Wings of Desire

by Chris Bertram on May 10, 2004

Following recommendations from a number of CT readers, I watched Wim Wenders’s beautiful Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) on DVD last night. Ausgezeichnet! (or, maybe, splendid! ). No doubt everyone but me has seen it already, but I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t, so, by way of recommendation, I’ll just say that some lines from Dennis Potter’s final interview came into my head whilst watching it, and have stayed there. Potter, facing death from cancer, spoke thusly:

I can celebrate life. Below my window there’s an apple tree in blossom. It’s white. And looking at it — instead of saying, ‘Oh, that’s a nice blossom’ — now, looking at it through the window, I see the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be. The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous. If you see the present tense — boy, do you see it. And boy, do you celebrate it.

{ 23 comments }

1

Scott Martens 05.10.04 at 10:50 am

I had no idea you hadn’t seen it. It was the very first movie I ever watched in German and the first Wim Wenders film I ever saw. I’ve been a confirmed Wenders addict ever since.

2

James Russell 05.10.04 at 12:32 pm

It was my first Wenders too, and it’s the only Wenders film I’ve ever liked (with the possible exception of The American Friend; I might have enjoyed that more had the print I saw not had a peculiar orange tint that I don’t think was specified by the director).

I suspect I liked it as much as I did because I first saw it at an age when I was much more receptive than I am now to that sort of film. If I were to discover it now for the first time I don’t know if I’d be so keen on it… indeed I’ve not watched it in ages and am not sure if I’d still like it now. Must dig it out and see.

3

andrew 05.10.04 at 12:49 pm

I’ve only seen Until the End of the World by Wenders, and it wasn’t in German.

I liked it a lot, but I’m easily entertained.

4

raj 05.10.04 at 1:09 pm

I’m glad that you liked it. My boyfriend and I saw it in the theaters when it came out and both of us thought it was one of the most boring movies we had ever seen.

By point of contrast, both of us liked the Fassbinder movies of the early 1980s, which we also saw in theaters. And all of the movies were in German.

5

Russell Arben Fox 05.10.04 at 1:17 pm

Good for you Chris. Clearly, it’s Wenders’s greatest film. And wasn’t the use of Peter Falk simply genius? Having seen the movie, I can’t think of another American actor who could have performed the function of indirectly emphasizing how the transcendent (indeed everything) is present in the humble and everyday moment in that atmospheric film nearly as well.

6

pepi 05.10.04 at 1:45 pm

Nice! both the film, and the quote.

Now be sure to never, ever watch the awful US remake with Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan, not even by mistake. Actually, you should make sure you never watch _any_ film with Cage and Ryan in it, not even by mistake. I did, and I regret it so much you have no idea.

You might like the Wenders sequel though. Very nice soundtrack as well. With that equally splendid U2 video directed by Wenders.

7

pepi 05.10.04 at 1:48 pm

ah yes, Peter Falk, absolutely stunning in there. I’d forgot about that.

Now you’ve made me want to watch it again!

8

Matt 05.10.04 at 3:19 pm

What do folks who liked “WoD” think of “Far Away, So Close”, the sequel? My understanding is that it’s usually thought to be much less good, and that it won awards largely to make up for not giving them to WoD. I have a short bit of free time now so have been thinking of watching it, and would be happy for advice.

9

Martin O'Neill 05.10.04 at 4:38 pm

Unfortunately, ‘Faraway, So Close’ is rubbish.

10

Russell Arben Fox 05.10.04 at 5:10 pm

I think the (primary) problem with “Faraway, So Close” was that Wenders either misunderstood or thought he’d gotten beyond what made transcendence palpable in the first film: the fact that his angels (who had watched over Berlin forever, who knew every citizen and every nook and cranny and were simply there, part of the atmosphere and infrastructure) were right next door to the quotidian; hence when one of them “falls” into the everyday it makes continuity itself something wonderful, absent any shattering message or insight or revelation. Whereas the fallen angel is “FSC” has to do something, make sense of the new post-Berlin Wall world, cobble something together, come to some decisions, play a role. A typical human story, in other words, rather than a view of the meaning of such.

(Incidentally, this is probable why “City of Angels” never could have worked, even if they hadn’t completely junked the fundamental perspective of “WoD”: I doubt Los Angeles ever could be visually presented as the sort of place where people–mortals or angels–are part of a larger, deeper continuity; the very ambience and environment of the place screams transience and action, not reflection.)

11

No Preference 05.10.04 at 5:44 pm

Chris, I thought that Joseph Vilsmaier’s The Harmonists, about a mixed Jewish / non-Jewish vocal group in Germany during the runup to World War II was witty and beautifully filmed. Did anyone else see it?

12

dedee 05.10.04 at 6:43 pm

i rented it because it was on an AP list of the best 10 films of the last decade [80s?].

it’s been #1 on my list ever since: it’s like dreaming while awake. a flying trapeze artist is perfect

thanks for the reminder & memories, as a brief respite from the nightmare of current “reality”

13

Another Damned Medievalist 05.10.04 at 7:41 pm

I didn’t think FSC was so awful, but then I saw it as the other side of WOD. It didn’t work nearly as well, but it worked in some ways. As for Until the End of the World, I thought it was slow, but I really liked it. Maybe it appealed to the cyberpunk globalist in me. Plus, it had a fantastic soundtrack.

14

The Goddess 05.10.04 at 8:19 pm

My first Wenders film was “Faraway, So Close”. Whoever said it was rubbish is full of rubbish himself. The scene in which Bruno Ganz swings on the bungee cords, the expression on his face of pure joy and freedom, brought tears to my eyes. As soon as I finished the rented film I bought the DVD. I also own “Wings” too.

15

Martin 05.10.04 at 11:11 pm

I’m glad that ‘the goddess’ enjoyed ‘Far Away, So Close’, but it seemed to me that it had little to recommend it. Where ‘Wings of Desire’ showed, ‘FSC’ merely said. Where the first was graceful and transcendent, the second was clunky and literal-minded.

So, I think one need not be full of rubbish to descibe FSC as rubbish. WOD, of course, is, indeed, splendid.

16

Willie Mink 05.11.04 at 3:27 am

What, no applause for Paris, Texas?!

Actually, my favorite Wenders film is Notebook on Cities and Clothes, which made me realize, among other things, that fashion can reach the level of art, and that clothes really can make the man (and the woman). I bought it and have watched it from time to time, about 5 times now.

17

Mr Ripley 05.11.04 at 7:03 am

Congratulations, Chris. I saw Wings when it was released, and then a few years later in my rust-belt hometown, where many audience members who I feared would think it boring were fascinated by it. Und jetzt, und jetzt, und jetzt . . . I don’t recall having thought of FSC as a bad movie, just ordinary and forgettable by comparision with the brilliance of WoD. Maybe Ganz’s character and his struggle are just more interesting than the other fellow’s? Maybe sequels with Lou Reed in them are cursed to be duller than their predecessors(vide Blue in the Face)?

Pseudonym like I use, you might expect me to admire American Friend. And Alice in the Cities is a charmer, for such lines as the little girl’s Warum hasst du angst-angst (Why are you a phobophobe)?

18

Travis 05.11.04 at 7:16 am

Say what you must about FSC, but it is the only place to catch Lou Reed’s performance of “Why Can’t I Be Good” — surely one of his best post-Velvets compositions. And love to Paris, Texas. Stellar.

19

James Russell 05.11.04 at 10:20 am

I’ve made a point of not seeing FSC cos I enjoyed the original film so much that I fear watching the sequel would damage my feelings towards the original. I have the soundtrack album, though.

No love for Paris Texas here either, sorry. Tried it twice and never seen it through to the end yet. I’ll never understand why Wenders didn’t shoot it in Scope, either.

20

aisling 05.11.04 at 5:53 pm

Hey Chris,
Something else you might try to get your german up to speed in the most painless way possible: Brecht/Weil’s Threepenny Opera (with Lotta Lenya singing). It’s funny and the german is really clear. The music isn’t really my cup of tea but it sort of grows on you.
Viel Spass, du !

21

aisling 05.11.04 at 5:55 pm

Woops – That’s Weill (with two l’s)

22

Chris Bertram 05.12.04 at 9:17 am

Thanks Aisling. An old favourite of mine, in fact (including the music). But I haven’t gone back to it since I started (re)learning German.

23

A pedant 05.12.04 at 9:21 pm

Mr Ripley:

“Warum hasst du angst-angst?” actually means “Why do you hate phobophobia?”…:)

And, by the way, the word “jetzt” means “now”.

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