Nearly a decade ago I was blessed with a miraculous experience: watching Wim Wenders’ romantic fantasy film Wings of Desire (1987) on the Turner Classic Movies channel. Even though I was young – around 13, I believe – I could see how amazing the film was. (I was not always so perceptive at that age when it came to understanding movies made outside of the United States.) In a way I wonder if it was because of how much I loved the film after that one viewing that I have not yet seen the entire film for a second time. Perhaps it was a subconscious wish to leave the memory of it unsullied. I also have not seen any of Wenders’ other films, another thing I ought to do something about.
I remember being so taken with Solveig Dommartin, whose beauty, acting and physical gracefulness intertwined to create such a dazzling onscreen presence in her performance as the lonesome yet hopeful aerialist Marion. I was quite saddened when Dommartin passed away suddenly from cardiac arrest in 2007, aged only 45. It was obvious that Wenders had filmed her with a real passion and admiration.
Back in January 2014 I caught the last half hour of Wings of Desire late one night on TCM. It was my first time seeing any part of the film since that initial viewing so many years earlier. When the film got to the Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds concert scene, in which the band plays “The Carny” and the signature song “From Her to Eternity,” I stopped and took notice. All of a sudden I was seeing and hearing in a new way; I was paying attention to something that, for whatever reason, had not impacted me in the same way when I was a young teenager. If not for this moment, and for looking at still photographs from this scene again on Wim Wenders’ birthday this past August, I might never have decided to go see 20,000 Days on Earth when it played at the Film Forum in September.
In the early morning hours two days ago, I again saw a small part of Wings of Desire on TCM (yes, that wonderful channel). This time I saw the scene in which the band Crime & the City Solution perform “Six Bells Chime.” What I wouldn’t give to be able to sway to some divine sounds in a smoky Berlin nightclub! Not only am I now a fan of the music that Wenders incorporates – and given that this is my own blog, I will not miss any opportunity to promote the sonic magnificence of Rowland S. Howard – I also have a much stronger appreciation of the cinematography by Henri Alekan. (Side note: last month I saw Alekan’s most famous photographic effort, Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, for the first time since French class when I was 13. This seems to be a trend.) Additionally, I now recognize the significance of Wings’ look in the context of what Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger did with their film A Matter of Life and Death (1946), which also paints the living world in color and the afterlife in black-and-white.
I also got to see the scene in which Peter Falk, who is essentially playing himself, has a conversation with Bruno Ganz, who, since his character is an angel, is invisible to Falk. Falk can feel Ganz’s presence, though, and proceeds to explain all the things that are so great about being mortal. I really love that scene, maybe more than any other in the film.
I can’t wait to see Wings of Desire again, this time from the beginning. The next chance I get, I’ll buy the Criterion Collection DVD and revel in all its cinematic glory. Great films deserve to be revisited – or visited the first time, if you are not already familiar with them.