Poor Bruno Ganz has left the planet at age 77. Launched by Wim Wenders as the king of European ennui and weltschmerz in The American Friend, and then re-fortified ten years later as a mortality-envying angel in Wings of Desire. 14 years ago Ganz scored big-time as Adolf Hitler in Oliver Hirschbiegel‘s Downfall, and then acquired everlasting life on YouTube via those hundreds of Hitler parodies.
Those were the four big hits of Ganz’s life. He made tons and tons of crap, but what actor doesn’t? He costarred in Terrence Malick‘s Radegund, which may or may not be released this year — with Malick you never know. For me Ganz was always the kindly, soulful gloom guy. Born in ’41, mostly a stage actor for his first 15 or 20 years in the trade. Born and died in Zurich, which is a great city in more ways than I’d care to mention right now.
We met only once, during a Los Angeles Downfall press encounter. Instant kinship. Ganz seemed to recognize or at least sense my German ancestry on my mother’s side, or so I told myself. A twinkle in his eye, a hint of a smile.
I strongly identified with The American Friend when I first saw it at the 1977 New York Film Festival. “Jesus, that’s me up there,” I thought as I gazed from my 17th row seat at Alice Tully Hall. “That’s my life, my soul…everything churning inside.”
I was half Ganz and half Dennis Hopper, I decided. I loved the metaphor of Ganz’s Jonathan Zimmerman — vulnerable, thoughtful, gentle currents, European craftsmanship — but I identified more with Hopper’s Tom Ripley because (I’m not happy admitting this) of the polaroid-taking scene on top of the pool table, and because Ripley was a hustler and a survivor, and because of that cowboy hat.
Which is why I decided to become Ripley, in a sense, when Mark Frenden re-did that American Friend poster three years ago. But Bruno was right there with me, in a sense. He was my “friend” and spiritual comrade, a guy I understood and cared for as far as it went, etc.