I knew I liked Wim Wenders, but the essay Criterion has published about his creative process for Wings of Desire has transformed my comradely admiration into something like brotherly love. Reading it was like receiving a letter from someone who knows you entirely too well.
At first it’s not possible to describe anything beyond a wish or a desire.
That’s how it begins, making a film, writing a book, painting a picture, composing a tune, generally creating something.
You have a wish.
You wish that something might exist, and then you work on it until it does. You want to give something to the world, something truer, more beautiful, more painstaking, more serviceable, or simply something other than what already exists. And right at the start, simultaneous with the wish, you imagine what that “something other” might be like, or at least you see something flash by. And then you set off in the direction of the flash, and you hope you don’t lose your orientation, or forget or betray the wish you had at the beginning.
Go read the whole thing. It is both poetic and analytical, and cuts more keenly to the core of how this Whole Crazy Thing works than most anything else I could dig out of the library to the back of me as I type this. So rather than dig through the pages, I'll dig through myself, because I know I've been there too.
Most everything I've written — and certainly everything in that sidebar over there — started like this. In fact, the more I dug down into my own motives about why I wrote anything at all, the one thing that surfaced more often than anything else was the need to fill a void. I'd tell a friend, You know, I'd love to see a story where — [insert description of story here] — and he'd reply, You should write something like that. Well, yes! That was a big part of why I dangled said bit of bait in front of him, to see if he'd snap at it.
At first the whole thing isn't even anything recognizable a story. It's just an image — a snapshot or two from one of the pivotal moments in the story. Sort of like when you walk out of having seen one movie, past the double doors for another theater — and right as someone leaves that theater, you catch a glimpse of whatever's flickering away on that screen. You want to linger and watch, but you can't: one, you've gotta go home; and two, that's cheating. So you drive on home, but you have that image-moment lodged inside you all the way.
If I painted, I'd go and paint what I saw, and be done with it. Or maybe not just be done with it — first use this lighting, then express it through this motif, and so on, the way Giger could take a "landscape" and turn it into twenty-five different nightmares in a row. Or try to paint it, and fall short of what I could see in my head, and punish the canvas a la Derek Jacobi's portrayal of Francis Bacon in Love is the Devil.
When an image like that is stuck inside you, it engenders a feeling somewhere between a splinter in the ball of the thumb and a toothache. Most every thought, most every space between the thoughts, is dominated by it. No recourse but to get one's ass to the dentist or break out the tweezers. Except in this case, the tooth- or splinter-pulling can take the better part of a year. Sometimes more.
Small wonder some people decide it's not worth doing more than once. Some see rewards beyond the pain, since bringing anything new into the world is always an occasion for pain — and after a while, you realize it's just the pain of adjustment, something that gives way faster than you know to real joy.
You probably know the Peter Gabriel song "Mercy St.": All of the buildings, all of the cars / were once just a dream in somebody's head. Another line also comes to mind: The Wound That Was Given Birth To Must Be Greater Than the Wound That Gave Birth. That one's courtesy of Keiji Haino, another metaphysician / sorcerer of the dreamtime. I can picture him and Wenders sitting down at opposite ends of the same very long table and having quite a discussion. And me a fly on the wall.