Turns out “City of Angels” (Nicholas Cage, Meg Ryan) was based on a German film from 1987. And like usual with an Americanization, it focused on plot and romance and changed the ending….The original film is “Der Himmel über Berlin.” It means Heaven over Berlin, but for some reason was translated as “Wings of Desire.” And there’s much more in it than a love story (or an angel discovering sex).
There’s Peter Falk (a former angel himself) wandering the streets talking to the angels, while working on a film about Nazis, and Berliners say, “Isn’t that Columbo?”
There’s Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds performing in the underground clubs as punks and Goths bop their heads.
There’s an old man remembering Berlin before the Allied bombers came through, and the aftermath. We get images from old newsreels of dead children and Berliners digging through the rubble. We see the Wall with its graffiti art, and the stark cleanness of the other side, with a couple of soldiers instead of life.
Berlin is full of diversity: Muslims, people of color, along with the native Germans.
Most of the movie is in black and white, until our angel starts getting a taste of human sensation.
The movie is just as much about the thoughts and lives of all these other people, and the angels listening to them, while children can see them–as it is about an angel falling in love with a human. I even caught a few references to Genesis and the Book of Enoch when the woman speaks to the angel at the very end.
The woman is a French trapeze performer in a failing circus, rather than a surgeon. Their names are different.
He’s not even a handsome angel, looks middle-aged and has lines in his face, yet this beautiful young woman (the actors are 20 years apart) falls in love with him. Apparently she sees beyond the surface and connects to his spirit.
Usually Americans like their happy endings, but this time it was switched: The German one has a happy ending, while the American one is sad.
Roger Ebert compared the two movies here. He wrote, “To compare the two films is really beside the point, since “Wings of Desire” exists on its own level as a visionary and original film, and “City of Angels” exists squarely in the pop mainstream.”
This also reminds me of recently watching “The Return of Martin Guerre” vs. “Sommersby,” yet another example of Americanizations changing everything and suffering missteps where the original was a masterpiece, losing the depth of the original. This is why I prefer foreign originals and not American remakes.