Viel Passiert – Der BAP Film



Ode To Cologne – a Rock n Roll Film : Germany 2002 : Wim Wenders : 96 mins

After his abortive fictional feature Million Dollar Hotel (1999), Wenders returns to the musical-documentary terrain of his last hit, Buena Vista Social Club (1999), a worldwide phenomenon which nearly brought the director his first Oscar. On the back of that success, he sold his post-production house for a reported $20m, giving him the liberty to pursue whatever film project he chooses. It’s probably safe to say he need never work again – and, on the evidence of Viel Passiert, a documentary about his favourite Cologne folk-rock combo, he would do us all a favour if he packed up right now.

Because while Buena Vista reached a global audience, it’s hard to imagine Viel exerting much appeal beyond the confines of the band’s home town – the cringingly awful Anglo title ‘Ode to Cologne’ is hardly going to help it. Wenders shows a similar level of imagination (zero) in the film itself, which alternates a series of present-day live performances from the band and flashbacks to their earlier history. The lazy framing device sees front-man Wolfgang Niedecken wander into an empty old-style moviehouse (the Lichtburg in Essen) where he falls asleep in a balcony seat. We see a sexy young usherette preparing for her evening’s work, while upstairs a projectionist reads his book, and signpainter is working on a billboard advertising ‘Vill Passiert’ (sic). As Niedecken naps, his memories fill the screen.

Wenders seems not to appreciate the irony of making a film in which the main ‘character’ snoozes in a cinema – many viewers may be tempted to follow Niedecken’s example. Because while there’s nothing drastically wrong with BAP’s sub-Jimmy-Nail music, they’re a very long way from the cutting edge, and we never get the impression that this is a band worthy of such reverential treatment. What we do get is their half-assed cover of The Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’ in full – a disastrous misjudgement on the part of both Niedecken and Wenders, whose preoccupations seem to have barely evolved over the 30 years since his Kinks-tribute debut feature, Summer in the City.

Creatively redundant? Moi?It’s easy to see why the director reacts so favourably to BAP – like him, Niedecken is a product of Germany’s post-war generation whose subconscious was, in Wenders’ famous phrase, ‘colonised’ by the victorious Americans who filled the nation’s sudden cultural vacuum. During his mid-70s golden era of Wenders explored this colonisation into fascinating films like Kings of the Road and The American Friend – but BAP’s treatment of the same issue is crashingly banal (“It’s paradise, over there,” he yawls, as we see black and white footage of grinning GIs on the Cologne streets).

Unfortunately, Wenders now seems to be operating on a similar level: his presentation of the musical numbers would have looked dated on MTV in the mid-80s, and there’s precious little in the way of context or serious analysis. We never actually find out what the letters BAP stand for, nor is there any comment on the way the membership of the outfit keeps changing over the years – we only really hear from Niedecken himself. The cumulative result is to convince the viewer not only of Wenders’ current creative redundancy but also, perhaps, of the entire German generation for whom he presumes to speak.

17th March, 2002
(seen 13th February, Cinemaxx Berlin – Berlin Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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