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Wings of Desire (1987)

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I have had the Faraway, So Close DVD on a shelf for a few years. Every time I put it in I just don't seem to make it very far. One of these days though, one of these days. So, are we saying it is worth the time to watch? It just doesn't seem to pull me in.

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That and Until the End of the World kind of have a different feel from Wenders' other films, but both are worth sticking with... until the end.

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Thanks for the encouragement, Mike. Although, I think all of Wender's films have a common sense of a tender and introspective slowness. I would throw Million Dollar Hotel into that mix as well.

Also, my apologies to Peter for posting the Faraway, So Close comment in the Wings of Desire thread. It just hot me.

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My experience with Wenders:

The Marvels: Wings of Desire, Paris Texas, Buena Vista Social Club

Films with High Highs and Low Lows: The Million Dollar Hotel and A History The End of Violence both have great rewards and embarrassing stumbles. Until the End of the World is a sprawling mess of a movie that has as many great ideas as half-baked notions, and I love it. The long version will try your patience, though.

Small-Scale Achievements Worth Seeing: Don't Come Knocking, Land of Plenty, My American Friend

The Consistently Frustrating: Faraway So Close

Edited by Overstreet

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Is that The End of Violence?

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Excellent. You have passed my test.

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Jonathan Rosenbaum has re-posted his original 3-star review from way back in 1988:

Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are angels who hover over, swoop, across, and cruise through contemporary Berlin in Wim Wenders’s new feature, eavesdropping on the thoughts of the city’s inhabitants like readers browsing through the books in a library. They are not angels in the conventional sense of blessed or fallen souls; rather they are more or less the angels of Rilke’s poetry — the imaginary beings that dominate his first two Duino Elegies and that, according to Rilke, have more to do with “the angelic figures of Islam” than they do with Christianity.

All of which may make Wings of Desire seem esoteric and forbidding to moviegoers who, like me, have only a glancing acquaintance with Rilke, speak no German, and have never before heard of “the angelic figures of Islam.” But in fact, as long as Damiel and Cassiel remain Rilkean angels, Wenders uses them to create a seductive poetry of his own that may be more accessible to American audiences than anything he has done since The American Friend (1977); at least the film’s unforeseen commercial success in New York and Los Angeles seems to suggest as much. Ironically, it is only after one of these angels, Damiel, falls in love with a mortal and forsakes his angelic status to meet her as a human that the film gets into trouble. . . .

The two most conspicuous thematic failings of Wenders’s work have been his refusal to grapple directly with political issues and an inability to persuasively handle male-female relationships involving full-grown women who think, talk, and exist independently of their men and without benefit of pedestals. Although East Berlin, the Berlin Wall, migrant workers, and the Nazi era all figure in the physical landscapes of Wings of Desire, efforts to deal with any of them politically are excluded even from the internal monologues, and the angels themselves are clearly “above” such matters. The absence of female angels and their own view of Berlin is equally significant. The deepest unspoken relationships in Wenders’s films usually exist either between men or between men and children; the rapport between Damiel and Cassiel in Wings of Desire is emblematic of this pattern. The climactic confrontation of Nastassia Kinski and Harry Dean Stanton separated by a two-way mirror in Paris, Texas is indicative of both Wenders’s desire to break this pattern and his inability (so far) to do so.

Marion and Damiel may not be physically separated by a two-way mirror, but their abstract rhetoric about love in general (admittedly hampered by the translation of very literary German into English subtitles) performs the same function, and there is not even the link of a shared past and child (as in Paris, Texas) to bind the two lovers together. Ending Wings of Desire with “To be continued . . .” is a little bit like marking this newly formed love match as a subject for future research. In terms of what we see and hear, the relationship is purely hypothetical and has nothing lived or worked-through about it. The overall switch from black and white to color is finally disheartening not because the film’s documentary strengths have given way to fiction, but because the fiction itself is so meager and shopworn — another Hollywood romance, like One From the Heart.

On the other hand, as long as Wings of Desire stays aloft on its exhilarating wings of pure possibility, the past of Berlin as well as its present has an undeniable vibrancy and immediacy. Even when the film touches ground, the charismatic earthiness of Falk, the haunted memories of Homer, and the solitude of Marion all give the city some emotional foundation. It’s only when Damiel becomes a mensch that the film’s fairy-tale precepts — which at their best evoke Cocteau’s Orphee — become reductive and jejune.

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Just watched this (mostly) again and am struck by how much this film is about Berlin. Its all walls and courtyards and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on the Kudamm and emptied lots. I am not sure what Rosenbaum's getting at with the comment regarding the inability of Wenders to grapple with the political stuff, because the whole film just seems to shout out: "Tear down this wall! Let us be whole again!".

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Just watched this (mostly) again and am struck by how much this film is about Berlin. Its all walls and courtyards and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on the Kudamm and emptied lots. I am not sure what Rosenbaum's getting at with the comment regarding the inability of Wenders to grapple with the political stuff, because the whole film just seems to shout out: "Tear down this wall! Let us be whole again!".

And what of the sequel, Faraway, So Close! (do we really not have a thread devoted to that film? A search came up empty), which was made after the wall did fall?

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Just watched this (mostly) again and am struck by how much this film is about Berlin. Its all walls and courtyards and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on the Kudamm and emptied lots. I am not sure what Rosenbaum's getting at with the comment regarding the inability of Wenders to grapple with the political stuff, because the whole film just seems to shout out: "Tear down this wall! Let us be whole again!".

The original German is Der Himmel uber Berlin (The Sky/Heaven over Berlin).

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I know nothing about the sequel other than what I've read from comments in this thread--from them, I gathered its not as strong? And of course, the interesting thing about the sky over Berlin is that it is not confined by a border, but moves and goes as it pleases.

What was up with Nick Cave in this film? I could barely make out a word he was singing, and since I don't know much about him except that he wrote "The Proposition" in two weeks, I didn't catch the significance.

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Buckeye Jones wrote:

: I know nothing about the sequel other than what I've read from comments in this thread--from them, I gathered its not as strong?

That's my recollection, yeah. I saw the two films on a double-bill in the mid-'90s and thought there was a bit of a drop-off in quality, plus the second film was more plot-heavy than the first, as I recall.

: And of course, the interesting thing about the sky over Berlin is that it is not confined by a border, but moves and goes as it pleases.

Oh, excellent point.

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I personally think the second film is awful. And yes, much heavier plot, which makes it no fun compared to Wings of Desire.

I don't know that Nick Cave has significance other than he was in an attended concert and the vibe of the song was perfect for the creepy underlying backdrop in that moment. Could be, too, that Wenders was trying to give him more exposure. And he did -- this is the first place I ever saw him, and I've been a fan since.

I am only guessing at the "significance." It's been too many years since I've seen it, I really need to revisit it soon. But here are the lyrics, for the record:

"The Carny"

And no-one saw the carny go

And the weeks flew by

Until they moved on the show

Leaving his caravan behind

It was parked out on the south east ridge

And as the company crossed the bridge

With the first rain filling the bone-dry river bed

It shone, just so, upon the edge

Away, away, we're sad, they said

Dog-boy, atlas, half-man, the geeks, the hired hands

There was not one among them that did not cast an eye behind

In the hope that the carny would return to his own kind

And the carny had a horse, all skin and bone

A bow-backed nag, that he named "Sorrow"

How it is buried in a shallow grave

In the then parched meadow

And the dwarves were given the task of digging the ditch

And laying the nag's carcass in the ground

And boss Bellini, waving his smoking pistol around

saying "The nag is dead meat"

"We caint afford to carry dead weight"

The whole company standing about

Not making a sound

And turning to dwarves perched on the enclosure gate

The boss says "Bury this lump of crow bait"

And thean the rain came

Everybody running for their wagons

Tying all the canvas flaps down

The mangy cats crowling in ther cages

The bird-girl flapping and squawking around

The whole valley reeking of wet beast

Wet beast and rotten hay

Freak and brute creation

Packed up and on their way

The three dwarves peering from their wagon's hind

Moses says to Noah "We shoulda dugga deepa one"

Their grizzled faces like dying moons

Still dirty from the digging done

And as the company passed from the valley

Into a higher ground

The rain beat on the ridge and on the meadow

And on the mound

Until nothing was left, nothing at all

Except the body of Sorrow

That rose in time

To float upon the surface of the eaten soil

And a murder of crows did circle round

First one, then the others flapping blackly down

And the carny's van still sat upon the edge

Tilting slowly as the firm ground turned to sludge

And the rain it hammered down

And no-one saw the carny go

I say it's funny how things go

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I may be wrong, but I don't think those were the lyrics--the song at the end kept repeating something about "eternity", like from "her to eternity" or "from hell to eternity".

I personally think the second film is awful. And yes, much heavier plot, which makes it no fun compared to Wings of Desire.

I don't know that Nick Cave has significance other than he was in an attended concert and the vibe of the song was perfect for the creepy underlying backdrop in that moment. Could be, too, that Wenders was trying to give him more exposure. And he did -- this is the first place I ever saw him, and I've been a fan since.

I am only guessing at the "significance." It's been too many years since I've seen it, I really need to revisit it soon. But here are the lyrics, for the record:

"The Carny"

And no-one saw the carny go

And the weeks flew by

Until they moved on the show

Leaving his caravan behind

It was parked out on the south east ridge

And as the company crossed the bridge

With the first rain filling the bone-dry river bed

It shone, just so, upon the edge

Away, away, we're sad, they said

Dog-boy, atlas, half-man, the geeks, the hired hands

There was not one among them that did not cast an eye behind

In the hope that the carny would return to his own kind

And the carny had a horse, all skin and bone

A bow-backed nag, that he named "Sorrow"

How it is buried in a shallow grave

In the then parched meadow

And the dwarves were given the task of digging the ditch

And laying the nag's carcass in the ground

And boss Bellini, waving his smoking pistol around

saying "The nag is dead meat"

"We caint afford to carry dead weight"

The whole company standing about

Not making a sound

And turning to dwarves perched on the enclosure gate

The boss says "Bury this lump of crow bait"

And thean the rain came

Everybody running for their wagons

Tying all the canvas flaps down

The mangy cats crowling in ther cages

The bird-girl flapping and squawking around

The whole valley reeking of wet beast

Wet beast and rotten hay

Freak and brute creation

Packed up and on their way

The three dwarves peering from their wagon's hind

Moses says to Noah "We shoulda dugga deepa one"

Their grizzled faces like dying moons

Still dirty from the digging done

And as the company passed from the valley

Into a higher ground

The rain beat on the ridge and on the meadow

And on the mound

Until nothing was left, nothing at all

Except the body of Sorrow

That rose in time

To float upon the surface of the eaten soil

And a murder of crows did circle round

First one, then the others flapping blackly down

And the carny's van still sat upon the edge

Tilting slowly as the firm ground turned to sludge

And the rain it hammered down

And no-one saw the carny go

I say it's funny how things go

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Aah. I had to look it up. "The Carny" ends and then he launches into "From Her To Eternity."

I love these lines:

One last song and it's over. But I'm not gonna tell you about a girl, I'm not gonna tell you about a girl...

"I want to tell you about a girl."

"From Her To Eternity"

Ah wanna tell ya 'bout a girl

You know, she lives in room 29

Why... Why... that's the one right up top a mine

Ah start to cry, Ah start to cry

O Ah hear her walkin'

Walkin' barefoot cross the floor-boards

All thru this lonesome night

Ah hear her crying too.

Hot-tears come splashin on down

Leaking thru the cracks,

Down upon my face, Ah catch'em in my mouth!

Ah catch'em in my mouth!

Ah catch'em in my mouth!

Walk'n'cry Walk'n'cry-y!!!

From her to eternity!

From her to eternity!

From her to eternity!

Ah read her diary on her sheets

Scrutinizin' every lil bit of dirt

Tore out a page'n'stufft it inside my shirt

Fled outa the window,

And shinning it down the vine

Outa her night-mare, and back into mine

Mine! O Mine!

From her to eternity!

From her to eternity!

From her to eternity!

Cry! Cry! CRY!

She's wearing them bloo-stockens, ah bet!

and standin' like this with my ear to the ceiling

Listen, Ah know it must sound absurd

but Ah can hear the most melancholy sound

Ah ever heard!

Walk'n'cry! Kneel'n'cry-y!

From her to eternity!

From her to eternity!

O tell me why? O tell me why?

Oh Why? Why? Why?

O tell me why and don't tell me a lie!

Why the ceiling still shakes? Shakes! Shakes! Shakes!

Why the fixtures turn to serpents and snakes?

This desire to possess her is a wound

and its naggin at me like a shrew

but, Ah know, that to possess her

Is, therefore, not to desire her.

O o o then ya know, that lil girl would just have to go!

Go! Go-o-o! From her to eternity!

From her to eternity! [Repeat]

Edited by Persona

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That's the one. Makes a bit more of a connection with Marion and Damiel's relationship, but still, Cave's music is pretty unsettling. Then again, the full unification of spirit and flesh is unsettling, isn't it?

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Confession: I can't stand WINGS OF DESIRE.

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Ryan and I are going to mud wrestle over this one. If I win, he has to watch it again, only looking for the beauty. If he wins, I watch a Kubrick of his choosing and have to turn in a report on its greatness and why.

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I've seen WINGS OF DESIRE three times. I don't need to see it again. Ever.

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How does it compare to City of Angels, for you? :)

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How does it compare to City of Angels, for you? :)

I've never seen CITY OF ANGELS, and can't say I particularly want to.

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Ryan, I watched Wings of Desire for the first time a few weeks ago, and getting through it was a bit painful. I kept expecting Janet Jackson to barge in, singing "Rhythm Nation."

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I don't know if I get a Janet Jackson vibe to this, but its definitely an 80s movie. I'm digging the sheer wonder of it, and the urgency of its location within Glasnost era Berlin. I think I've been to Berlin twice since I watched it first, so part of the richer second viewing may be influenced by that. On the other hand, I can see where it runs a bit long, and Damiel's earnestness in his newfound flesh can be a little (was it Rosenbaum's word?) maudlin.

But some of those shots--wow! A movie with these visuals? I'm a believer, i guess.

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I watched the Criterion edition again recently. I love it. I love every minute of it. I've probably seen it 20 times, and it still shows me new things every time.

It's so ambitious, so rich with ideas, so prone to whims and tangents... it's about so many things, and yet about a very specific time, place, and people. I don't know a film that throws its arms so wide and, for all the inanity of its ambition, still captures so much.

It's about the longing for God in Nick Cave's torments, and about Peter Falk's search for just the right hat. It's about an earthbound angel who dreams of the divine, and an angel who longs to give up what he knows and make himself earthbound. It's about children dazzled by circus performers in chicken costumes, and a philosopher in an overcoat dazzled by a trapese artist decked out in feathers. It's about a hot cup of coffee on a cold day, and the unexpected wonder of passing Columbo in the middle of Nowhere, Berlin. It's about the great story being told by the great storyteller in a city where nobody's listening. Its about the radio waves in the air, and all the thoughts being transmitted in all directions a blanket of knowledge and vanity and love songs. And that last scene, which it took me years to love, has come to be both absurd and profound - a sort of Vulcan (or Gelfling, pick your favorite fantasy world) "mind meld" where all of the spiritual longings of the unemployed circus girl meet all of the carnal desires of the wandering ex-angel. It begins with letters in chalk, like Cocteau's La Belle et La Bete, and appropriately so, as this is a sort of Beauty and the Beast.

It's about Solveig Dommartin's bare shoulder in living color, and how much the director was in love with her at the time.

It's about the woman who shook out the bed blankets as if she were merely doing her chores, in a bedroom exposed to the open after the bombing tore down the outer walls.

It's about a taxi driver thinking about borderlines.

It's a little black book full of moments that made its maker stop and sense that electrical charge in the air, moments that glimmered with something more.

It's about a baby elephant standing on its head when its trainer hasn't asked it to do so. For the joy of the trick, I guess.

Edited by Overstreet

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Ryan, I watched Wings of Desire for the first time a few weeks ago, and getting through it was a bit painful. I kept expecting Janet Jackson to barge in, singing "Rhythm Nation."

:D

I do love the sequences with the angels listening to the human voices. But, in general, the film is needlessly, and relentlessly, monotone, choking the life out of everything it presents with slow, flat monologues/dialogues drained of much emotion. It's so obsessed with being quiet that it never comes alive. For a film about discovering the delights of human existence, it sure doesn't have much energy.

Edited by Ryan H.

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