×

Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire’ Soars to Screens After Restoration

It’s been 30 years since the release of Wim Wenders’ signature film “Der Himmel über Berlin” aka “Wings of Desire,” and the premiere of the newly restored version in Berlinale Classics is a way of kicking off its anniversary theatrical re-release in Germany this April by Studiocanal, via their Arthaus Classics label.

The Wim Wenders Foundation has already restored 16 of Wenders’ films, including “The American Friend” and “Alice in the Cities,” but it was only then that Wenders felt ready to tackle what he knew would be the biggest challenge.

“‘Wings of Desire’ was so much more complex because we shot three-quarters of it in black & white and one-quarter in color,” Wenders explains. “They were intercut in each and every reel, and that’s where the trouble began.” In order to marry the two formats, including seamless transitions, the film had to go through several generations of interpositive and internegative, losing quality with every step, to create the final negatives used for release. “As beautiful as it might have looked in Cannes ’87, Wenders adds, “every print ever since is six generations removed.”

Wenders remembers that his cameraman, Henri Alekan, famous for his black & white photography on Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast” “suffered terribly because his beautiful black & white was printed on color negative. And he said, ‘Why can’t I get it right?’ and I said, ‘Henri, you will never get it right because it’s color negative and that’s the condition of the film.’ And also in the six generations, we lost some of the sharpness and contrast.”

While 2010 already saw a state-of-the-art HD mastering by Criterion for it’s Blu-ray edition, Wenders felt that “we needed to go deeper, because we needed something that was going to survive forever.” That meant getting back as close as possible to the original negative.

It took some time to hunt down the material, which was scattered among several archives, but all the elements were located in good condition. Everything was scanned at 4K and pieced together, with every effect not done in the camera being digitally re-created. The black & white and color sequences were reassembled, frame-identical to the original film with no generational loss, which revealed an image quality that had never been seen.

The painstaking work on the color correction became for Wenders an emotional experience, “I thought of Henri a lot and to regain that first generation brought such an enrichment of each and every shot,” he recalls. “Even before it was all put together – seriously, I sat there and cried. Because I so wished Henri could see it.”

But arguably his greatest collaborator was Berlin itself. “I always had a close relationship to the city of Berlin,” he says. “And I always felt throughout the making of ‘Wings of Desire,’ that the city was carrying the film, the city had sort of co-invented the story — the whole idea of the angels was something that I always felt that the city itself had suggested.

“And then of course two years later it became a whole different city,” he continues, “so I felt I had preserved a part of it that was very rapidly disappearing. Berlin changed in two or three years after ’89-’90, as if there was no tomorrow. And I realized I had just caught it in the nick of time, that strange, legendary island of a city that had made Berlin unique for 30 years. ‘Wings of Desire,’ more than any of my films, was a sheer gift. I was given this film as a gift from this city.”

Studiocanal has also acquired rights to a number of other Wenders films and additional releases will be forthcoming.

More Film

  • J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church

    SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius'

    Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some [...]

  • 'Roll Red Roll' Review: Piercing Documentary

    Film Review: 'Roll Red Roll'

    “Roll Red Roll” is a piercingly relevant and disturbing documentary about an infamous high school rape case that took place in Steubenville, Ohio (pop. 18,600), on Aug. 11, 2012. Steubenville, the sort of Friday-night-lights small town that boasts signs that read “Kick off for Jesus,” is a place that’s good at keeping secrets. When the [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild, Hollywood Agents Negotiate With Deadline Looming

    The Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents have held a sixth negotiating session with a deadline for a new deal 16 days away — and it’s uncertain whether progress is being made. The Association of Talent Agents made counter-proposals at Thursday’s session that contain provisions for more accountability and transparency by agencies for clients [...]

  • Fox Layoffs

    Fox Layoffs Leave Staffers Stunned and Saddened

    Fox employees knew this day was coming. For over a year, the men and women who work at the Century City lot have talked of little else but severance packages and job searches. They knew that when Disney wrapped up its $71.3 billion acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets, thousands [...]

  • Alan Horn Disney

    Disney Clarifies Film Leadership After Harrowing Day of Fox Layoffs

    Following the dismissal of top executives in distribution, marketing and strategy on Thursday, new 20th Century Fox owner Disney has clarified its new top leadership. Five distinct Fox labels and a portion of their leadership have been welcomed into the Disney fold, the company said. This includes Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Family, Fox Searchlight Pictures, [...]

  • Janelle Monae

    Film News Roundup: Janelle Monae to Star in Film From Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz

    In today’s film news roundup, Janelle Monae will star in a Lionsgate movie, Bill Nighy joins “Emma,” and documentaries on surfer Bethany Hamilton and Asbury Park are dated. CASTINGS Janelle Monae will star in an untitled Lionsgate movie directed by the duo Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. Related Film Review: 'Driveways' Berlin Film Review: 'Selfie' The [...]

  • Blair Rich Marketing Summit

    Studio Marketing Chiefs Discuss the Theatrical vs. Netflix Oscars Debate

    On a day where a large part of the Fox marketing department was wiped out in the aftermath of the Disney merger, a group of marketing chiefs from other studios and streamers sat down at the Variety Entertainment Marketing Summit presented by Deloitte “to discuss the issues shaping the feature marketing landscape today, including the theatrical [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content