by Ken Capobianco
January 25, 1999
Photo caption: The Boston Secession knows the score.
If you've seen the film "Wings of Desire" by Wim Wenders, you know that it is a rich, sumptuous cinematic experience. Wenders mixes equal parts yearning, whimsy, eroticism and existential questioning in his story of an angel who falls in love with a human. In his search for genuine human contact and emotional connection, he enters the world by leaving his wings behind. The angel is initiated into the fascinating but often mundane world, and his quest for spiritual fulfillment through love forces him to give up eternity. He must become flesh and blood - with all its limitations and flaws.
If you've never seen the film, or have only seen the Hollywood version of it, last year's "City of Angels," you're in for a treat when the original unspools at the Coolidge Corner Moviehouse on Jan. 29 & 30. If you're familiar with Wenders' work, the screenings will be of interest as, for the first time, the film will be accompanied by the 30-member Boston Secession, an acclaimed local musical ensemble.
In a way, it will be like experiencing the movie anew, as the live music, chosen by Secession's musical director Jane Ring Frank, will re-contextualize the viewing experience. Much of the film's score will remain intact, including Nick Cave 's brooding rock sequences. But portions will be replaced by Secession, thus creating a completely new way to delve into the richly imagined movie.
"I have very painstakingly put together this multimedia jigsaw puzzle," explains Frank. "The way that I did it was to take pre-existing pieces of music in a search process to find the right kind of tone and text for the various scenes in the movie. The reason we gravitated towards 'Wings of Desire' was because the cinematography was so beautiful and the lyricism of the images lent themselves to a very beautiful background for this concert event."
Thirty musicians will be seated between the large Coolidge screen and the front row, and portions of the film's actual score will be turned down in order to incorporate Frank's live musical passages. She spent a great deal of time looking for music that would bring a different element to the movie, without losing the original intent or context. The choral and instrumental music will include works by Beethoven, Rossini and Saint Saens, as well as the moderns such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
"History has shown that score re-constructions for films, by bringing an orchestra in or theater organ, or what the Alloy Orchestra does with silent films, has been successful," Frank says. "We are taking it one step further by bringing in pre-existing classical music and creating an entirely new feel."
Frank has broken the movie down and carefully selected the proper compositions, along with her colleague, Robert Fink. They brainstormed the kind of musical passages that would work with the film. She says that they spent hundreds of hours looking at scenes and listening to scores and making it all fit together in a wholly organic way.
"It took many months," Frank adds with a hint of relief. "The brainstorming started over a year ago and working with the film, piecing things together, took around six months to develop what I consider to be this master score. It actually all evolved, oddly enough, through [Robert Fink's] simple suggestion about how great it would be to score a cartoon. "Out of that, my curiosity about scoring a film arose and we thought about doing this," Frank adds. "It's simply a way to see a great film in an entirely new way and hopefully the experience for viewers will be as challenging and exciting as it was to create."
Boston Secession performs during a screening of "Wings of Desire" at the Coolidge Corner Moviehouse, Brookline , on Jan. 29 & 30 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12-$25. Call (617) 734-2501.