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Usage of Sound in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire

Essay by review  •  December 19, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  1,688 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,049 Views

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Wings Of Desire is a 1987 film by the German director Wim Wenders. It original German title is Der Himmel ÑŒber Berlin, which can be translated as The Heavens Over Berlin.

Wenders has been a part of the New German Cinema. Prior to cinema, he was a professional photographer which probably explains his extreme attention to framing. If one has to categorise Wender's movies broadly, we can probably say that his movies are generally about hope, reflection, vision and desire. Poignancy abounds in his movies, but the influence of rock and roll cannot be discounted. Wenders may have quoted to preferring sax and violins over sex and violence, but his rock and roll roots cannot be ignored. Rock and roll tends to play a major role in almost all his movies, and in fact, the director has had a long association with U2, having directed music videos for them over a span of almost two decades.

While watching Wings of Desire, one couldn't help comparing it to other works by Wenders, especially Faraway So Close and Until The End Of The World. On a simplistic level, the film is a straightforward narrative bereft of too many complexities. Set in Berlin in the late 80s, the film showcases two angels as they hover over the city. Most of the film is shot in the angels' perspective, with them observing the lives and travails of ordinary mortals. In that sense, angels are not dramatic saviors here; they are not the agents of magic and miraculous action. They are active, but in a non-participatory manner as they seep in all they hear from the intermingling lives of Berliners. One of the angels Damiel falls in love with a trapeze artiste and yearns for mortality. In a beautifully etched intermingling of spirituality and mortality, of divine and real, Damiel shrugs off his divinity and wears the mortal cloak. The rest of the film takes us through his journey into the mortal world as a physical entity, which he was, until then, not.

This, of course, is the plot on a very simplistic level. Delve further and you'd find an epic - an epic of love, desire, history, war, mortality and spirituality. The film is a story of struggle and conflict - not just the struggles of man with society or man with man, but most of all, man with himself. The cheekily named character Homer, who, unlike the war poet, searches for peace, appears as the story teller who roams the Berlin walls. That the movie is based in Berlin revolves around a number of factors. The movie was Wenders' comeback to Germany after spending 10 years in the US. Filmed in 1986, the film not only reflected the political situation at that time, but also used the Berlin wall as a symbol for the wall that divides real and unreal, or spiritual and material.

With a poetic and literary script and powerful visuals that switch from monochrome to colour in order to bring out the difference between surreal and real. Through the angels' eyes, we are constantly offered a third person's view. It's almost like the objectification of the viewer - we, as bystanders, eavesdropping on others' thoughts and emotions, as they get mixed with our own.

It's quite interesting to analyse the movie's sound. Firstly, it's not possible to segregate the sound from the visual, and the audiovisual from the various interpretations that it offers. To analyse sound, we need to also analyse the entire movie, per se.

The film begins with a voiceover that recites The Song Of Childhood. The voiceover is rhythmic, poetic, almost languid. It sets the tone for the poetic spiritualistic journey we are prepared to embark upon. A majority of the movie has been shot in monochrome, which shows us the angels' perspective, the angels' view, so to say. The beautiful bit here is that each angel is an observer who takes in each and every emotion he sees or hears. Each mortal individual may have a thousand thoughts going on in one's head at the same time, and these voices in one's head are what get transmitted to the angels. It's interesting to note how various sounds have been mixed together. The angel's voiceover is clear, and clearly dominates the audio. The background score, most of which in this part comprises of violins, is mixed quite low, while the voices in people's heads take on an echo-like quality. This gets a lot more complicated when the angels face a number of individuals at the same time. As shown in the library sequence, the various voices intermingle creating a little bit of conflict in terms of sound. It can be described as dissonance, but the dissonance in itself has a lyrical and haunting quality to it. The various voices reverberate around the space until they are reduced to mere collections of murmurs, which dissolves into the music. The transition of sound and music in the library sequency can be quite haunting.

In fact, voiceovers completely dominate the movie. Wings Of Desire can also be called as a series of monologues. Life in the torn city of Berlin is conveyed by the use of a number of voiceovers instead of conventional dialogue. The voiceovers may be frivolous remarks to oneself or deep, introspective questions. These voiceovers constantly address the complex and intruiging questions that there are to life - questions that have no answers but lead to only further questions. Another interesting thing is the outright difference in tones when one talks to oneself to when one talks to someone else.

The way one scene flows into another is seamless. While the visual transition is usually a fade, there are a number of occasions that a new space is shown as a mere extension of the previously existent one. This is complemented by the background score as well, as the sound tends to trail off into the next scene.

The background score consists of an orchestra that plays mostly violins. Other string instruments can be heard too,

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