Wings of Desire
Wings of Desire is one of cinema’s loveliest city symphonies. Bruno Ganz is Damiel, an angel perched atop buildings high over Berlin who can hear the thoughts—fears, hopes, dreams—of all the people living below. But when he falls in love with a beautiful trapeze artist, he is willing to give up his immortality and come back to earth to be with her. Made not long before the fall of the Berlin wall, this stunning tapestry of sounds and images, shot in black and white and color by the legendary Henri Alekan, is movie poetry. And it forever made the name Wim Wenders synonymous with film art.
Like with their DVD edition Criterion presents Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire in the director’s preferred aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p and has been approved by the director.
Criterion’s DVD edition presents a very strong picture but again the Blu-ray does outdo it. According to the supplements the film’s black and white sequences go for a monochrome look and the Blu-ray looks to present it a little better. Colour sequences are bright and bold, and the reds look to be deeper and better rendered (Dommartin’s red dress at the end looks so striking.) The image is incredibly sharp as a whole, with excellent definition and smooth, crisp edges. Film grain, though not heavy, is more prominent and looks far more natural here. Similar to my feelings about the DVD I still feel the black and white sequences look better than the colour (I guess I just find it odd the black and white sequences pop out more for me than the colour sequences do,) but there’s no noticeable noise or digital artifacts during the colour sequences like with the DVD.
And as to the restoration and the condition of the print, like the DVD I didn’t notice anything that really stood out. It’s been beautifully cleaned up and appears to be free from any damage.
This is the way to see the film, and it’s certainly the best I’ve ever seen it. It looks so crisp and sharp and just absolutely gorgeous. A fantastic high-definition transfer.
The film’s soundtrack is subtle, but works to create an ethereal experience and the DTS-HD 5.1 surround track found here certainly delivers that. When compared with the DVD it’s at times a little louder, and there are some sequences, like some of the club scenes, where bass is also deeper. It sounds far more natural, has far better range, and some of the subtle effects in the film come off sharper and clearer here. The surrounds are a little more noticeable and it better works to envelope the viewer and give that “other world” feel I think the film and its soundtrack is going for. Very effective.
Criterion’s DVD and Blu-ray editions present the same key special features, and for the most part carry most of the bigger features from an earlier MGM edition and then add on some of their own.
First up is audio commentary featuring director Wim Wenders and actor Peter Falk. As I mentioned previously I have not seen the original MGM DVD but am aware it also contained a commentary by Wenders and Falk. I originally figured that Criterion just licenced the track but by the sounds of it this is a completely new track, or a new presentation of it. The track was assembled from 6 hours worth of material recorded by independent DVD producer Mark Rance. According to Rance’s introduction this commentary track is a re-edit and was a personal project to better capture the spirit of the recordings.
While again I can’t compare to the track found on the MGM disc I can say this commentary is rather good. The material that was used for the track was recorded over three sessions between 1996 and 1997 but it’s been edited together beautifully and flows naturally. I’m assuming that Wenders did more lone sessions as he takes up most of the track, Falk only appearing every so often. Wenders covers the inception of the project, which sounds to have been all over the place originally, his desire to make a film about Berlin, the freewheeling, almost improvisational nature of the film (while it had a script, most of it was made up as they went,) and the wizardry of his director of photography, Henri Alekan. Falk occasionally asks Wenders questions and chimes in about his part in the film (and the importance of selecting a good hat.) Disappointingly he has very little to say when compared to Wenders. Despite this, though, it’s a very thorough, introspective track on the film, one of the more interesting director commentaries I’ve listened to. Having said that, though, it’s a shame the entire six hours worth of material isn’t here.
The remaining supplements are found under the “Supplements” option in the main fly-out menu.
Carried over from the MGM DVD is the 43-minute documentary The Angels Among Us. It’s a thorough documentary and while it does repeat a lot of what’s stated in the commentary track it at least offers the views of various members of the cast and crew, including Wenders and Falk again, actors Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander, writer Peter Handke, and composer Jürgen Knieper. While Criterion fails to point it out on the back of the Blu-ray case, the documentary also features Brad Silberling, director of the quasi remake City of Angels. They might as well have cut him out since he offers nothing in the way of insight into the film and only serves as a reminder as to how uncreative that film was. But past that odd inclusion the rest of the documentary is quite good, covering the writing process of the film, the casting, and then the shoot. There’s more about the recording of the inner thoughts for the various characters. Falk gets into the hats again, and then there’s some talk on the budget limitations and the look of the angels. Wenders also points out some plot holes in the film that he’s shocked no one else had picked up on. Despite the Silberling appearance it’s a strong doc. It does repeat some of the material found in the commentary (and elsewhere on the disc) but it’s informative documentary, certainly worth viewing.
Next is a less than 10-minute clip from the French program Cinéma cinemas, this particular episode presenting behind-the-scenes footage from the set of Wings of Desire. It’s rather good material, with Wenders directing Ganz, Falk, and crew members (in German, French, and English.) It has burned in French subtitles but then has removable English subtitles.
9 deleted scenes are also included, totaling 32-minutes and appear only with a commentary by Wenders. They’re interesting to view and in some cases they would have presented a very different film, possibly a more humourous angle. One example specifically would have been what could have possibly been intended as an alternate ending, which is just incredibly bizarre (I won’t spoil it for those unaware of it) and would have ended the film on a far different note. In his track Wenders admits that he probably would have never used it, having shot it more for fun. Also included here is 7-minutes worth of outtakes with the film’s score playing over. These include some simple, quick clips along with some longer sequences or alternate sequences (including Damiel trying coffee for the first time and the taking down of a circus tent.) Surprisingly these outtakes are in far better shape than the deleted scenes and look almost as good as the feature film on this set.
Next is a simple gallery presenting some production photos with an extensive collection of notes from the production designer. It’s rather small but has some interesting information on the shoot, Berlin in the 80’s, and Berlin now. While it’s about the same presentation as what’s found on the DVD I actually preferred the presentation of the notes here a little better, looking as though they could fit more on the screen (and I swear the font is better.)
Alekan ‘85 is a 10-minute interview clip from an unfinished documentary on Henri Alekan. It’s very short, with the DP talking about lighting, atmosphere, tone, “movie stars” and types of film, but an interesting feature to include on here, which even features an amusing anecdote.
Alekan la lumiere is a 27-minute segment from a documentary on Alekan. This far more insightful segment showcases Alekan’s work on set, covering his various techniques on how he creates certain lighting effects and even how he accomplishes his in-camera effects (something he was very adamant about during the shoot of Wings of Desire.) Unfortunately it’s not the entire documentary (and I suspect some of the excised clips may have been scenes from other films) but the material left here is absolutely fascinating.
The final supplement are segments from a 1985 short film by Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander called Remembrance. It was put together by the two actors to honour two older actors, Curt Bois and Bernhard Minetti. Bois was a co-star in Wings of Desire so the focus is solely on him and it looks as though the segments missing involved Minetti. This is a bit of a shame, though I guess I understand this decision. What we’re left with, though, are decent conversations between the three actors, filmed in various locations, with Bois recalling his early career and even talking about his remembrances of Berlin, and we also learn some eccentricities, such as his fondness for New York strip tease clubs and his dislike of wine glasses. I like what was here and I found it a rather fascinating inclusion, but I’d almost have to say it feels somewhat disrespectful to lop off Minetti’s portions, not only to Minettit but to Ganz and Sander as well. What we’re left with runs 30-minutes.
The supplements then conclude with a couple of trailers. First is the German trailer for the film, and then the next trailer, entitled “Wen Wunders promo trailer” is a surprisingly amusing trailer for a Wenders retrospective that features both Wenders and Curt Bois, one of the stars of Wings of Desire, who criticizes Wenders for not making a comedy.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray release (and all Blu-ray titles from Criterion) is the Timeline. You can open it from the pop-up menu, or by pressing the RED button on your remote. This is a timeline that shows your current position in the film. It lists the index chapters for the film and the commentary track, and you can also switch to the commentary track from here. You also have the ability to “bookmark” scenes by pressing the GREEN button and return to them by selecting them on the timeline. You can also delete bookmarks by pressing the BLUE button.
The set then comes with a 29-page booklet that looks to contain the same material as what’s found in the DVD’s booklet. First is the complete poem of Song of Childhood by Peter Handke. Next is a nice analytical essay on the film by Michael Atkinson. And then finally, probably the best item in the booklet, is an essay by Wenders called “An Attempted Description of an Indescribable Film” which reads like a stream of consciousness from Wenders about how he came up with the film and his intentions for it, primarily being driven to make a film “in and about Berlin.”
And that covers it. I think just about everything made it more or less from the MGM disc over to this Blu-ray and then the DVD (I see an “Interactive Map” listed on the MGM edition, which doesn’t appear here) but can’t confirm if anything differs, other than the commentary track, which is described as a re-edit. I think Criterion has really outdone themselves with the supplements on here. I am a little disappointed they edited down some of the features, and it also would have been interesting to have all 6-hours of material recorded for the commentary, but they went well and beyond what MGM did, even including more material on Alekan and Bois.
I can’t compare this Blu-ray to the original MGM DVD, but I can’t imagine a better presentation for the film than Criterion’s Blu-ray edition. The new high-definition digital transfer (which also looks great on Criteiron’s DVD edition) looks fabulous. The DTS-HD soundtrack is quite effective and the supplements cover just about every aspect of the film I can think of. One of their most impressive high-definition releases so far this year.