Directors often begin their careers with short documentaries on themes that engage them personally. A few keep their affection for this format even after making the grade as feature filmmakers. Examples include Martin Scorsese and Werner Herzog, who have made vivid nonfiction movies during interludes between major projects. Wim Wenders joined their ranks in 1982 with a pair of eccentric documentaries, which are only now having their theatrical premi`eres at the Film Forum in New York. Both recall the moody, introspective atmosphere of Wenders's other pictures.
``Reverse Angle: NYC March '82'' is a diary film -- the first in a planned series of ``journal-like shorts'' that will someday be combined into a feature. Running a mere 17 minutes, it chronicles the gray period in Wenders's life when he arrived in New York to finish ``Hammett,'' his unsuccessful Hollywood debut picture. As the camera dogs his trail through lonely subway rides and futile editing sessions, his narration muses on sundry topics. Today's movies ``look more and more like their own trailers.'' TV is ``the poison ivy of the eyes.'' Wenders was clearly not in a merry mood that March.
The other Wenders documentary, ``Chambre 666,'' also looks at cinema and related subjects. During the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, he set up a camera in an empty hotel room and invited some filmmakers to drop in and deliver their thoughts on the future (if any) of motion pictures. Most of the visitors do about what you'd expect: Jean-Luc Godard utters a cryptic lecture; Michelangelo Antonioni discourses on technology; and so on. Part of the fun is guessing who'll be the first guest to switch off the TV set that flickers distractingly at one side of the screen. Interestingly, most of the visually sophisticated professionals don't seem to notice that it's stealing their scene.
Filling out the Film Forum's bill of ``films on filmmaking'' is ``A Short Confession by Luis Buuel,'' in which the late director shares memories and reflections with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carri`ere, one of his collaborators. Shot about five years ago, the movie finds the 80-year-old Buuel in a cheerful and talkative mood, firing off one anecdote after another. Most of them will be familiar to readers of his evocative autobiography, ``My Last Sigh,'' and filmmaker Martine Lefevre shoots him in monotonously looming close-ups that don't suit his breezy manner. But it's pleasant to be reminded of Buuel's brilliant career and to spend a vicarious 30 minutes in his irreverent presence.
``A Short Confession'' will share the Film Forum screen with the Wenders films through Feb. 5.