Our two interim program managers got a chance to talk to Wim Wenders about his new documentary, Pina, which has its Minnesota premiere at the Walker this Wednesday. Read the interview or listen to it below. Wim Wenders was also at the Walker in 1991 for a Regis Dialogue and Retrospective.
If the player isn’t working, you can listen to the interview here.
Wim Wenders: I have glorious memories of the Walker Art Center.
Jeremy Meckler: I know that you and Werner Herzog have worked together a lot in the past, and I just thought it was interesting that you both came out with 3D films within the same year and a half.
Actually it was funny, because we didn’t know of each other—we didn’t know of each other’s 3D projects and shoots until we found ourselves programmed on the same day at the Berlin film festival early last year in February. We realized that way that we both had a 3D film to show, because that was the only day that the festival had installed a 3D projector. That’s how we saw each other’s films and that’s how we found out.
Matt Levine: I think it’s really interesting that both Pina and [Herzog’s]Cave of Forgotten Dreamsplay with this notion of cinematic space. I was just wondering how you think the form of 3D transforms our notions of cinematic space.
Well, for about a good hundred and ten years, movies have invented all sorts of tricks and all sorts of fancy and sometimes very charming means to make us believe that films were concurring space indeed. The camera was put on tracks and on shoulders and on steadicams and on cranes and you can put it into automobiles and planes and god knows you could even throw it out of the window. But it always ended up on a two-dimensional screen, so space was really always fake. It was always a simulation. I only realized that there was something lacking when I tried to imagine how to film Pina’s dance, because the two of us had been trying to make a film together for twenty years. I was just stalling for time and I found myself at a loss how to film her work, because my tools and my craft didn’t seem to have what it took to really do justice to Pina’s art and to the magic and to the contagious energy of it.
I only finally saw myself able to say “now I can do it” when I saw my first 3D film and realized that was the answer and that’s what we had been missing. Space, for the first time, was a tool for filmmakers. I think 3D is the greatest revolution ever since the talkies, only most people didn’t realize it because we thought it was just a gimmick for national blockbusters. Now some movies come out that show the true potential of 3D which is really a whole different way of seeing the world.
J.M.: Have you seen films from the 60’s 3D film revival? Hitchcock shot a film in 3D.
Frankly the Anaglyph system really sucked and the red and green glasses only caused headaches. It was a flawed system at the time and it disappeared rightfully. Now with digital technologies you can really synchronize two images to the pixel, not just vaguely and not just to the millisecond but to the pixel. that is necessary to really create smooth movement and to really create the depth of vision that physiologically looks like something that two eyes can really see.
ML: Can you talk a little bit about the similarities between the two art forms of cinema and dance.
Well, dance is something that you really need to see live in order to appreciate it. Dance in cinema was never . . . I felt cinema never got it right. Of course there are lots of great dance movies, and I saw them all, I saw Singing in the Rain and The Red Shoes, but they always were pulled through by their stories. The plot in them was really what made the dance fabulous. Cinema could never get dance right. I had a screening of Pina in Los Angeles when I showed it at the AIF. There was this lady coming up to me afterward this older lady, and she said ,“My husband would have really embraced this film and he would have really understood why you needed 3D to do this.” And I said “Oh that’s very nice,” and she said “My husband’s name was Gene Kelly,” and of course that really made my day.
I think it is very telling that actually the Brothers Lumière invented 3D already in the beginning. They actually made movies in three dimensions—they realized that with two cameras parallel they could do this—and then they stopped it because it was too complicated and too expensive. So in a strange way, cinemas were invented with that intention, to be a perception like two eyes see the world, and only now we can actually do it.
JM: How do you think Pina fits in? It’s been nominated for [the Academy Award for] Best Documentary but is it a documentary?
Well, it’s always a question of what is a pure documentary. I don’t think it really exists anymore. When I was making Buena Vista Social Club I thought I was doing a music documentary and I thought it was a really hardcore documentary. Then I was sitting in the editing room and it slowly dawned on me that I was editing a fairy tale. That’s what we had been following. With Pina it was, by any means, the method and the approach of making it was strictly documentary but what we had in front of the camera, choreography, is by nature fiction. So we were making a documentary film about fictitious events which still makes it a documentary. On the other hand you realize that invention and fiction and documentary really cannot be separated so clearly anymore.
ML: A lot of the dancers’ performances in Pina sort of reminded of silent acting, just in how incredible expressive they were without the use of dialogue. Was that something you thought about at all?
It was more obvious sometimes than in others, and maybe sometimes the effect is also from the music, because some of the music Pina that used and that was used is from the twenties, so sometimes the effect is a little more due to the music than to anything else. But of course dancers don’t need words, and it is silent language so to speak, and you can call it the only universal language because everyone can speak it and everyone can understand it. It shares that with music actually. On the other hand, some of the pieces and some of what you see in the film is utterly modern and doesn’t owe anything to the silent age. But I understand why that association happens. Sometimes all we have is the image and the music and of course, that is what you get in the silents.
JM: Could you talk a little about the eternal return of that line of dancers doing the seasons throughout Pina?
That was one of the few structural ideas I had. I love that quote from a piece of Pina when they dancers sort of go through this endless repetition of the seasons. I thought that would be a good element to be repeated so much starting in the theater, and have the actors leave the theater and in the end be out in nature and actually walk off into the sunset. It seemed to me that, for a film that was showing such a huge span of Pina’s career and her work, it would be great to have this time element in it.
You guys, I’m terribly sorry, but I’m being given big signals by our press people that I have to go on and have to let you go, I’m very sorry. Take good care and all my very best to Minneapolis and the Walker Art Center. I can’t wait to be there again.
Related: Matt Levine and Jeremy Meckler’s essay, “Beyond Real: Wim Wenders and 3-D Film’s New Day“