Edition 2023


My Polaroid Friends

In late 1976, I shot The American Friend in Hamburg and Paris. It starred Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper and was based on the novel Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith.

At the time, Polaroid pictures corresponded to what you’d nowadays do on your smart phone. Polaroids were the analogue predecessor of instant photography. They truly represented a photographic notebook, only that the cameras spat out printed “originals”. I recorded my location survey and pinned the little prints on the wall of the production office. The script person took Polaroids of every scene for continuity reasons. I photographed my actors during preparation and sometimes in between scenes. And even in the story, Polaroids were used, in our case by Dennis Hopper who played the dubious character of Tom Ripley and who became so much our “American Friend” during the film that we changed its title from Framed to what it has become ever since.

In that scene, Tom Ripley is alone in his big house in the middle of the night and tormented by remorse, because he has manipulated the innocent German craftsman Jonathan Zimmermann (played by Bruno Ganz) into committing a murder. The way he acted out his pain was by taking a series of self-portraits with the help of his SX-70 camera, finally lying down on his pool table and letting the pictures fall down on him like rain. The scene somehow caught an early insight into the narcissist obsession we all later suffered from when we began to take selfies as if it was the most normal thing on earth. Well, it is now. Who would have thought then that we’d even get used to the fact that our cameras have lenses on both sides! That was unthinkable then, when Ripley turned the Polaroid camera on himself like a gun in order to commit suicide.

In another scene Ripley drives his fabulous Thunderbird through Hamburg and records his thoughts on a portable Walkman. Another reminder of the long and inevitable way into the digital realm…

Wim Wenders

With the collaboration of Wim Wenders Foundation, Düsseldorf and Wenders Images

  • Institutional partners

    • République Française
    • Région Provence Alpes Côté d'Azur
    • Département des Bouches du Rhône
    • Arles
    • Le Centre des monuments nationaux est heureux de soutenir les Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles en accueillant des expositions dans l’abbaye de Montmajour
  • Main partners

    • Fondation LUMA
    • BMW
    • SNCF
    • Kering
  • Media partners

    • Arte
    • Lci
    • Konbini
    • Le Point
    • Madame Figaro
    • France Culture