Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the after party for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Glad you could stop by again this week. The cover charge has been waived. Bring your own beverage. The hostess will seat you now.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
Since we last met, the Astros and the Braves punched tickets to the 2021 World Series. (And aren’t you glad that MLB doesn’t do that stupid Roman numeral stuff that the NFL does? Who wants to figure out what “World Series CXVII” means?) Game one is tomorrow. More on that later.
Last time I asked if the Cubs were going to sign any major free agent shortstop. In the end, 46% of you thought that they would sign “none of them,” but that means that 54% of you thought that the Cubs would sign a major free agent shortstop. Of the ones listed, Trevor Story came in first place with 17%. Another 13% of you thought that the Cubs would sign Carlos Correa, which seems like wishful thinking to me. Prove me wrong, Jed. Javier Báez surprisingly finished last in the voting among the five shortstops with just 7%.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. Feel free to skip to the baseball question at the end if you wish. You won’t hurt my feelings.
For your listening enjoyment this holiday season, I’ve got the soundtrack to It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. Guaraldi is best-known today for his work with the Peanuts specials, but Guaraldi was a well-known jazz player before he ever started working with Charles Schultz. Maybe he wasn’t on the level of the greats of the genre, but he was pretty good even outside of Charlie Brown. I bet even Schroeder would have approved of Guaraldi, even though he wasn’t Beethoven.
You’d expect me to write about a classic horror film for Halloween, but instead I felt an overwhelming desire to rewatch Wim Wenders’s 1987 classic Wings of Desire. (Der Himmel über Berlin in German or “The Heaven over Berlin,” but Wenders has said he prefers the English title.) This film has been considered a masterpiece from the time it came out. It showed up on almost every list of the top films of the 1980s and can be found on a lot of lists of the top films of all-time. I will say that while Wings of Desire may not be for everyone, in general, I agree with the critical consensus. It’s a masterpiece.
Wings of Desire is a film about what it means to be human. About human loneliness and human connection. About memory and the passage of time. About love and desire.
There’s not much plot to Wings of Desire. Wenders hired Austrian playwright Peter Handke to write ten connecting scenes and the rest of the film was improvised. The basic setup is that there are two angels looking over the city of Berlin, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander). They observe the city and they can hear everyone’s innermost thoughts. But no one (except some small children) can see them and they cannot take any action other than to offer some comfort to the humans—a comfort that the people can feel but cannot tell where it’s coming from. Sometimes that comfort helps them. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Damiel falls in love with a human named Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a French trapeze artist at a traveling circus. Cassiel follows around an elderly poet named Homer (Curt Bois—who played the pickpocket for nine seconds in Casablanca) who is determined to chronicle the story of Berlin for future generations.
Oh, and Peter Falk (playing himself) is making a movie in Berlin. The film reveals a big secret about Falk.
(Quick spoiler) Damiel eventually gives up his immortal life as an angel to experience the joy of being human and to pursue the love of Marion. It is revealed the Peter Falk is an ex-angel as well and offers advice to the two angels and to Marion. He congratulates Damiel when he joins humanity, but when Damiel asks Peter Falk what he should do next, Falk tells him those are things he has to discover for himself. Eventually Damiel finds Marion snd she recognizes him as the spirit who has been comforting her all this time and the two of them experience love and happiness. Cassiel remains an angel and continues to observe Marion and Damiel’s life in Berlin, the story of the poet and to chronicle the story of Berlin. (End spoilers)
Wings of Desire is a beautiful film. Most of it is in black-and-white because, as we find out, angels cannot experience the joy of color. The color scenes, mostly later in the film, are only from the point of view of humans. The black-and-white gives the film a timeless feel that reflects the experience of the angels, who do not experience time. We discover that these two angels have been watching Berlin from the beginning of the world—thousands of millennia before the city or even humans existed. But most of their memories in this film are from the period of the end of World War II to the present, or 1987 in this case. They’re in Berlin because God created the angels because he wanted someone to see what He had created. They are there to observe and they have the ability to offer some comfort. No one can see them except small children, although director Wim Wenders explained that loophole was created because he couldn’t get the child extras in the film to ignore the actors playing the angels.
Much of the early parts of the film are the thoughts of the people of Berlin. The thoughts come to us unorganized and scattered—much like someone hitting “scan” on a radio. But most of these thoughts are about desire, loneliness or the meaning of existence.
And that’s the type of people who aren’t going to like Wings of Desire. If you don’t want to watch a film where people talk a lot (and unless they’re speaking to or are Peter Falk, not in English) about what it means to be human and where not a whole heck of a lot happens, this film isn’t for you. Peter Falk is there to lighten things up a bit, but overall the tone of the movie is melancholic and elegiac. But there’s also hope for the future in the love between Damiel and Marion. It’s really a shame if you can’t get into it, because it’s a terrific film.
There’s another character in this film that I haven’t mentioned yet: the City of Berlin. And Berlin is perhaps the most important character in the movie because it encompasses the themes of isolation and timelessness that the film is about. The two angels see the Berlin of 1987 and the Berlin of 1945 at the same time. They see a city that has been stuck in time. There are the bombings and the rubble. The film that Peter Falk is making is about the end of the war, and he speaks with extras playing concentration camp victims. The past is the present in Berlin, or at least it still was in 1987.
In many ways, this film could only have been made in Berlin of 1987. For over 40 years at that point, the city was stuck in a time capsule and surrounded on all sides. While the rest of the world had moved on, Berlin could not. West Berlin was not part of the Federal Republic of Germany (what we called West Germany) until unification in 1990. Officially, it was occupied territory for 45 years by the Allied military powers, although in practical terms the Allied armies allowed the German government in Bonn to do most of the actual governing.
Wenders was inspired to do a film about angels in Berlin when he walked the city and saw how many images of angels were everywhere. The most famous is the top of the Victory Column, which has a giant gold angel on top of it. Wenders has Damiel and Cassiel sit on the angel on top of the column as a way to better observe the city of Berlin.
Another important place in Berlin is the Potsdamer Platz, which had been an important shopping and nightclub spot in Berlin before the war, the German equivalent of Times Square in New York. But it was bombed into oblivion during the war and by 1987, it was still in ruins. The area was bisected by the Soviet and Western occupation zones and eventually the Berlin Wall went right through the center of it. The poet Homer in the film despairs over everything that is gone in Potsdamer Platz and how the memories of the place are forgotten by everyone but him. Since unification, Potsdamer Platz has become the most expensive piece of real estate in Europe and now houses the headquarters of Daimler-Benz, among others. But in 1987, it was still an empty field filled with trash and rubble.
Finally, the Berlin Wall plays a major part in this film. The angels can walk right through it and at one point they do, going over to the East. Wenders snuck actors Ganz and Sadler over to East Berlin and had an East German cameraman (at great risk to himself) film a few scenes with the two of them in the East. The film footage was then smuggled back across to the West where it was used in the picture.
But the Berlin Wall, which would come down in less than three years, is present a lot more than that. The angels walk along the wall several and the art and graffiti of the wall is highlighted by the picture. The wall is both a symbol of totalitarian oppression and a symbol of creative joy.
Forty-five years behind enemy lines and surrounded by the totalitarian German Democratic Republic (East Germany) on all sides, the people of West Berlin developed a unique culture. For one, they became hardened realists. They knew that if war happened, their city would be gone in less than an hour. The West had no way of protecting the city in armed conflict.
But with that fatalism came a certain kind of freedom. West Berlin embraced a carpe diem attitude because it really was true that tomorrow they could be dead. This spirit is represented in the film by two rock concerts by Crime & the City Solution and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, two Australian bands that had set up in Berlin at the time.
There was a sequel to Wings of Desire that Wenders made in 1993 called Faraway, So Close! which I haven’t seen, but it does deal with the city of Berlin after it has been shaken out of its period of suspended animation.
Again, Wings of Desire is a film well-worth watching. While not a lot happens in the picture, both the dialogue (both written and improvised) and the cinematography by veteran Henri Alekan create a lovely poem that is entrancing and fascinating. And while all the acting is terrific, Peter Falk is especially a delight in his supporting role.
If you don’t believe me, here’s New York Times film critic A.O. Scott telling you why you should watch Wings of Desire.
Welcome back to every who skips the movies and jazz.
The hardest part about writing this column three times a week is not the film essays (although they’re the most time-consuming) but rather coming up with three baseball poll questions a week.
But tonight, I’m keeping things simple by asking you the only question in baseball right now: Who is going to win the World Series? Will it be the Astros or the Braves? I’m not asking for who you’re cheering for, although you can say that in the comments, but rather I’m asking for your prediction.
Who’s is going to win the World Series?
This poll is closed
Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll have them bring your car around. Your hat and coat will be waiting for you at the door. I hope that we’ll see you again tomorrow with an abbreviated edition of BCB After Dark.