Wednesday, July 20, 2011

[194] Theoretical Movie Review - Wings of Desire

Let's call this a theoretical movie review.  Instead of telling you to watch a movie, I'll see the reviews made of a movie that I found out by chance and that strikes my fancy as something worth seeing.  I usually do this sort of thing on a more shallow level.  I don't just go to any movie on the theater, unless it is a guilty pleasure.  Foreign cinema.  It is not only Almodovar, it is not only sex, it is not only 'Alternative Movoes' for gays, there is a whole array of genres that we just miss out on.  There is not really a market for this type of cinema in Puerto Rico (unless you buy them at Specs or Borders). 

Going back to the exercise.  I choose a movie and research it.  It then becomes a welcome surprise when I discover that my choice was correct.  The premise is that I have a hunch and it turns out to be correct and it is possible to fall in love with something that you have not even seen yet.  I can think on some recent analogies, but I rather ignore them at this time.  Let's just say it is possible to fall in love with the idea of falling in love. 

Well....Wings of Desire is one of those cases.  It is a german film of angels on Earth.

The search.  It always is the chase, isn't it?  I fell in love with two songs from U2 and Nick Cave.  I was not aware that they were correlated.  The videos are presented below:

faraway so close
first the videos
U2 and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds:
U2 - Stay (Faraway, So Close)
(sorry, the video is not embeddable.  shame!  it is so good.)

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Faraway, So Close

Empty out your pockets,
toss the lot upon the floor.
All those treasures, my friend,
you don't need them anymore.
Your days are all through dying,
they gave all their ghosts away,
so kiss close all your wounds and call living life a day.
For the planets gravitate around you,
and the stars shower down around you,
and the angels in heaven adore you,
and the saints all stand and applaud you.

so faraway,
so faraway and yet so close.

Say farewell to the passing of the years,
though all your sweet goodbyes will fall upon deaf ears.
Kiss so softly the mouths of the ones you love,
beneath the September moon and the heavens above.
And the world will turn without you,
and history will soon forget about you,
but the heavens they will reward you,
and the saints will be there to escort you.

So faraway,
so faraway and yet so close.

Do not grieve at the passing of mortality,
for life's but a thing of terrible gravity.
And the planets gravitate around you,
and the stars shall dance about you,
and the angels in heaven adore you,
and the saints all stand and applaud you.

So faraway,
so faraway and yet so close.

The movie is a criterion collection.  This means it must be visually stunning.  It is well presented by the critics.  It is the movie that influenced City of Angels. 
That movie with Nick ( Cage.

Then the movies as described by wikipedia.,_So_Close!

Then the comparative essay

the subject of dualism is predominant in the film...
The Premise: On the most basic level, the plot consists of no more than “angel meets girl; angel gets girl.” The angels in Wings of Desire are ethereal beings that resemble humans in appearance -- other than sometimes sporting visible wings. These earthbound angels have existed from primordial times. Hovering overhead, perched atop tall buildings, or walking among us, they commingle with human society unnoticed except occasionally by a child. The capacity of some children to see the angels apparently relates to their incomplete development of consciousness of self:

When the child was a child,
It didn’t know it was a child.
Everything was full of life,
And all life was one.

The job of these vicarious viewers is to observe, collect, testify, and preserve. They hear excerpts from the interior monologues in the minds of humans – the contemplative or spiritual parts of their thought strands but not the mundane segments. They see, in black-and-white, and hear but have no tactile, olfactory, or gustatory sensations. They cannot intervene in the physical universe of humans, but can exert subtle psychological influences such as consoling or stirring feelings of hope or optimism. They dress in gray flannel trench coats and scarves, and wear their hair back in ponytails. Two angels in particular are central to the story: Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander).

Damiel feels a restive dissatisfaction with his lot. “It’s great to live only by the spirit, to testify day by day for eternity only to the spiritual side of people. But sometimes I get fed up with my spiritual existence. Instead of forever hovering above, I’d like to feel there’s some weight on me, to end my eternity and bind me to earth. At each step, each gust of wind, I’d like to be able to say, ‘Now, now and now’, and no longer say, ‘since always’ and ‘forever.’ To sit in the empty seat at the card table and be greeted, if only by a nod.”

Bit by bit, Damiel moves closer to a monumental decision to choose human existence. Two main influences propel him from yearning to action. First, he meets and falls in love with Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a trapeze artist, who soars under the big top with wings of her own and joie de vie. Second, he encounters an American actor, Peter Falk, playing himself (more or less), who relishes every little sensual experience of life, from the fit of a hat to a hot cup of coffee. Ultimately, Damiel chooses to fall literally from grace and to meet Marion face to face as a fellow human being.

The Themes: Wings of Desire manages the extraordinary feat of integrating primal issues pertaining to metaphysics, mental process, history, politics, and cinema. The thread that binds all together is the concept of duality. Wings of Desire is an exploration of opposites. At the metaphysical level, the duality examined is essentially the dualism of Descartes. Descartes postulated two distinct though interactive planes of reality: a spiritual domain, including subjective mental experience, and the physical universe, including the human body. Damiel and Cassiel exist in Descartes’ spiritual universe, which intersects with only the spiritual side of human existence – with the profound thoughts of people. On the other hand, the angels lack most of the modalities of perception – touch, taste, smell, and color vision (there is an inconsistency in the angels even possessing the senses of black-and-white vision and hearing, but without this inconsistency there could be no film!) and they cannot impact the physical world. Humans, by contrast have the full range of sensory and motor interaction with the physical universe but are oblivious to the spiritual universe, except for that one isolated chunk of it which is each person’s consciousness. Each person’s own subjective mind, in this dualism, is an island of the spiritual universe that has been ripped into existential isolation by the gift of sensory perception. Damiel can choose one side of the wall of existence or the other, but not both. If he falls to earth, he can gain individual identity, the full range of sensuality, and a sense of “now”, but will lose his awareness of the spiritual domain in its fullness, access to the spiritual thoughts of other people, and his existence in eternity. He can choose to observe as an angel or to be as a human being.

The delicacy of insight in Wings of Desire is at its very finest when exploring the duality of mental process. The mind is designed to create an abstract representation of the physical universe. The human mind functions as an observer of the world in which it exists (in largely that same sense that a movie watcher is an observer of the world that was created in film). By the experience of consciousness, we become spectators of the universe. A duality is created in the process, which we recognize as self and not-self -- in the words of Martin Buber. The only thing of which any person has direct experience is their own internal, subjective mental experience. All else is known only by reflection. Unlike the angels, we can never have direct access to the thoughts of another person (except in literature or film by the agency of a narrator, which is part of the beauty of such works of art). We can observe the behavior of others and, from that, try to surmise their feelings or thoughts, but we can never directly touch their internal mental life. This impenetrable wall of separation is what is sometimes referred to as existential isolation (or existential loneliness). I am always amazed when I read a review of Wings of Desire in which a reviewer complains that the scenes in which the angels listen to human thoughts are boring or move too slowly. After living a lifetime never enjoying direct knowledge of another person’s thoughts, how could one tire of the experience so quickly?
The film evokes a mood of reverie, elegy and meditation. It doesn't rush headlong into plot, but has the patience of its angels. It suggests what it would be like to see everything but not participate in it. We follow two angels: Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander). They listen to the thoughts of an old Holocaust victim, and of parents worried about their son, and of the passengers on trams and the people in the streets; it's like turning the dial and hearing snatches of many radio programs. They make notes about the hooker who hopes to earn enough money to go south, and the circus aerialist who fears that she will fall, because it is the night of the full moon.
You're seduced into the spell of this movie, made in 1987 by Wenders, who collaborated on the screenplay with the German playwright Peter Handke. It moves slowly, but you don't grow impatient, because there is no plot to speak of, and so you don't fret that it should move to its next predictable stage. It is about being, not doing. And then it falls into the world of doing, when the angel Damiel decides that he must become human.
He falls in love with the trapeze artist. He goes night after night to the shabby little circus where she performs above the center ring. He is touched by her doubts and vulnerability. He talks with Cassiel, the other angel, about how it would feel to feel: to be able to feed a cat, or get ink from a newspaper on your fingers. He senses a certain sympathy from one of the humans he watches, an American movie actor (Peter Falk, playing himself). "I can't see you, but I know you're here," Falk tells him. How can Falk sense him? Sometimes children can see angels, but adults are supposed to have lost the facility.
The answers to these questions are all made explicitly clear, in the new Hollywood movie "City of Angels," which is a remake of "Wings of Desire" and spells out what the original film only implies. After seeing the new film, which stars Nicolas Cage as the angel and Meg Ryan as the woman (now a heart surgeon rather than an aerialist), I went back to "Wings of Desire" again. It reminded me of the different notes that movies can strike.
"City of Angels" is a skillful romantic comedy and I enjoyed it, but it all stayed there on the screen, content to be what it was. "Wings of Desire" doesn't release its tension in a smooth plot payoff. It creates a mood of sadness and isolation, of yearning, of the transience of earthly things. If the human being is the only animal that knows it lives in time, the movie is about that knowledge.
It is a beautiful film, photographed by the legendary cinematographer Henri Alekan, who made the characters float weightlessly in Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast" (the circus in the movie is named after him). When he shows the point of view of the angels, he shoots in a kind of blue-tinted monochrome. When he sees through human eyes, he shoots in color. His camera seems liberated from gravity; it floats over the city, or glides down the aisle of an airplane. It does not intrude; it observes. When the angel follows the trapeze artist into a rock club, it doesn't fall into faster cutting rhythms; it remains detached. The critic Bryant Frazer observes that Cassiel, the other angel, "leans against the wall and closes his eyes, and the stage lights cast three different shadows off his body, alternating and shifting position and color as though we're watching Cassiel's very essence fragmenting before our eyes."

Stills here:

Now the happy hunting!  Either start looking at old video clubs or see if borders might have the criterion collection version of wings of desire.  I guess I'll carry on.  Later days all of you.  See if I find the movie and watch and then reflect on the longing I guess...

Bonus if you reached this point: Sufjan Steven - In The Mouth of Gabriel
The lyrics are God talking to how estranged he has become of Lucifer.  Bonus for citing Jorge Luis Borges The Aleph in the lyrics:

Sufjan Stevens - All Delighted People EP - From the Mouth of Gabriel

Desperate measures lead to death
From the mouth of Gabriel
Who died in his sleep when the world was a very big mess
A very big mess; he saw too much
From now on I will look away from every accident
That may or may not come my way

Saw you were talking up above the Aleph room
Masquerading as a loom
Both of us saw things
No one else would see as well
From the mouth of Gabriel
No one else would hear as well
From the mouth of Gabriel, etc.

Don't be so sure of what you feel (it might as well be trouble)
From now on just let the universe be your shelter from the enemy

Your face has changed
I hardly know who you are this time
And what a mess I've made of you
You probably would but I won't let you run away
You probably should but I won't let you run away this time

Don't be afraid of loneliness some refugee beside itself
Instead of what you've got
You probably would but I won't let you go away
You probably should but I won't let you go away this time

Your face has changed
I hardly know who you are this time
And when I came into your room
You tried to jump

Now I know this is strange to hear from the mouth of God
It was something like a scene from mars
In a struggle between loves and lies
The angle kept his face covered for to keep his word
And while I spoke something left from my life
Forget about the past
Be at rest I'll make things right
And while I held you at best you nearly died
Forget about the past
And I'll try to make things right


antigonum cajan said...

As a declared humble misanthropist, not a believer, movies with angels captivate yours truly.

Constantin with Reeve and The Prophecy were really something. Those images of hell, good and evil, arrogance and humility take me away.

Excellent and rather weird post.

Beato said...

The Prophecy series was great. In Constantine I really loved the interpretation of Gabrielle. This movie presented the Archangel in the female form.
I just wanted to do something radically different for this post. Been too mopey and lazy on my last few posts.
By the way, the switching gender on angels has been presetned before. My first introduction to this possibility was on Lords of the Ultra Realm ( a 1985 DC Miniseries.

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