WINGS OF DESIRE – The Restoration

The Restoration

Wenders brought legendary cinematographer Henri Alekan – responsible for the haunting gothic chiaroscuro in Jean Cocteau’s 1946 La Belle et la Bête – out of retirement to shoot WINGS OF DESIRE (and named the film’s circus in his honor). Alekan famously used a silk stocking as a filter for his textured, sepia-tinged black-and-white imagery, depicting the angels’ muted vision of the world.

October 29th, 2017 marked the 30th anniversary of the theatrical release of WINGS OF DESIRE. The Wim Wenders Foundation has performed an extensive process of digital visual and audio restoration of the film, and made available in 4K and Dolby 5.1  in  2018. The project was funded by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and the FFA, and by the French CNC.

WINGS OF DESIRE’s color dramaturgy, in particular its transitions between black-and-white and color scenes, makes for particularly demanding restoration work. Though hard to imagine in today’s world of digital image processing, at the time mixing black-and-white and color footage was an extremely complex task. Since black-and-white and color film stock required completely different photochemical treatment, they could not be mixed during negative cutting. The transitions between the two, as they occur throughout the film, required complex visual effects, entailing the use of several dupes. Thus there is no single original cut negative that can be used during restoration, but rather numerous boxes and tins with countless small roles of A/B-cut negative, including optical effect components, interpositives and internegatives. All of these were carefully scanned in 4K, frame-accurately reassembled using an original release print as reference, and color graded from scratch.

The painstaking work on the color correction became for Wenders an emotional experience, “I thought of Henri a lot and to regain that first generation brought such an enrichment of each and every shot,” he recalls. “Even before it was all put together – seriously, I sat there and cried. Because I so wished Henri could see it.”

Read more:
Five visual themes in Wings of Desire – Wim Wenders’ immortal film about watching
Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire’ Soars to Screens After Restoration