Wim Wenders' recent visit to Melbourne took me back to the time when I first saw Wings of Desire (1987). It was the year Australia celebrated its bicentennial, Glasnost and Perestroika had taken hold in the USSR, and George Bush Senior took over the Republican reins from Ronald Reagan. It was also the year I first travelled to Europe. So, 1988 was a year of significant change for me and, I guess, for many others.
Last March, I attended a 'fire side chat' with Wim Wenders at Melbourne's Federation Square, keen to hear what he had to say about the current state of creative expression in film-making. The session kicked off with a question worthy of Wenders' creative and moral stature. Was America's colonization of the subconscious, as predicted in his 1976 film Kings of The Road, now complete?
Wenders feared that more than just the subconscious had been colonized. Although he did not elaborate, it emerged throughout the conversation that he had in mind America's influence on the changing nature of the storytelling process.
For my generation, the influence of American 'cultural colonization' goes back to the early 1970s when many of us watched countless American films and television shows, dating as far back as the 1960s, on our black and white TV sets. For me, foreigners, as represented by Hollywood, were American actors who spoke English with strange accents.
Strangely, growing up in a post-war migrant Melbourne suburb did little to dispel this perception. After all, the German lady on the other side of our backyard fence could have passed as a 'real' Australian if it wasn't for her peculiar accent. Her English was good--much better than my parents'--and her garden, unlike ours, was no different to the one tended by the Anglo spinster's across the road. Unlike us, she appeared to belong.
My family didn't have much to do with non-Greeks in our street mainly because my parents worked a lot and my grandparents couldn't speak English. And even if they could, their accents would have got in the way. So it was easier for each to keep to their respective sides of the grey paling fence, which brought about a social isolation often described by my grandmother as a lifeless prison.
My grandparents left Greece in the mid-1960s to join their children and grandchildren in a place they hardly knew, only to have half an eye fixed on a speck of land nestled deep in an obscure southern Peloponnesian valley, which they regularly returned to through the stories they related to me and my sister.
Like spirits we dreamed our way into my grandmothers' journeys and floated along archaic paths that led to timeworn homes brimming with life. We drifted through the crumbling church on the rise, and descended on the village square where my grandfather shared stories with the local men. My grandmother often concluded her stories at the vrissi (the communal well) where the village women met to collect ground water and share gossip.
Unlike the polished Hollywood war films, as seen by us decades later on our television screen half way around the world, my grandparents' accounts of war were heart felt. Their stories were often desperate, at times warm--even humorous, but always hopeful. Their stories, unlike the ones that came out of America, were created for a special audience: their grandchildren.
These stories allowed us to dream out of our suburban isolation to a place that existed somewhere else. But unlike my grandparents, it didn't matter to me or my sister whether the mythical place was an antiquated Greek village, or the place that gave us I love Lucy, The Three Stooges, or Bugs Bunny. As long as we were transported out of suburbia to a mythical place, we were happy.
So, I understood when Wenders spoke about his childhood fascination for a mythical place called America. It was for him, as it was for many children growing up in Australia during the 1970s, 'a place where the real fun and the real world existed'. …