Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sorry, I don't get it

I was looking forward to settling down to watch Wings of Desire, the much-acclaimed 1987 film by Wim Wenders, ever since I wrote about the list of "The Top 50 Dystopian Movies of All Time." At No. 4, Der Himmel Über Berlin is the highest-rated film on the list I had never seen. Now that I've seen it, I have to say: The emperor has no clothes!

This extremely odd mish-mash of poetic words and imagery seems to have been tossed together on the fly. There's a real feeling of "Let's do a story about angels watching over Berlin - what would they do and what would they talk about amongst themselves? We'll make it up as we go along!" The threadbare plot doesn't really get going until the two-hours-plus movie is three-quarters finished.

As the credits rolled, I was so perplexed that I watched the making-of feature on the DVD, and sure enough, Wenders and his collaborators talk about how they decided, "Let's do a story about angels watching over Berlin - We'll make it up as we go along!" At one point Wenders even says he was surprised that it has touched so many people - he really expected that it would be remembered as a mysterious little arthouse film.

Not only did people find deep meaning - Wenders says he still gets lots of letters from people who put their lives together, got married and such, based on what they saw in the movie - but it was successful enough to generate a sequel (Faraway, So Close!) and an Americanized remake (City of Angels).

I'm with Wenders - I think it's a mysterious little arthouse film. It's a long, slow, occasionally interesting journey, with an occasional image about the loneliness of life and the search for meaning - but (especially with Sweetie joining me in being perplexed and eventually falling asleep on me) I found watching the film itself to be a lonely search for meaning.

One caveat: Maybe I need to brush up on my German and watch it without subtitles. Some of the frustration was how the subtitlist decided to leave so very much of the words untranslated. There's one scene especially when the lead angel grins a knowing grin at a thought he has overheard - but whatever he heard does not appear on the screen.

I don't know if that would make much difference, though. I hate to say this about a film that apparently is beloved by many who find it a deeply moving experience: My conclusion in the end was that it's an incoherent mess. I chalk it off to the infinite variety of human existence: We will never agree on everything, and if I come away from a classic film feeling as though I'd just wasted my time, it's confirmation of our astonishing complexity.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous sunni said...

I watched that movie a while back, and was perplexed and bemused by it. I was considering watching it again in hope of grokking more fully, but now I'm reconsidering that. And I, too, was wondering what was lost in the translation job.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Happy Curmudgeon said...

If I ever get around to watching it again, I'll let y'all know what you missed in translation. One thing you might have missed is that Peter Falk as Colombo was immensely popular in Germany at the time the movie was made, so having him be a 'fallen' angel was an inspired improvisation. Or so I thought at the time.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous sunni said...

A very interesting bit of backstory, H.C.; I'd wondered why he was cast in that role.

11:56 AM  
Blogger B.W. Richardson said...

The Falk tidbit was included in the "Making Of" feature, and it did fill in the gaps a little bit. It boosted the film to "incoherent mess" in my eyes instead of what I was originally going to write.

I freely confess that I may not have the aht-istic sensibility to fully appreciate this flick. After all, I love the Spider-Man movies, so what do I know about high aht?

1:35 PM  

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