German director spreads his 'Wings' in Baltimore

December 13, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Amid questions about the meaning of life, spiritual salvation and German nationalism, one man came to the microphone to ask film director Wim Wenders something everyone wanted to know.

"I hope you don't consider this a mundane question, but how did you stumble upon Peter Falk?" the man asked one of Germany's most acclaimed directors.

Mr. Falk plays himself -- but with a different history -- in Mr. Wenders' "Wings of Desire" and the sequel coming in January, "Far Away, So Close."

His character is a former angel -- as ethereal as he is earthy -- who chose to become mortal some 30 years earlier.

Mr. Wenders introduced "Wings of Desire," first released in 1988, and answered questions for more than two hours afterward at the Senator Theatre Saturday afternoon, in a well-attended event sponsored by the Baltimore Film Forum.

"I wanted it to be somebody that everyone recognized," Mr. Wenders told the man who was curious about how Columbo became the former angel.

Mr. Wenders had considered sports figures and politicians, but figured no one would believe they were angels, he said.

His assistant suggested Mr. Falk.

"I actually was in possession of Peter Falk's phone number," Mr. Wenders said.

"So I dialed the number. He picked it up on the other end and said, 'Yeah.' Believe me. It was Peter Falk."

"Wings," a film shot mostly in black and white, is about guardian angels who feel, hear and guide the spiritual yearnings inside the heads of people on the Berlin subway, on the street, in homes and especially in the public library. It could be called Germany's version of "It's a Wonderful Life."

One angel, played by Bruno Ganz, decides to turn in his wings for the weight of mortality, as Mr. Falk has.

Mr. Wenders, who lives in Berlin, said he would return to the Senator for another talk in January to introduce "Far Away, So Close."

In "Far Away," the characters and actors will return, Mr. Wenders promised, to a different Berlin. One year after "Wings" was released, the Berlin Wall came down.

"I have not seen this picture for six years," Mr. Wenders said.

"So much has happened since this film. You see them walk through the wall, as only angels could do at the time."

Although he said "Far Away" is a hopeful film, Mr. Wenders said Berlin is perhaps a more troubled city than it was six years ago.

"Berlin today is not a very joyful place," he said.

"There was a short enthusiasm and great joy when the wall was taken down, [but] people are hostile. The one thing that we really need to learn today is to look inside each other."

"Far Away" also features former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

"He has an encounter with an angel," Mr. Wenders said.

One man at the Senator asked about the movement by European filmmakers, including Mr. Wenders, to stem the tide of American films the director said now take up 90 to 95 percent of screens in Europe.

European filmmakers are pursuing increased government subsidies for art houses that show their work at home, said Mr. Wenders, who has directed some American films, including "Paris, Texas."

"None of us ever seriously intended to impose quotas or censorship," Mr. Wenders said. "We're trying to stay alive."

In Baltimore, the Charles Theater, which shows mostly foreign and independent American films, will close this month and stay that way unless a buyer saves the financially troubled art house.

Across the country, small theaters have had trouble competing with chains that are now branching into the art-film market.

"In Europe, we have the same phenomenon," Mr. Wenders said during an interview later. "Communal" theaters show works by only European filmmakers, but need the kind of subsidies live theater and opera get.

"We're trying to reroute some of the money," he said.

Mr. Wenders' visit to Baltimore started through friends he and his wife, Donata, have in Baltimore through the Greater Grace World Outreach.

A member of the church in Baltimore, Jason Hubert of Mount Airy, is a film student at Towson State University.

He called the Baltimore Film Forum two weeks ago seeking a place for Mr. Wenders to hold a screening, and the Film Forum chose the Senator and opened the event to the public, said Vicky Westover, executive director of the non-profit film organization.

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