Wings of Desire

January 15, 2010

We’re called Camera.  The relation between our love of music is as strong as our love of film, literature, and most other forms of art…I’m looking at you, mimes!  Up your game, dammit!  We have video games now and people on the moon!

Last night I flipped back and forth through my Netflix instant queue, going past movies I’ve gone past what seems like hundreds of times.  When I landed on Wim Wenders 1987 masterpiece Wings of Desire, I thought, “oh hell” and put it right on.

From the second it started the movie, I was sucked in by the films tone and striking visuals.  The most I knew about Wenders before this was that Million Dollar Hotel was supposed to be awful, he directed a movie called Mystery Train, and he was the topic of a few sentence structuring exercises in my freshman year German workbook.  Minutes into Wings of Desire, I was shocked that I hadn’t had this film recommended to me before as it seemed like a touchstone in the development of modern foreign film.

In fact, I immediately started to recognize the movie because I realised that it had been lampooned countless numbers of times (never as good as in the remake attempt called City of Angels with Nic Cage) in shows I grew up on such as Kids in the Hall, the Simpsons, and Family Guy.  It’s a black and white movie about angels in Berlin reading people’s thoughts and a lot of people seem to think in poetic verses (the film itself was co-written by celebrated poet Peter Handke) .  I loved it, well, because it’s a movie and you’re allowed to do whatever you want as long as it works.  In a black and white movie about angels set in the Berlin wall era Germany, people can think in poetry and it seems normal!  Though, I did think of the scene in Family Guy where the local news anchor says she did some independent film and then it cuts to her smoking in slow motion in a black and white film while a clown flips a pancake as he stares into the camera.

I digress…always.

No description of this film will do it justice because it is truly something that must be seen.  The story itself is too simple to work as a novel or any other of the written mediums.  I think I enjoyed it so much because it had to be a film, and that’s something I respect tremendously, especially in a day and age where books and comics are mined for material on a more than constant basis.

The performances in this film are heart-wrenching.  Bruno Ganz (from Herzog’s Nosferatu and he plays Hitler in the movie Downfall, the clip on the internet where you can watch the furor rant and rave about Avatar or the Cubs or any other number of things) is amazing, delivering one of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time.  The best part of his performance is that he barely speaks and no one can see him.  He portrays the angel Damiel like he truly is invisible, without making the character seem lonely or sad.  In fact, he portrays him as delightfully amused, something of an opposite to his partner, Cassiel.  Cassiel carries out his job with passion and care, but it is a distant concern that lacks curiosity.  When a young man leaps to his death, Cassiel is pained greatly, but no part of him wants to understand what it is to be human, something that drives Damiel.

And who helps Ganz along the way?  Peter freakin’ Falk.  And do you know who Peter Falk plays in this arty foreign film?  Peter freakin’ Falk!  And it works!  It more than works!  It becomes a necessity at some point in the film.

Without going on and giving too much away about the film itself, I must say that I really enjoy ‘international’ films. Inglourious Basterds from 2009, Wings of Desire from 1987, and The Grand Illusion from 1937 all include speaking roles in French, German, and English from one to another at any time.  They all include segments where no subtitles are given, intentionally leaving a non-native speaker in the dark in a purely intentional sense.  Even though the first film I listed there is over 70 years old, this truly seems like the wave of the future as the world is drawn closer together via social networking and the internet, giving the world more of an eclectic scope.

In some way, this gentle collision of cultures reminds me of why Gorillaz Demon Days works so well as an album, but that’s another entry entirely…

So, German angels with pony tails in dark trench coats, Peter Falk plays himself, the soundtrack is so amazing, Nick Cave performs not one, but three songs live and in the flesh (having his mind read by an angel as well.  “Only one more song” he thinks on-stage, something I can directly relate to!), and most of all it’s a love story, but not in the cheesy sense we’ve come to perceive that genre. The angel Damiel may have eyes for the trapeze artist Marion, but it is humanity and all the sensations that come with it that he is in love with.

I’ve said a lot here, but again, Wings of Desire is not meant to be broken down as words on a page, but it is something that is meant to be viewed.  I just watched it less than twelve hours ago and I’m ordering the Blu-ray to watch again right now.

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