-friendly. The photographer and blogger Andrea David documented quite elaborately and affectionately how the locations have changed from then until today:

Director Wim Wenders in Hamburg "Eine Stadt sieht einen Film"
Director Wim Wenders in Hamburg: “A city is watching a movie”

The story behind the story

“Der amerikanische Freund” is a film adaptation of the novel “Ripley’s Game” by Patricia Highsmith. Wenders tells how he struggled to obtain the film rights to the novel. He had already written to the Diogenes publishing house in Switzerland four times to get the rights to a Highsmith novel. Producers from the USA had always come before him, Alfred Hitchcock had also helped himself. The situation seemed hopeless. Until the day the young director receives a letter from Patricia Highsmith inviting him to her home near Paris. There the two finally meet, and the writer tells that she has learned of his futile attempts. She then gets up, goes to her desk, Wenders reports, and shows him her latest manuscript entitled “Ripley’s Game”: “You can have my rights,” she says, “because the publisher doesn’t know anything about this novel yet”.

In this crime story, unscrupulous Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) meets leukemia frame-maker Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) in Hamburg, whom he proposes to commit two murders in Paris for large sums of money.

Bruno Ganz und Lisa Kreuzer © Wim Wenders Stiftung
Actors Bruno Ganz and Lisa Kreuzer © Wim Wenders Stiftung.

After the premiere of the film Wim Wenders saw the writer shaking her head, she left the cinema without greeting and just said: “I didn’t imagine it like this”. Only years later did she show herself conciliatory and found Dennis Hopper to be quite close to her character of Ripley, the director says.

Dennis Hopper as Tom Ripley © Wim Wenders Stiftung
Dennis Hopper as Tom Ripley © Wim Wenders Stiftung

A greeting by Bruno Ganz

The Alabama cinema still holds a delicacy ready. Bruno Ganz couldn’t make it to Hamburg that day, surprised the audience and Wim Wenders with a video message.

“That wasn’t just a literary adaptation. That was my first, important role,’ says Ganz somewhat mischievously. “Me in a coat with a revolver – that was great cinema!”