San Francisco Zephyr

On June 8, 1979, Bastian Cleve received for the second time (the first was in 1978), the coveted National Film Prize from the West German government for Am Wegesrand (Along The Road), which is part of his feature film San Francisco Zephyr, a film based on Cleve's train trip with his wife across the United States. Within what is generally called the New German Cinema, Cleve is among those filmmakers working in a very personal, often formalistic, experimental style, quite outside of the narrative trend represented by Herzog, Wenders, etc. In spite of his independence of the commercial film industry, Cleve's films are by no means inaccessible to the general public - their formalism does not preclude emotion or sensuousness.
For example, the images seen from the train's windows are not only preserved but enhanced by Cleve's technique which is based on manipulation of optical printing. A rodeo cowboy lassoing a calf is transformed in time and image until lasso and calf become the same. Tourists fade in and out before the camera, dissolving into the atmosphere in a schematic restlessness, which somehow heightens the grandeur of silent mountain peaks and glacier panoramas. There are some 80,000 continuous exposures in San Francisco Zephyr, and one would be hard put to discover a macro-structure which organizes the film and gives it its formal elegance. Cleve's loving approach to the images captured, reworked by optical printing of the most sophisticated nature, makes the whole trip from New York to San Francisco an exhibition, a “National Monument.”

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