As a belated toast to the city of Berlin and the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, today’s post features Wim Wenders’ magnificent film, Der Himmel über Berlin (‘Sky over Berlin’)/ Wings of Desire – newly released on Blu-Ray by Criterion – including videos, essays, and verses by Rilke, whose angels inspired Wenders’ vision.
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic
Orders? And even if one were to suddenly
take me to its heart, I would vanish into its
stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the cry
of a darkened sobbing.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, The First Elegy
Duino Elegies, translated by A.S. Kline
Der Himmel über Berlin (AKA Wings of Desire) (1987) Trailer
Directed by Wim Wenders
Wings of Desire – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
One more song and it’s over, but I’m not going to tell you about a girl, I’m not going to tell you about a girl. – Nick Cave’s thoughts
Tx to George7575
ESSAYS (the second is by Wim Wenders):
Wings of Desire: Watch the Skies
BY MICHAEL ATKINSON
If ever there was a European art film that could be all things to all people, it’s Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire (1987). Marking Wenders’s career midpoint like a lightning strike cutting across tree rings, the movie is at once audience-seductive and demanding, holistic and aestheticized. It has beguiled the Wenders aficionado as reliably as it’s absorbed the spiritually hungry civilian, the rogue filmhead, the bookish square, and the nondenominational seeker…
There’s little doubt as to the originality of the experience from the very first airborne camera patrols of autumnal cold-war Berlin. In Wenders’s silvery black-and-white view, this is the paradigmatic city wasteland of its age, still war-torn and withstanding a historicized physical and political schizophrenia like no other, symbolized, like the elephant in the parlor, by the wall itself, snaking through the urban spaces covered with graffiti, obliterating your view, wherever you stand, of the city’s other half. This cognitively dissonant urban experiment had frequently been the grim arena for sixties spy noir, but never had we seen Berlin become Berlin so clearly, so eloquently before. (The more sober and evocative German title translates as The Sky over Berlin.) Of course the city is haunted. (LINK)
An Attempted Description of an Indescribable Film
BY WIM WENDERS
The following, written in 1986, is from the first treatment for Wings of Desire.
And we, spectators always, everywhere,
looking at, never out of, everything!
—Rilke, “The Eighth Elegy”
At first it’s not possible to describe anything beyond a wish or a desire.
That’s how it begins, making a film, writing a book, painting a picture, composing a tune, generally creating something.
You have a wish.
You wish that something might exist, and then you work on it until it does. You want to give something to the world, something truer, more beautiful, more painstaking, more serviceable, or simply something other than what already exists. And right at the start, simultaneous with the wish, you imagine what that “something other” might be like, or at least you see something flash by. And then you set off in the direction of the flash, and you hope you don’t lose your orientation, or forget or betray the wish you had at the beginning.
And in the end, you have a picture or pictures of something, you have music, or something that operates in some new way, or a story, or this quite extraordinary combination of all these things: a film. Only with a film—as opposed to paintings, novels, music, or inventions—you have to present an account of your desire; more, you even have to describe in advance the path you want to go with your film. No wonder, then, that so many films lose their first flash, their comet.
The thing I wished for and saw flashing was a film in and about Berlin.
A film that might convey something of the history of the city since 1945. A film that might succeed in capturing what I miss in so many films that are set here, something that seems to be so palpably there when you arrive in Berlin: a feeling in the air and under your feet and in people’s faces that makes life in this city so different from life in other cities.
To explain and clarify my wish, I should add: it’s the desire of someone who’s been away from Germany for a long time, and who could only ever experience “Germanness” in this one city. I should say I’m no Berliner. Who is nowadays? But for over twenty years now, visits to this city have given me my only genuine experiences of Germany, because the (hi)story that elsewhere in the country is suppressed or denied is physically and emotionally present here.
Of course I didn’t want just to make a film about the place, Berlin. What I wanted to make was a film about people—people here in Berlin—that considered the one perennial question: how to live? (LINK)
Rilke’s Last Encounter With an Angel
By SCOTT HORTON
Harper’s Oct 21, 2007
Throughout human history there are no shortage of tales of poets taking inspiration from angelic figures, and indeed the concept of the poetic “muse” has this derivation. But I’m not aware of another incident in the twentieth century in which an angel appeared and offered the opening lines of a poem—indeed, the first Duinese Elegy, what turns out to be generally recognized as one of the great poems of the century. And while the elegy was dated by various correspondence to a January evening in 1912, Rilke did not in fact put it forward for publication until 1922, just four years before his death, and before the composition of “Komm du.” (Brilliant, a must read for Rilke devotees and anyone interested in angels. LINK)
- Official site: Wings of Desire
- IMDB News: Der Himmel über Berlin/Wings of Desire
- Poetry: Reintroducing Rilke (a new translation by Edward Snow)
- Review: Reading Rilke/Duino Elegies (insightful)