Wim Wenders – Connecting with Wings of Desire.

I’m still a little unsure on what it is I exactly have to do here, Moving Narrative 2 has started and we have been asked to document our screenings on a Tuesday afternoons. At the end we are then asked to create a visual/audio response. This threw me of a little, but then again, it’s made me a lot happier.

Originally I thought Moving Narrative was an attempt to make us reviewers, and to my mind the world has too many as it is. Now I realise it’s about critical viewing, more to this it’s what we take away as filmmakers ourselves, as I expect each member of my class will take something a little different from each film.

Understanding this, I wish to make this writing less about what I liked and what I didn’t like, but more to what I find interesting as a film maker, and what I want to investigate within my own films. What I will be looking at intensively is still being decided. It seems I have two routes I can take, both look at different ways of story telling.

  1. Narrative through camera movement.
  2. Narrative through Sound design and music.

As I am still unsure on which one to pick from I will touch upon both for now.

What film?

Wim Wenders: Wings of Desire

(Wim Wenders, 1997)

wings-of-desire-title-screenshot

The camera work for me was breath-taking, we were told at the start that Wenders took heavily influence from both Tarkovsky and Truffaut. This is evident in Wings of Desire, it felt that every shot, every inch of movement, was  for a reason, not just to produce breathtaking compositions but to help drive the story, help the audience understand the emotions of the characters. All of which I am very interested in discovering.

One angle that is used a lot is the P.O.V shot, it made sense using a shot like this with the flowing movement of the camera, themes of angelic beings is obvious within the film, but it’s in this movement and choice of angle where it is taken to another level. Allowing the audience to almost understand how they see the world, how they moved. Not only this how invisible and isolated they actually were from mortals.

An excellent example of this is used within the library scene, where we are taken across the walkway, whilst in this motion we are met and validated by other angels, only slightly. In doing this we accept as an audience that we  must be taking the stand point of an angel.

WINGS_OF_DESIRE_SE-38

Wenders continues to explore this movement by looking at height, a tracking shot that suddenly rises above a wall and back down almost made me believe this was an unnatural movement, a movement that could not be completed by any human being, but only that of out of this world being, or angel.

This reminded me a lot of an earlier blog post I created on the artist Jem Cohen and his film Lost Book Found (Lost Book Found, 1996), in this post I discussed his use of both high and low angles, in doing this I really got an understanding of a divide. Taking this ideology into wing’s of desire, I feel this beautifully shows the division between immortal and mortal. This is played on throughout the entirety of the film and is a catalyst for Damiel and his longing for mortality.

In the scene containing the suicide, the mortal man goes to the heights, where until now, we have only seen the angels go. As he is looking down his mortality and his fragile existence is shown as clear as day. Eventually he plunges to his death. The angel reacts by carrying out the same action, however it does not feel the same, shots of sporadic and fast camera movements follow, scenes of disturbance and sadness are shown in a quickly paced montage segment. This for me highlights the Angel’s disconnection with pain, emotion, sorrow. Something that they don’t understand due to their dissconection with humanity. Something that Damiel needs. Although they are not completely emotionless I do feel that they are out of touch with mankind, out of touch being the perfect word.

Upon my research I came across an interesting paper that talks about the scene with the dying man, the paper was by Richard Riskin.

In this paper he discusses the subtle camera movement in the bike crash scene, Richard suggests that in this camera movement it may be saying a lot more than just there because it looked pleasing. Alongside this paper he includes and interview he had with both Wim Wenders and the camera operator Agnes Godard. It seems that throughout the interview both parties seem to have a different outlook on what the scene meant as a whole and to them as viewers and individuals.

The camera moves from left to right, and left to right again. Whilst this is happening Damiel is repeating a verse to the dying man, taking him to a place of solitude and somewhat of an understanding of the situation. Richard writes that this could highlight the passing over of the man, from life to death. Almost like a pendulum swing. Wenders explains:

I think it had to do with Damiel’s pain. The scene comes at the end of the driving shot that precedes it. At first, we wanted to do it in one shot, to come around with the driving shot and stop in front of the dying man. And then it turned out that we just couldn’t handle the curve when coming around because the camera was mounted on the front of a camera-car and we couldn’t manage to come around all the way. So we had to devise two shots for what was initially planned as only one.

And then we tried to find a position for the frontal shot and we looked at it from the left and right so that the dying man was either on the left or on the right hand. By going back and forth just to find the position – as I did with my viewfinder, from left to right, and then again from right to left – I thought that going back and forth sort of showed more what Damiel was actually doing, in the way that he is – as the man is dying – that he’s taking him over, so to speak. In a way, in a strange way, this “action” as well as the pain that came with it, were in that camera movement.

But obviously it was hard to explain it and I remember that I discussed it with Agnès [Godard] who was afraid that it wasn’t justified because all the other camera movements were so to speak justified. But I thought that in that particular case, as it was somehow about a transition between life and death, it did translate something: not so much his p.o.v., more a mental attitude. Damiel’s tenderness and his care for the man were in that back-and-forth movement.

Godard however looks at it from a different approach:

I never had a chance to discuss these things with Wim during the shooting; obviously, that would have been impossible. My understanding – and this came afterwards – is that the camera had to move in order not to be dead before the character. That’s what I felt, in the rhythm, like a heartbeat that might stop any moment. But we don’t see it stop, there’s no melodrama here.

When I saw the film, I also loved the cut to the following shot: of the angel filmed in a slightly high angle tracking shot as he walks on the bridge: life went on with that walking, which ends when a train passes, heading elsewhere. Death was part of life.

She continues to say:

Yes, I see. It was somewhat in that sense that I mentioned heartbeats. But like something throbbing. For example, I have on several occasions seen people in psychiatric hospitals, and it is true that that pain is throbbing, sometimes they shift their weight from one foot to another. It’s a little like that. And with that pain, it was not an altogether normal heartbeat. Something was ending. And in fact, cutting to Damiel walking on the bridge was in a sense accepting that [the dying man] has passed away, perhaps… But we don’t see it end. Life goes on, through Damiel, who knew perhaps before anyone else that it was going to end. That’s why we don’t need to see it end.

Each person seems to have a different outlook on the scene, for me this is most defiantly not due to a break down of communication within the set, neither is it messages being too vague, it’s the beauty of having a scene that is flooded with narrative. It seems that each person can take away something different from this scene, not rendering them right or wrong. I tried to accomplish the same, in my recent film Goby. Although I had a very direct connection to the film, one that others would more than likely not get. I wanted them to find their own connection.

In the end Richard goes on to explain it in 6 steps, each step being a movement of the camera.

  1. Dying man’s fragmented thoughts
  2. Damiel recited the invocation
  3. Damiel and the dying man speak the invocation
  4. The dying man alone speaks the invocation
  5. Young man arrives and scolds the onlookers

After this Damiel returns to the bridge where a train track flows underneath, referencing the journey of life and death.

But sound also plays an important part when showing both emotions and diffidence between immortality and mortality. A mixture of both diagetic and non diagetic sound is used to create a drowning sensation, a tension that builds through out the piece. Thoughts of constant worry through Wenders 80’s Berlin, soon become tiresome. This is the only moment where I started to feel emotion towards the Angels, a sympathy for their tiresome battle against the foley of mankind, and there want to accomplish good. A scene where the Angel is perched upon the statue, he feels the need to block his ears.

images

Music is a present divide between the two. Angelic strings, choirs are heard bellowing out over Berlin, I can’t help feel it’s somewhat wasted over the muddiness of Berlin, as if the music and imagery do not match. Instead the mortals are listening to raw and visceral music, shown by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. In someway this makes me feel the Angels are misunderstood and furthermore disconnected.

I have enjoyed discovering and looking into Wings of Desire, although not a film I came away from feeling amazed, I understand how it ties in with my fascination of telling narrative and emotion instead of dialoge. From here I will start deciding on which way I want to go with my project, but I feel either one will be an interesting journey.

Reference:

6 Richard Raskin, “It’s Images You Can Trust Less and Less. An Interview with Wim Wenders on Wings of Desire,”(Pré)publications 145 (October 1994), pp. 23-34.

Richard Raskin, “Faire vivre les images. Une interview avec Agnès Godard sur Les ailes du désir.” (Pré)publications 142 (février 1994), pp. 42-56. Agnès Godard was Wenders’s camera assistant for Der Stand der Dinge (The State of Things) in 1981 and Paris Texas in 1984. She served as camera operator for Wenders’s Wings of Desire (1986) and Peter Greenaway’s The Belly of an Architect (1987), and more recently as director of photography for such directors as Agnès Varda, Peter Handke and Claire Denis.

Wings of Desire. 1987. Directed by Wim Wenders. West Germany: Basis-Film-Verleigh gmbh. [Film]. 

Lost Book Found. 1996. Directed by Jem Cohen. USA: New York Foundation of Arts. [Film]

Raskin, Richard. “Faire vivre les images. Une interview avec Agnès Godard sur Les ailes du désir.” (Pré)publications 142 (February 1994), pp. 42-56.

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