From the Boston Phoenix, Thursday, January 21, 1999
Making Wings of Desire sing
It's one thing to provide live music as accompaniment to silent films, as
the Alloy Orchestra has done for the likes of Metropolis and Strike and
Steamboat Bill, Jr. It's quite another to integrate live music into a movie
that already has a score. But that's what the vocal art ensemble the Boston
Secession is going to attempt next weekend when it performs music ranging
from Beethoven and Rossini to Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass while the Coolidge
Corner screens Wim Wenders's 1987 touching-an-angel film Wings of Desire.
It's not as odd an idea as you might think. Apart from the Berlin nightclub
performances -- Crime and the City Solution's "Six Bells Chime," Nick Cave
and the Bad Seeds' "The Carny" and "From Her to Eternity" (the film, of
course, goes from eternity to her) -- Jürgen Knieper's score is intermittent
and most discreet: a snatch of cello here, a little ambient synth there.
Boston Secession artistic director Jane Ring Frank explains, "Whereas with
orchestras like the Alloy, the music is brought in to revitalize the
cinematic experience, we're using the movie to revitalize the concert
experience." "Bach Again," the Secession's first major presentation (in
January of 1998), "showed where Bach got his ideas and then showed what
composers have done with them since, and that culminated with the Arvo Pärt
Credo." Not to mention the Carpenters' Christmas album. "This is very very
weird," Frank admits, "but in my youth, however it happened, I sang back-up
for the Carpenters." Bach . . . Pärt . . . Carpenters -- clearly Frank, who
is chapel musician at the Episcopal Divinity School in Harvard Square and a
visiting scholar at Brandeis (she also teaches at Emerson), is no mean
But why Wings of Desire? "My colleague Bob Fink and I were kicking around
how much fun it would be to score a cartoon, or even a whole movie. What we
were looking for was something with poetic imagery." So how often has she
watched the film over the past year? "Hundreds of times. And we perused
hundreds of scores." The result reflects Frank's centuries-spanning musical
range. Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach for the camera's opening
discovery of angel Damiel atop Berlin's Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche,
Ligeti's Lux Aeterna in the Staatsbibliothek, the Kyrie from Rossini's
Petite messe solennelle for the motorcycle accident, the Chorus of the
Exiled Jews from John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer during Homer's search
for Potsdamer Platz, Ligeti's Aventures for Cassiel's "death leap" off the
Siegessäule, Saint-Saëns's Le cygne for Marion lying on her bed, the last
part of Beethoven's String Quartet Opus 132 when Damiel takes the plunge,
and Bruckner's sublime motet Christus factus est for Marion's "Jetzt oder
nie" monologue in the bar.
The Secession performers, including instrumentalists as well as vocalists,
will sit in front of the screen, but you'll still be able to read the
subtitles. And you'll hear parts of the original soundtrack (Nick Cave is a
good bet), as well as some of the original silences. Some might call this
messing with a classic, but exploring is, after all, in the spirit of Wings
of Desire, and who's to say that the Secession's performance won't lift
Wenders's film -- whose German title is Der Himmel über Berlin -- even
higher into the heavens.
The Boston Secession will accompany Wings of Desire at 7:30 p.m. next Friday
and Saturday, January 29 and 30, at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline.
Call 734-2501 for further information, 617/931-2000 (or stop by the box
office) for tickets.
-- Jeffrey Gantz
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama.