One of the first three volumes in our new Camden House series German Film Classics is Christian Rogowski’s take on the 1987 filmic poem Wings of Desire. Here Dr. Rogowski talks a little about the challenges and—at the same time—the ease of writing about Wim Wenders’s momentous work of art.
Whenever I mentioned to people that I am working on a monograph on Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire, I would either hear, “Oh, that’s (one of) my favorite film/s!” or “I love that film, except for the last five minutes (or so).” I understand such sentiments only too well. I vividly remember the tremendous visceral impact the film made upon me when I first saw it in the late 1980s. And I can also see why the film’s finale, culminating in an extended soliloquy by Marion, the trapeze artist, may, with its portentously inflated rhetoric and its quasi-religious symbolism, alienate viewers. In the film’s final moments what had thus far been a profoundly touching, uplifting filmic poem about existential questions runs the risk of turning into kitsch, a kind of overblown boy-meets-girl story on spiritual steroids, weighed down by a new-age-y appeal to universal good will.
The challenge, then, for me in writing this book was to remain cognizant of my own emotional investment in the film. I needed to identify what explains the film’s emotional dimension, while at the same time maintaining the proper kind of critical distance. Many of the passages some viewers find problematic were written by Peter Handke, so I decided to conduct research into the exact nature of Handke’s contribution to the film. My archival research clarified, I think for the first time, just how Wenders and Handke collaborated on this project. As a result, I have been able to shed new light on the spiritual, perhaps even religious, subtext of the film.
Once I had collected all the source material, the process of writing was extremely easy. I felt inspired by being able to do the bulk of the work in Berlin’s Staatsbibliothek West, near Potsdamer Platz, the very place that in the film serves as the main residence of Wenders’s angels. It so happened that I was able to stay with friends in the district of Schöneberg—I would each morning actually walk past the bunker on Pallas-Straße (where the film-within-the-film project starring Peter Falk takes place) to take the M48 bus (the successor of the 48 bus on which angel Cassiel is seen riding in the film) to the library. Talk about a situation charged with auspicious symbolism! At the risk of sounding corny, the book, in a sense, wrote itself—ideas were flowing freely, inspired by the unique situation and location. There was none of the second-guessing, hang-ups and self-doubt that all-too often accompany the writing process. All I had to do was to allow ideas to come, to record them and to give them shape. I hope that some of the profound appreciation I have for what—despite some problematic aspects—I regard as Wenders’s filmic masterpiece, comes through in what turned out, quite literally, a labor of love.
This guest post is written by Christian Rogowski, G. Armour Craig Professor in Language and Literature in the Department of German at Amherst College.