It didn't matter how tired I was after so many PIFF screenings. There was no way I was gonna miss out on Wim Wenders' appearance at Cinema 21 last week. The man is a personal hero of mine, his fluidity of process continually inspiring my own approach to creative work.
There's a unique flavor of narrative freedom saturated with resigned nostalgia present in the best of Wenders' work (Alice in the Cities, Lightning Over Water, Paris, Texas, and The American Friend, to name just a few). Even if you've only seen a couple of his movies, his style is unmistakable, though his path to getting there varies from project to project.
One of the New German Cinema pack (a name given by film journalists to a group of post-reconstruction era German auteurs of the time that also included Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, etc.) that sprung into the limelight during the 1970s, Wenders, like Herzog, is one of the few who grew into an international artist, working outside of Germany regularly, spreading his European sensibilities beyond the borders of his homeland.
Presently, he's promoting his most recent film, Pina, the Oscar-nominated, 3D documentary that presents the work of the late choreographer/dance company director Pina Bausch. It's why he showed up in our small burg, introducing the film, as well as sticking around to answer a few questions from the audience after the 7pm screening.
Before the film, Wenders asked if anyone had ever been to a small village named Wuppertal, where the film is set. A couple of hoots from the audience either suggested that, yes, a few people had visited, or that the many beers being sold in the lobby were inspiring an agreeable conviviality bordering on benign deception; either way, it was clear that the audience was already in the palm of Wim's hand.
The film itself is a wonderful use of stereoscopic technology. Even more than Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams, I can't imagine how reduced the experience would be by seeing the film in a two-dimensional presentation. It requires the illusion of defined 3D space to properly convey the dances that Pina and her company conceived together. Beyond that, it's a beautiful introduction to Pina's work, even to a dance neophyte such as myself.
Post-screening, Wim admitted that if Pina had not passed shortly before shooting on the project began the film would have been an entirely different picture. He said his original vision was to make a film about Pina's eyes, the way she saw, and how it influenced her work. After Bausch's death, the dancers convinced Wenders that there was still a film that could be made about Pina; one that still included the four numbers that Pina had wanted in the project.
On their own, those dance pieces were not enough to constitute a film and Wenders found himself in need of an appropriate solution for supplementing the material. He relied on the dance company's intimate knowledge of Pina's process to inform his own ability to add to the planned material, devising a film that included additional dances prompted by a complex series of (Pina's) questions answered by danced responses. Those additions, all filmed outside the studio, add a harmonizing playfulness that breathes much life into the film. Yet again, another example of Wenders' ability to work outside the box to great results.
If you'd like to hear Wenders speak more about the project, why not listen to the most recent edition of the NW Film Center's Adjust Your Tracking podcast, featuring Film Center staffer/journalist Erik McClanahan's phone conversation with him. Hit the link to tune in.
All photos are courtesy of Viva Las Vegas, who was lucky enough to be in the front row for Wenders' Q&A. Thanks again, Viva!
Also many thanks to both Cinema 21 and PIFF/NW Film Center for partnering to bring Wenders to PDX! A great night, folks.