A Conversation Wtih Wim Wenders

Excerpts From a Conversation:
Wim Wenders Talks About Pina Bausch

by Beverly Berning

The upcoming release of Wim Wenders’ brilliantly realized 3-D tone poem on Pina Bausch, quite simply and lovingly entitled “Pina,” occasioned a recent visit to San Francisco, where I had the chance to talk to the director about his filmic elegy to the late German choreographer. The documentary, which is being released today in San Francisco theaters after having opened to glowing reviews in New York, contains perhaps the best dance scenes ever filmed, and even though Wenders’ imaginative use of 3-D technology is certainly part of the equation, the pairing of these two artists-both Germans with similar backgrounds and similar worldviews who were also friends-must have contributed in some unknowable way to the film’s symbiotic combining of dance and cinema into what could be seen as a whole new art form.

Wim Wenders talked a lot about Pina, the film and the woman, during our interview. Here is what he said, in his own unadorned, though curiously idiom-laden English.

On The First Time He Saw Café Müller

I do remember it very exactly. My girlfriend forced me to go see it because I wasn’t into dance. We were on holiday in Venice; it was 1985. I said, no you count me out, but she insisted, so I went, prepared for a boring evening. After only the first few minutes, I found myself crying, not knowing why I was so moved. My body seemed to understand but my brain didn’t. I only knew that at the end of 40 minutes-it’s a short piece-that I had experienced something extraordinary. I had seen more about men and women in those 40 minutes than in the entire history of cinema, and I didn’t understand how that was possible, to be able to do so much with so little. There was not even a story, there was not even dialogue; there were only six people on stage, dancing, running, struggling, fighting, and it moved me to tears, and I knew this was changing my life.

The desire to make the film came that night.

On Pina’s Early Influences

Pina was born at the beginning of the war, in a very special area of the center of Germany, an old 19th century industrial area, but mixed with religious and rural areas, very protected, very old-fashioned. Pina’s upbringing, at least what I know about it (she didn’t like to talk about it), was very old-fashioned. Her parents owned a restaurant; she worked in it. She left school very early, because school wasn’t for her; language wasn’t for her. She found very early on an attraction to dance.

She grew up surrounded by a lot of music, a lot of café music. Although she was born in 1940, she couldn’t have been raised in a more romantic area, like in the 19th century, which was the era of German romanticism. Pina was a very romantic person in her heart.

And then when she went to learn dancing in Essen, she had teachers who were deeply informed and formed by German Expressionism. And those were Pina’s first influences.

On What It Meant To Be A Young German Artist In Post-Nazi Germany

In Germany in the 50s and 60s, when we were both in our teens, there was no way to do something in Germany if you didn’t do it from scratch, because there was no connection to the past. The past was cut off, and everything was polluted by the past. Nazi Germany had left a complete wasteland. So if you wanted to be an artist, to connect to your craft, you had to start again. Pina found out very early that if she wanted to be a dancer, she had to find a way that didn’t exist before. She left for America when she was 20 years old, when nobody in her town had ever been to America…she didn’t know anybody who lived there…she didn’t speak the language…she went without a clue, but she realized that this was unspoiled territory. I think that was another huge thing for her, to arrive in New York as a young dancer 20 years old. She was there for only two years, but it was a decisive part of her life.

Growing up in postwar Germany, she realized that she could not connect to the Germany of before. That is why she became such a pioneer; she didn’t have a choice. She had to start to look at dance from scratch…she was forced to become a revolutionary.

Any generation before, or later on again, you could connect, and evolve from the traditions, but for Pina’s generation, she had to start from scratch. That is why she became such a revolutionary; she had no choice.

On Filming “Pina” in 3-D

We wouldn’t have done the film if it hadn’t been for the arrival of this option in cinematography. We were hesitant for very long. Pina expected the two of us to find a different way to film dance. She was disenchanted with the TV recordings of her dances. She really wanted something essentially different, and it took us 20 years, and it was only this new technology that got us there.

On Shooting Pina’s dance “The Rite of Spring”

I’ve seen “The Rite of Spring” several times, from many different angles. When you are in the audience, it’s just a wide shot…you only see the dance from one perspective. But being able to be on the stage, to move the camera on the stage, made me discover the drama and also the architecture of the dance. When you can actually walk onto the stage as a spectator…that gave me goose pimples. You see a different aspect; it’s almost like, before you saw the house, and now you get to go into the rooms.

On What Pina Was Like In Real Life

When you saw a rehearsal of Pina’s, it was all laughter. We laughed our hearts out all the time. She was a very joyful person. It’s funny, because in public, in interviews, she seemed austere and unapproachable, but in her life, in her work, she was the opposite.

On How I Became A Fan Of Wim Wenders

So your boyfriend schlepped you to see movies by a German director when you lived in Paris, France. Boy.

On Rüdiger Vogler Taking a Shit in “Kings of the Road”

That’s gonna pursue me for the rest of my life. The truth behind it is that we shot the scene with the guy taking a leak, and then the camera assistant said that we had to do it one more time because the camera jammed, and it’s not on film. I had to break the news to my actor, and I said we had to shoot it again. And he said, well, I can’t do it one more time, I mean, I can only fake it, and I said, well then, just take a shit…. in a provocative way because I thought he’s never gonna do it. And before I knew it, he was leaning down and he was actually taking a shit, and we all were breathless. I didn’t say cut or anything, because he was doing it, so we’re filming it, and I knew in my heart we were never going to use because…. you can’t do that.

Then we came to the editing room, and the editor said, you’re not going to use that, and I said no, but then he said what are we going to do without it, and I said, go ahead, we can always take it out again.

Then it became this thing, because he began teasing me that I didn’t have the guts to keep it in, and it became a game, and it stayed in, and then it was too late to take it out, and it was forever in.

It was the first film I showed in Cannes, and the director of the festival came to me and said, “We all love your film very much, but you have to take that scene out. The jury is not gonna reward it.” But it was too late, because now that it’s in, now I have to insist that it’s in.

I regretted it very often, but then again, at one point, I had to stand up for it. It followed me for the rest of my life. The actor, poor Rüdiger, it marked his life.

I also defended it, saying it’s a normal thing, it’s a regular thing… people eat, and other movies show people making love…. it’s a natural thing, people do it once or twice a day…why not leave it in? But it haunted me, I tell you. And it left an impression on young Beverly in Paris.

Beverly Berning has recently begun her fourth career as a high school teacher of French and Italian, but her love of film remains steadfast. A former film student who aspired to be just like her idols Woody Allen, Erik Rohmer and Charlie Kaufman, she has been writing reviews for Culturevulture since 2006.