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March 2001, Week 2


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"Sarah L. Higley" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 13 Mar 2001 23:39:16 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (72 lines)
On Tue, 13 Mar 2001, louie rayner wrote:

> Walter Benjamin establishes some theoretical parameters for a debate on
> film. One of the central aspects of this text is the problematic concept of
> aura in art and literature. According to Benjamin, auratic experience of art
> provides a sense of distancing. Defined by him as the unique phenomenon of a
> distance, however close it may be, aura involves a spatial idea of
> three-dimensionality. Space features in auratic experience in a metaphysical
> sense, a strange rendering of that which is familiar - what is so close is
> far away. The controversial nature of aura and whether or not a film can
> possess one begs the question: "Can aura feature in an investigation of film
> and space?"

What an utterly fascinating question, Loui!  I'm not sure I completely
understand it in Benjamin, but Wenders provides a good point of departure.
If these two films are his interpretation of Benjamin's theory, then it
seems that what interests him is an examination of intimate human life
from an extimate source.  An alien subjectivity, a desire for the
everydayness of human existence on the part of a divinity.  Of course
there is more to it than that as well... _Der Himmel_ is also about a
divided Berlin, seeing it from on high, and yet penetrating its most
secret chambers.  Als das Kind Kind war...

> Wim Wenders has made it clear in his writings, and most strikingly in his
> two Berlin films, WINGS OF DESIRE and FARAWAY, SO CLOSE, that he perceives
> his work as standing in the Benjamin-inspired tradition. I am currently
> working towards questioning the validity of this statement and I feel that a
> comparative element would be useful.
> How does the auratic in Wenders' films compare with that of other filmmakers
> (specifically those of a German tradition)? I am also in need of other
> writings, on the 'transformative' quality of cinema, that are useful to put
> alongside Benjamin.

I couldn't help you with German film, but what about American films that
have tried something similar--particularly the somewhat inferior "remake"
of _Wings of Desire_ in Silberling's _City of Angels_?  No.  Better yet,
bingo!  What about Proyas' _Dark City_?  I think you might find in some
American experimental science fiction films an exploration of the auratic.
_Dark City_ is a film that draws upon Weimar and noir film influences.
Here too we have a city seen from above--not by angels but by aliens--and
a human quotidian existence that is not only longed for by aliens but
replicated in endless recombinations.  Talk about Benjamin's "auratic":
new buildings torque up out of the bowels of the city and the inhabitants
are forced into recognizing them as always having been there. The effect
on viewers, and on me in particular, was that this was a city that
resembled those in my dreams: they were always alien, and yet familiar at
the same time.  And menacing, even though they were familiar.  Don't
listen to conventional reviews that have panned this movie.  It's a great

I have an essay coming out this year in _Camera Obscura_ about the uses of
the miniature in films about unreal cities that touches on this topic
indirectly.  What is so far away is close.

Sarah L. Higley                            [log in to unmask]
Associate Professor of English                office:  (716) 275-9261
The University of Rochester                   fax:     (716) 442-5769
Rochester NY, 14627
Py dydwc glein / O erddygnawt vein?
"What brings a gem from a hard stone?"               Book of Taliesin

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