Friday, 22 January 2010

Wings Of Desire

Surely you know the film? If your native language isn't English you may also know it as Der Himmel über Berlin. And no, it has nothing to do with whatever you thought of when you saw the photo to the left here.

I've been watching it (yet again) this morning (and will continue later today - it's amazing how well it suits the commute). It is, without a shred of a doubt the best film I have ever seen in my life. Yet. I keep an open mind, but they keep not coming. Better films, I mean.

So what's the reason for this post then?


It most certainly isn't going to tell you (a lot) about the film. That you have to find out for yourself. Go and see it. Seriously. You should.

And neither is it going to tell you an interesting story about one of the buildings (or its architect) used in the making of the film. I will, however, show you a photo of it, taken by Jan Suchý, of Prague. For the original, look here, and for the "monochrome" mess I made of it, here, just to the right. It will give you a much better idea about the film, trust me.

The actual reason for this post, then, is how a translation of a title can help or hinder a work of art like this one. Luckily, some art forms do not require this step, but film, drama, and literature do, and it is a very dangerous ground to thread on. Here again, drama and literature (at least the "artistic" one) benefit from their relative scarcity, as well as smaller, but choosier, audiences. Therefore, much more care and time goes into getting the translations right. Sadly, the film industry is so huge, and so commercialised, that things, like artistic verity and impact, often fall by the wayside.


Honestly, isn't the latter more likely to evoke images like the one at the top of this post? If it is, and I am quite sure it is, then you get a doubly negative effect. The people who would probably enjoy the film don't go to see it as it doesn't sound artistic enough (luckily, in this group there'll be lots of people who'll research a bit beyond the title, provided they have time for it). On the other hand, the people who most certainly would hate the film may well be tempted (especially since they are much less likely to research it), will go to see it, will come out seriously dissatisfied, then start spreading the rumours about how bad it was. Given enough those, and not enough thought on the part of the first group, this may disincline them further. The net effect is that the film fails at the box office, leading to much smaller likelihood such a film will be funded again. Everybody loses.

Now go and watch the film (warning: if you thought The Devil Wears Prada was great - don't, you'll be seriously disappointed). Having seen it, doesn't even my poor literal translation "The Sky Over Berlin" sound much better than "Wings Of Desire"? And I spent the total of five seconds coming up with it. I'm sure someone who does this for a living - in theatre, not Hollywood - would do so much better, and in turn make the world a better place?

Before I go, I have decided to give you a few clues about the film, after all. You'll still be none the wiser about it without seeing it, but it may just help in enjoying it, especially if you are young(ish).

I first saw the film as soon as it came out, in 1987. I was twenty then. I loved it. A lot. There was so much I could relate to in it. Then I saw it again about five years later. I loved it even more. There was much more I could relate to in it, too. And the thing is, the new stuff built up on the old. And it happened every time I saw it since (as you know, the most recent time being this very morning). If I ever get a clue as to when I am going to die, I think I'll try and arrange to see it as one of the last things I do. I think then I will be able to relate to all two hours of it. Even if there are no gods, angels, devils, heaven, hell, and all that malarkey.

So what are you waiting for?! Rent it out tonight. Even better, buy it! It's old, so it's cheap. Maybe you can even have it tomorrow morning if you hurry up. Both the DVD and the Blue-ray are dirt cheap, and you'll need to have it with you when your time comes...