Jeff Smith 11:59 p.m., Feb. 8
The Interviewer's Anxiety at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla: An Interview with Wim Wenders, Pt. 2
I used to get it a lot more. Nowadays, most people seem to forget I have a first name and simply call me Mark. After the publicist said, “Wim, I’d like you to meet Scott Marks,” he shook my hand and asked, “Groucho? Are you any relation to The Marx Bros.?”
Being born with a “ks” instead on an “x” to end of my name is one of life’s biggest regrets, but there had been ample time for me to come to terms with it. Never before had an idol greeted me with the name of a fellow deity on his lips. Toys of fate! Kismet! I was kidding about that anxiety part in the title. This was going to be great!
It’s not often you’ll find stars in my eyes, so allow me one final “slack-jawed in amazement” digression before moving on. We met the night before for a Q&A following a screening of Wenders’ Academy Award-nominated documentary, Pina, at Horton Plaza.
The next morning, I crossed paths with the great German director upon entering the restaurant at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla, “Good morning, Scott," he waved and smiled. "I’ll be right back.”
Suddenly I felt like Denny, the little invalid who is miraculously brought to his feet by a “Hiya, kid” from Bill Bendix in The Babe Ruth Story. I suppressed the urge to shout, “He spoke to me! Wim Wenders spoke to me himself!”
Take it from me, kids. Wim Wenders is good for what ails you!
Luckily there had been a cancellation (what film critic in their right mind would cancel an interview with Wim Wenders?) giving us twice the amount of time generally extended. The stars were in their courses!
In my bag of tricks was a pair of 3D glasses and a silver Sharpee. When asked how I wanted them inscribed, I replied, “Would you sign it, ‘Dear Lucky eBay Winner?”
When the email first arrived informing me that Wim Wenders would be coming to San Diego for interviews, my reply read, “Wim who?” I jokingly replied. My admiration for the man preceded me, and when last minute news arrived that IFC wanted to put together a Q&A for the public, I was the first one Cathy Spillane at Allied Integrated Marketing called and asked to moderate. Thanks for the honor, Cathy. You put on a great show. I think we did him proud.
Thanks also to “Queen of the Road” (Wenders got the joke) Sophia Verbiscar for coming along with camera in tow. The pictures are so good, I almost feel as if I were there!
Normally I arrive with twenty or thirty prepared questions. Today, one page of my notebook contained the following four bullet points:
1.) “Paris, Texas” big Gaslamp
2.) DVD releases
3.) 3D conversion
4.) Bruno Ganz / Hitler memes
Well, three out of four ain’t bad! There are many Wim wonders to be found, including a brief tutorial on the origins of 3D, the high cost of copyright infringement, fresh Béla (Tarr, not Lugosi), and everything that’s wrong with contemporary cinema summed up in three sentences.
Click for Part 1 of our interview.
Scott Marks: Let’s pick up with something that was touched upon during last night’s Q&A. Yes, I am a die-hard purist, but unlike colorization, the thought of converting older films into 3D doesn’t bother me. I know you hate it, but...
Wim Wenders: What’s good about it?
Wouldn’t you love to see something like Hitchcock’s Rear Window in 3D?
Yes, but that was originally shot in 3D.
No. Rear Window, not Dial M for Murder.
Of course. Forgive me.
Considering the way Hitchcock tells his story through depth and space, it’s like your watching a film in 3D without the glasses.
That film is really about seeing, the subject of this film is watching. At least that film, for one, has an affinity to 3D and to space. He’s looking through his glasses all the time...that could be a film that at least would lend itself. I just know that physiologically, no film that is doing it retroactively can be really friendly to your eyes.
I saw the stereoscopic conversion of Nightmare Before Christmas, and was almost instantly sold. I was astounded by how good it looked.
I saw a trailer in 3D for Titanic and am curious to see how well Cameron was able to do that.
You must have seen Hugo.
Throughout the entire film, Scorsese refrains from stereoscopically converting any of the silent clips, until the last shot where “the man in the moon” comes out at us.
But you know “the man in the moon” was shot with two cameras.
I plead ignorance. Tell me more.
It was just last year at the Cinémathèque in France and the story is really funny. The Lumière Brothers consciously shot some stuff in 3D. They did a few of their films in 3D and would have explored it more if it would have made sense in distribution.
So they did invent film in 3D right away. From the beginning, their was a certain desire on the part of different inventors all over the world to have it in 3D. Certainly the Lumières. Méliès did so involuntarily because he very soon had established quite a market in America. His films were sold right away and always shown in America.
At the time they didn’t have internegatives so he started to shoot his scenes with two parallel cameras. He shot all of A Journey to the Moon with two cameras, one was for his European distribution and one was for the American market.
They only discovered that not so long ago when they restored Journey to the Moon. Well-preserved elements from an American print and well-preserved elements from a European print didn’t quite fit.
This wasn’t an example of film shrinking over time?
They didn’t shrink. One camera was standing two-feet next to the other, and that was the difference. There was a different perspective. Then they realized there are no pictures of Méliès making the film. Given the different perspective and the identical action in it, he must have had two cameras on the set.
They tried putting them together and miraculously it gives a pretty good 3D effect. I’ve seen it. They've restored it to almost its full length -- for some of the moments they didn’t have it for both eyes, so it is not 3D for its entire length, but 80% of it was quite good. It was obviously shot with two parallel cameras, so he invented it without knowing it. The Lumières did it very consciously. I saw about a dozen of their films that were consciously shot in order to produce 3D.
Did you see them in 3D?
Oh, yeah. They were shown in Cannes. It was a lot of fun. The entire audience loved it. We have seen these films for so long. Everybody has seen at least one, or two, or three of these. There was an intention at the beginning of the invention of cinema to create space with it.
Not many people knew that. I’m sure Marty knows about the restored 3D version of Journey to the Moon and maybe that’s what he actually used. Maybe he didn’t do it in hindsight.
We spoke yesterday before the show about the pending Criterion DVD release of some of your films. Will the uncut Until the End of the World be released this year?
That’s next year. They are working on Alice in the Cities right now. They worked for a long time on it already because the negative was in very, very bad shape.
So Alice in the Cities is the next release and hopefully after that The Goalie’s Anxiety... That hasn’t been out for a long, long time and we are still working on the music rights. That was the drawback.
What about your short films?
Shorts? Well, nothing could go wrong except again there are a couple of music rights that I either have to replace or find a sweet deal. A lot of the music that I used at the time, I used illegally because I never even knew you had to buy the rights.
You didn’t get the memo that week.
No. I shot my first long film Summer in the City using everything in the book, because I loved it. In hindsight I realized I could neither sell it to television because the music rights would cost more than the film itself did. I learned the hard way. Same with Scorsese. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore has distribution problems because of the music.
Robert Aldrich’s Hustle relies heavily of a couple of Artie Shaw tunes that they couldn’t get the rights to and decided to substitute them with elevator music for the VHS and cable release. Shaw’s songs were credited in the closing crawl, but nowhere to be heard.
I think they went back and fixed it for the DVD. I’d like to mention a film of yours that has always touched me, Paris, Texas. It’s been my contention that had the divorce rate in Hollywood not been so high, Paris, Texas would have won every major award the year it was released.
Kastassia Kinski and Harry Dean Stanton.
That is a sore spot in my life. The truth was after it won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, 20th Century Fox had all the intentions to qualify with it. It was shot in America and in English, it should have qualified. They were excited about it. I was there in the office in Los Angeles.
We talked about how it was going to be released, what their plans were. And then I came back a few months later and the girl at the reception desk didn’t recognize me. I came into the office and didn't recognize anybody.
The entire management had been exchanged and the last thing the new guys wanted to prove was that the last administration had bought something that was good. They didn’t make the slightest effort in any category. There were no ads, no nothing. The film was buried alive.
And Harry Dean (Stanton) started drinking because that was the chance in his lifetime to at least get a nomination. Nothing happened. They didn’t do one screening. It didn’t qualify anywhere because it was a whole new company and they were on to new things.
It broke my heart because it broke Harry’s heart. Harry knew that he would have had a good chance to be nominated. He’s every actors’ actor in Hollywood. Everybody loved him. And Harry had been doing a hundred supporting parts and this was his chance.
I’m sure that Harry would have at least been nominated, if not won the Oscar if they would had given him a chance. They didn’t do anything. Not one ad. I was young and it was after the fact that I realized it, so I continued. But I know that it would have meant a lot to Harry Dean Stanton and that’s why it pained me, too.
Not many would have risked giving him a leading man’s role. In a return show of faith he rewarded your film with the performance of his career.
It is definitely the performance of his lifetime. We saw it the other day. Harry came to a screening of a new restored print at the Aero in Los Angeles. Harry and Nastassia (Kinski) both came and actually sat through it and watched it together. It was very, very sweet and still a big deal in his life. He didn’t get the recognition...I mean he did, but he would have loved it...
He didn’t win the prize.
(It’s an open door that I do not normally enter. For the sake of bringing Wim Wenders back to San Diego, I threw professional behavior to the wind.)
Okay, since you brought that up, what chances would there be of getting you, and possibly Mr. Stanton and Ms. Kinski to come to San Diego for a similar showing.
You’d probably have to do it in a way that it is not the only reason for me to come down here. I would have to fly from Europe because I really relocated the center of my life back in Berlin. Nastassia and Harry are here.
So I would have to wait until the next time you pay a visit to California.
They would both love it. I think think there is an upcoming retrospective in Hollywood that we are considering attending.
People assume that since San Diego is so close to Hollywood that eveything would just naturally trickle down here. It’s not so and I would love to start some type of visiting artists program and screen 35mm movies in on a forty-foot screen in a 500-seat theatre. I’m sure I could arrange for it to be screened in the big Gaslamp Theatre. You’d love the place.
(Contact information secured. Wish me luck!)
Here’s a bit of a superfluous question, and one that only I would ask. You’re still tight with Bruno Ganz, aren’t you?
I am curious to hear what you and he think of the wave of YouTube “Hitler memes” from Downfall.
They’re called “Hitler memes.” People take the scene from Downfall where Hitler learns of Germany’s defeat and add their own subtitles to form parodies like, Hitler Finds Out There is No Santa or Hitler Learns Leno Is Moving Back To Late Night. Does any of this make sense?
He might not even know about it.
The director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, is aware of them and he actually finds them amusing. It also gives people an awareness of his film.
I never saw them.
What is wrong with contemporary cinema?
What’s wrong with it for me is quite clear. It relies too heavily on recipes. It’s all remakes and sequels. Every remake or sequel in my book is a sign of cowardice. There is not enough original stuff being developed.
It can’t be that hard to at least apply a fresh coat of polish on an old chestnut.
The writers are out there. There is nothing but great writers with great new scripts. A lot of the studios don’t have the guts to try something that has not been done already.
You wonder where they ever found the inspiration in the first place. Did you happen to see the Italian film *Le Quattro Volte? Not a word of dialog in it and the stars are an old goat-herder, a young goat, a dog, and a tree. It was the most enlightening experience I had in a movie last year.
No, I have not seen it.
I saw it four times and in each case I practically had the theatre to myself.
I had a similar experience with a film by Béla Tarr which I don't think is out in America. The Turin Horse. Did it play here?
It was going to, but they needed more screens for Cars 2. I’m kidding. Stuff like that never makes its way here unless it’s on DVD.
A very, very beautiful film. Also, there is almost no dialog. Just noise and wind, and people. It takes place in a very poor part of Hungary where people are starving. It’s mind-blowing. See it if you can.
You know I will. Three great near-silent films make it to America the same year as The Artist -- with no subtitles to challenge the viewer -- and Hollywood smiles upon the least demanding and most nostalgic of the bunch. The Artists cheapens the art of silent films by saying they are not much more than pretty pictures of trivial fluff.
I think you are right. Silent films in themselves were richer than in the way they are represented.
In my youth I ran a revival house and some of the older patrons would gripe about how sound robbed pictures of its silence, that everything changed when Western Electric started calling the shots. The older I got, the more silent movies I watched. In a sense, my elder patrons were right. Is there a sound picture to rival Sunrise?
When there is a whole new revolutionary technology coming, and sound was a revolution, the language that established by then came to an abrupt stop. For the next ten years no movie had the elegance of the last three or four years of silent movies.
No movie had remotely the freedom of let’s say Abel Gance’s Napoleon, or Sunrise, or something like that. There was movement, there was freedom, there was very elaborate, joyful expression. Experimentation! Then sound came in and it stopped dead for ten years.
It’s like going forward three steps and then going back two. And the same thing happened when digital first came in. The first digital movies, any of these effect I thought were a far cry away from let’s say what Kubrick had done with 2001
I don’t see a single science fiction film that could come close to it. Everything that had been done in science fiction with miniatures and matte paintings was more beautiful.
God Bless Albert Whitlock and A.D. Flowers!
It took a long time until digital caught up and started to surpass. I think with 3D we are seeing the same thing. The first 3D movies were a far cry away from fulfilling the possibilities of that technology. Even today a lot of it is two-steps back.
For the most part, filmmakers still use 3D as a way to poke things at the audience. Prior to 2011, Dial M for Murder was arguably the only 3D film that actually used the gimmick to explore narrative space. With Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Hugo, and now Pina, we have three contemporary Masters working in the medium. At last -- cinema has finally hit upon the artistic merits of 3D. I wish that every film could be shot in 3D, especially the way in which you gentlemen present it.
I love it very much, but I wouldn’t side with what you just said about every film being shot in 3D. I think there are a number of films that do not need it at all.
It is the way we see, why shouldn’t the same apply for movies?
It is the way we see, but it’s not necessarily the way we should tell stories. People are just going to have to get used to the fact that if directors and writers are going to use this new language they are going to have to suit their approach to the material.
I do not think that many people so far have tried to crack the code and conceive something for 3D. Most of the movies I’ve seen, apart from Avatar and certainly Hugo, are movies that could just as well have been shot in 2D. That is the real scandal over the last few years.
The studios didn’t explore it for it artistic possibilities, only for the roller coaster ride of it. That made a lot of people think this language isn;t good for anything else. Only in animation is it used really intelligently. In the first three or four years, the only 3D films I liked were animated.
In real life only Avatar...of course Avatar isn’t real life, only very little of it, but that was the first film where I thought, ‘Yes!’ ‘Good!’ Somebody shows the world the potential of it, and there is a big vision behind it.
1954 to 2008. That’s a big gap. And it isn’t as if 3D films weren’t occasionally released after the ‘50’s boom quieted down.
There was a beautiful IMAX production in 70mm of the Cirque du Soleil that was done in the late ‘90’s. Did you see that?
That was insane because you needed a truck to transport the one print. 65mm is big enough, but to double it. If there was one break you had to find the exact spot and replace it on the other side. I spoke to projectionists who said it was a 24-hour process to get it to screen. It meant they had to look at it frame by frame to make sure it didn’t go out of sync.
It was like Cinerama. If one print broke, you had to break the other two in the corresponding place.
It was exciting.
I can’t thank you enough for gracing our town. This truly was one of the great moments of my continuing cinematic upbringing. You taught me well.
I did it for Manny (Farber). Manny was a great friend and a fantastic writer. He was a modest guy, but in his time, Manny Farber was the greatest writer about movies.
Reading his essay on Warner Bros. cartoons was a liberating experience. You mentioned a photo of you, Manny Farber, and Jean-Luc Godard on the beach in La Jolla. Is there a print of that floating around anywhere?
It is in a little book of mine called Once. It’s still in print. When I met Manny he had long stopped writing and he was only and entirely a painter. When I praised his writing he said, ‘Yes. That was my former life.’ He was just a writer, he was just a painter now. I am the proud owner of two beautiful paintings of his. He was very funny. He used a film of mine, Kings of the Road as a springboard.
What an honor.
Actually, it is.
Once Upon a Time in La Jolla.
More like this:
- Meet Rebecca Tolin, Almost-Participant in Thursday's SDSU Filmmaker's Showcase — May 15, 2012
- Wim, Vigor, and Vitality: An Interview with Wim Wenders, Pt. 1 — Feb. 24, 2012
- Meet Wim Wenders in Person! — Feb. 22, 2012
- Pina, W./E., and Safe House Reviews — Feb. 15, 2012
- Feature: Local Company 3D Film Factory Looks to the Future — Aug. 31, 2011