FFF: “Der Himmel uber Berlin”
The angels look down upon Berlin. In Wim Wenders‘ Der Himmel uber Berlin, they listen to the poetry and grumblings of its different citizens. They hear mostly in German but occasionally in English, like the voices of Peter Falk (Falk), visiting to shoot a movie. They try to comfort people despite their limited powers to send their messages across. When they meet they compare notes. Today is a normal day but they talk glowingly, their excitement towards humans is legitimate in a way, every life a miracle full of climactic emotions and insights.
Claire Denis is Wenders’ assistant direction and it does feel like a Denis film at times, as the camera sweeps to follow the angels and the Berliners in their natural environment. There’s also some impressionistic touches, with the first shot of a child’s eye or many others, like a wing, the inside of a sewer, the angels and their shadows, sequences showing high angle zooms, fast subway cars and the people inside them and an angel reacting to these people in a dark space. The occasional violin in the film score also gives that impression of a continuing German film making tradition.
Among the Berliners are Turkish families, black students and Asian rockers. Colourful graffiti plasters itself unto the Berlin Wall. But it inevitably shows reel footage of the city after the war. The angel Cassiel guides an old man within the obliterated Potsdam district, the latter shocked that the can’t find it in its original bustling form. The movie has its own concepts of statehood, as if Germany has existed before the landmass rose out of the water. The angels crossing the wall feels like a statement although most of the film doesn’t have the preachy tone of every political film. Instead it has the spiritual aura, thus showing a fractured yet evolving country.
It wouldn’t be long until one of the angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) envies the tactile nature of human experience although his colleague tells him to distance himself from such thoughts. He’s partly motivated to become human because of a Barbara Stanwyck lookalike of a trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommartin). Ganz’s benevolent face shines throughout Damiel’s angelhood that naturally gets stripped when he transforms. He, with the movie, negotiates this premise, the human Damiel having the childlike giddiness brought on by a schoolboy crush. He still embodies the spirit of the city he used to watch.
- Great Characters: Damiel (“Wings of Desire”) (gointothestory.com)
ph. New Line
Did you know that I played Edna Turnblad (Divine) at a high school production of the musical version? In a Catholic school. We sang ‘Mama I’m a Big Girl Now.’ I had this guttural voice that I assume is from a Broadway production recording, not the fuller voice that Divine had. I also wore a moo-moo and A-cup rice boobs, undeserving of the fabulous outfits that Divine wore.
When I was watching Pink Flamingos two weeks or so, there’s a scene when Divine walks around in this predominantly black area downtown, their eyes at her, the division between race unspoken but obvious. I feel as if Hairspray bridges those two people, taking us back to 1963. Like the earlier John Waters film,this movie would depict a taboo, this time, black and Caucasian miscegenation, with psychological carnality. Its protagonist is a plus sized young woman, in this film she’s Edna’s daughter Tracy (Ricki Lake), has a best friend in love with a young black man and fighting someone skinnier and bitchier.
And of course, who can make a movie about racism so irreverently than Waters himself? There’s a guy holding a lynch rope in an amusement park scene. This movie also features the most endearing line reading of the word ‘Negro.’ Also featuring Debbie Harry, Jerry Stiller and Waters alumnus Mink Stole.
The Last Temptation of Christ
The first time I saw the similarities between The Last Temptation of Christ and Black Narcissus when the men drag Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey) down a pathway of a small hill the same way the beggar-maid gets whipped by Angu Ayah. The earlier film tackles female sexuality and its barbaric repression in a non-Christian society. How else, I suppose, can one portray the non-Christian than to depict the pre-Christian. Sister Clogah is enduring a similar uphill climb in showing the non-Christians rationality the same way Jesus (Willem Dafoe) has.
As a Catholic child, I’ve played the game when I wear a blanket and hey, I’m one of the apostles, which is what I assume is the approach of most film renditions of that era. But in this film I didn’t see Palestine, I saw India. This is probably the most exotic depiction of the Biblical era I’ve seen so far without counting the disco ethos of Norman Jewison’s Jesus Christ Superstar. Herod and his harem in The Passion of the Christ is by nature very orgiastic, but I feel like this whole film is bejweled, and not just by looking at Magdalene. There’s the myth that Israel kept insular despite its many conquerors, but it’s as if Scorsese approached that culture with more interaction with the outside world. Just look at the money changers bustling as if Jerusalem was a port city, or the free love Hare Krishna predecessors being baptized by John or the cosmopolitan groups making up Magdalene’s customers or Jesus’ disciples.
The film doesn’t make up any consistent portrayal of Jesus’ state of mind, putting his opinions under a shroud, but instead showed us that He was once a soul within body. His eyes become large as Lazarus attack hugs him. He’s convulsing on the floor as he feels others’ crucifixion or making love to Magdalene. He tries to escape being by sacrificing himself yet thinks about escaping sacrifice to become physical again. I’m still confused, but then I suppose being the Son of God might have led Him to make some leaps of logic. I don’t even remember His crucifixion, despite the violence in showing the nails driving into Jesus’ palms, being portrayed as gruesome as the Mel Gibson propaganda piece. It was as if He was in the transcendental state, able to meet the Last Temptation and see and live an alternate scenario.
Scorsese’s Magdalene turns from being a disgruntled whore to Jesus’ pity girlfriend to dead housewife. It’s nice to pretend that the King of Spain is a direct descendant of the alleged holy couple, but the real Magdalene may not have been a whore at all and preached His word in Ephesus until she died. Of course, the new Testament are written by people from what was then a helplessly patriarchal culture, so we’ll never know if Jesus was John Stuart Mill or Ludwig Wittgenstein. And true, she wouldn’t have had to preach in Ephesus if Jesus himself stopped teaching, and that the Last Temptation turns Jesus into an equally domestic figure as the love of His life.
Why does Scorsese and other ‘revisionist’ biblical storytellers have to give Him ‘dimension’ and nuance through her? In other words why are women merely advice columns, frail consorts or femmes fatale, all passive under male perspectives and labels? The only feminist Scorsese film I remember is The Age of Innocence, although the female characters’ corrective agency can itself be subverted. Durn.
Merry Christmas: Die Hard
Bruce Willis is just like Jennifer Aniston – both were in sitcoms but did art on the side. And yes, I just called Die Hard art. Yes, there are a few things that I appreciated from this crowd pleaser that played at the Bloor Cinema on December 15th. The print they played is obviously not a reprint, making the Los Angeles sky look reddish. And no, I’m not complaining.
Both Officer John McClane (Willis) and Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) find themselves on opposite ends, Gruber trying to forcibly take $620 million in bonds from a Los Angeles branch of a Japanese company, John trying to stop him. They behave in this film and try to defeat each other like walking blindfolded, and this they make the best foils for each other.
Hans accuses John of the latter comparing himself to John Wayne and Rambo, but he’s performing too. This is probably just me putting 1988 in context with 2010, but is Hans loosely based on Carlos the Jackal? Kicked out from his terrorist group, has experience in Germany. Something always goes wrong with their plan, which only John’s wife Holly Gennaro McClane notices. Besides, what kind of terrorist owns a ‘John Philips’ suit? (p.s. I’ve never heard of this designer, I’m not familiar with London designers who weren’t CSM freaks. Anyway…)
He’s stealing from a corporation that’s trying to help infrastructure in the Third World. While making demands with the FBI, he tells them about random terrorist groups imprisoned around the world, including ones from Quebec, which got a rousing reaction from the Torontonian crowd. About an Asian group, Hans privately tells the right hand man that he’s heard of them on Time Magazine. When he faces John for the first time, he pretends to be an American.
Nonetheless John’s journey into this story’s more fascinating because well, it’s funnier. It’s hilarious to watch his face wince and repeat ‘Think,’ a sign of a man in panic. Besides, Bruce Willis probably knew how to say the lines better than the other actors whom the movie was offered to.
In the film’s first scenes, John tells the other characters how ‘he’s been a cop for eleven years’ or that he has a backlog of scumbags he has to put to jail. I suppose I’m being unfair, hinting that his bravado can’t possibly prepare him for what’s to come. However a) no one knows how to prepare for terrorism and b) even he knows that his victory against them would be miraculous, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. Another condition to his challenge is that he begins it by simply wearing a wife-beater and is barefoot. A constant variable in his process is various stages of undress, while a less constant variable are the weapons he gains and loses throughout his exciting mess. He’s practically a video game protagonist.
He actually does something interesting in the beginning – he escapes, retreats and tries to spy on the terrorists. He bungles up a few things while he’s away from all the action, yet despite the accusations Hans throws at him, his invisibility is the opposite of performance. He makes sure he’s away until he has to inevitably meet the villains.
The film is also well thought out in a technical sense, as Mark Hasan writes here. There are also the showcasing of heights – ‘I swear I’ll never be in a tall building again.’ – the most real explosions in film I’ve seen in recent memory, non-CGI helicopters flying around a real city which will never happen in a movie again…
Of course, John flies all the way to Los Angeles is to meet his wife and hopeful resolve issues about their marriage and her career. She’s not the only woman there, but she’s second in command. I was ready to roll my eyes in what I thought the ending was gonna be. ‘You’re so hot and shirtless John McClane. I’m going to give up my career and cook bacon and eggs in a sexy French maid outfit for you. Take me!’ Which is exactly what I would do if Bruce Willis married me, mind you. Anyway, I thought I was going to be right because eventually John, in trying to rescue the hostages that include Holly, unintentionally contributes in the destruction of her workplace. Holly has two obvious choices now, move to New York with him and finding a job will be difficult because her references are dead. Or stay in Los Angeles and ride the publicity train. The two don’t talk about it, grateful just for being alive. If it’s any consolation, she’s very assertive in trying to protect her boss and coworkers. She gets to call Hans out as a thief, and Holly’s the character who makes the film’s last act of aggression.
If I was Gena Rowlands
“I guess you don’t read the theatre section of the paper.”
Hit her, Marion (Gena Rowlands), hit her! There’s only the three of you in this block. However, unlike this classical period in his career, Woody Allen films have only been violent in the past six years and only twice within that time. Anyway, I’m criminally new to Gena Rowlands’ word. Someone give me a movie where she literally kicks ass. Gloria?
Also, I’d hesitate to do any physical harm to Claire. I love the actress playing her, Sandy Dennis, specifically because she can steal a scene from Natalie Wood. And Dennis actually looks better in 1988 than she did decades before that. I’m so bad in not knowing that Dennis did major work after Woolf.
I’m also reminding myself while watching bits of Another Woman that this is Woody Allen evoking American Ingmar Bergman. I’ll give Bergman’s right hand man Sven Nyqvist, this film’s cinematographer, in how empty New York looks, and I’ve never viewed that with suspicion until now. This won’t be the last time we’ll see New York so empty. And is that light bulb on top of that post or behind that window? Anyway, Bergman also influences Allen’s work here to the direction of subtlety and, well, passive-aggressive dialogue, secret emotions, distorted memory, women being unfair towards each other.
Let’s fast forward by four or five minutes, where we find out that adulthood is a series of broken friendships. Marion takes Claire and her husband to drinks in a dank pub with etched walls, Claire sulks and then tells her she’s an unconscious home-wrecker. Now we know why Claire utters that quote above. Imagine how hurt Marion feels by learning this. The way Claire gets destroyed makes it a dirty victory for Marion, but classy and newly introspective as she is, she does not take the trophy home. I can’t imagine anyone questioning her actions by this time.