With Wild Nothing's new album Indigo out on Friday, Jack Tatum writes for Best Fit on Wim Wenders' cinematic masterpiece and finding beauty in some of life's plainer moments.
One of my favorite movies is Wim Wenders’ Wings Of Desire. The first time I saw it years ago I was struck by a few things. It’s shot almost entirely in stark black and white, something which immediately plucks the film from it’s late eighties timeframe and drops it somewhere less tangible.
It also feature one of the best cinematic live music scenes I can think of in the form of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds playing in a dramatic, smoke filled Berlin club (although I’ve always loved The Yardbirds scene in Blowup too...). Most of all though I was struck by its underlying message, the idea that real beauty lies in the mundane and everyday things that make us human. The things that we take for granted.
We’re reminded of this fact by the main character of the movie, an angel named Damiel who wanders around Berlin observing what it is to be human. We learn to see ourselves through his eyes, as someone who knows nothing about emotions or small actions and gestures. Drinking coffee, overlapping conversations in the library, the feeling of losing a job, knowing love, these are all the things that ultimately become too much for Damiel to resist and convince him to give up being an angel.
I thought about this movie a lot as I was working on my latest record, so I rewatched Wings Of Desire and felt myself returning to the idea. What kind of truths lie between the exciting moments? There was something about it that reminded me of my other idols, people like David Byrne who have routinely made practice of writing about these miniature gestures and overlooked realities of daily life.
I think about the [Talking Heads] song “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” a lot for instance. I’ve always felt (even as this song has become more and more ubiquitous) that it’s one of the more successful love songs of our time, largely due to its avoidance of grandiosity. It’s a very modern love song, purposefully non-narrative and rooted in the concept of love as a sense of place. Interestingly though, the name itself gives away some of David Byrne’s feelings: “Naive Melody”. To me that’s slightly complicated to unpack. I’ve often wondered if that addition to the title was a backtrack of sorts, or a way to write about love openly while simultaneous throwing in a self-aware wink. If this song is ultimately guilty of being naive then you could just as easily say that Damiel’s outlook on humanity is too. Is that necessarily a bad thing?
The notion of “stopping to smell the roses”, so to speak, is often seen as a very naive perspective, and on one hand I can absolutely get that. I’ve found it hard to embrace naivety myself without giving into irony. When you boil the notion down though you’re left with something that means much more than any singular act. It’s the collection of acts, the ways in which subtly can hint at deeper significance.
That’s what I love so much about Wings Of Desire. I’ve never interpreted it as a scolding for taking the mundane for granted, but rather a very plain reminder that reading between the lines, even when it comes to the moments in life that might otherwise come and go without notice, can reward you with something beautiful.