...." I’m here because I think
that the story and the experience I can talk to you about
is somehow relevant to what you must be interested in,
otherwise you would not be here: 3D
As you know it stands for “3 times more difficult”.
(Don’t worry, I’m not here to discourage you, on the contrary.)
I have been lucky.
Appropriately enough, I was triple-lucky.
Today, the big question about 3D is:
what sort of film can fit the new technology?
How can you fill the promise of the new language?
What “product” (for lack of a better word)
do you have to come up with
to do justice to this challenge named 3D?!
“Can I do this movie in 3D
to improve its commercial chances?
To get more attention?”....
I told you: I was lucky.
I did not have to face these tough and sort of unpleasant questions.
For me, it was the other way around.
I had a film that I wanted to do, badly,
but I felt I just did not have the proper tools to do it.
I wasn’t even looking for a third dimension.
It was not even around as an option!
I just felt I was at a loss, as a filmmaker,
and I needed a solution.
Let me explain my luck
and tell my story.
Some of it might sound anecdotic
but I promise you I’ll make it relevant in the end.
(Germans are efficient…
We might not be blessed with a sense of humor,
but we can make up for it!)
Here we go:
I had known Pina Bausch since 1985.
I even had been lucky in the first place that I met her, because:
I had nothing to do with dance. It was not for me!
Ballet? Include me out!
in 1985 I was in Venice, Italy, with my girlfriend,
and there were posters all over the city
for a retrospective of a German choreographer, Pina Bausch,
at the old and beautiful LA FENICE THEATRE.
My girlfriend wanted to go.
She had seen some work by Pina Bausch before,
and she was convinced I absolutely needed to know this.
I could not care less.
I wanted to stroll around in Venice, have some ice cream,
a romantic dinner by a canal…
Go into a theatre and watch other people dance?
We did go in, of course.
In life I am less stubborn than in my profession.
So I caved in.
The piece was called CAFÉ MÜLLER.
I expected to be bored.
Instead I found myself on the edge of my seat after 10 minutes,
my heart beating.
And I was crying helplessly.
Something grown-up men rarely do. (In Germany)
I was weeping.
I was touched like I had never been touched by anything
happening on a stage.
What I saw there, moved me deeply.
I troubled me, amazed me, but most of all: it concerned me.
What I had thought impossible - in the context of dance -
This spoke to me in a very powerful way.
When the piece was over,
- it only lasted 40 minutes,
but it felt like I had visited a whole universe -
I realized that this (unknown) woman Pina Bausch
had shown me more about men and women
then the entire history of cinema had.
And all that without a word,
with nothing but movement, body language and dancing.
I might be exaggerating a bit,
and the history of cinema has a lot to offer
about the relations between men and women,
but that’s how it felt: mind-blowing.
We prolonged the stay in Venice
and I saw all the other pieces in that retrospective.
And I was able to meet Pina Bausch.
We sat in a café and talked for a while.
That is: I talked, believe it or not,
(I’m not known as a talker,
contrary to the impression you might have today…)
Pina didn’t say much, she listened.
And she looked at me.
I felt I had never been looked at like that.
She was looking right through me,
as if she could read my mind, my heart and my soul.
I didn’t feel naked, though,
like other eyes might have made me feel.
This pair of eyes was investigative, but not cold.
So I kept talking. Blabbering, probably.
And among the things I said,
I also foolishly (and spontaneously) mentioned
that we should make a film together.
Pina looked at me, but did not respond.
I wasn’t even sure if she heard me.
Maybe she thought that was so preposterous
that she’d rather not answer.
I let it hang…
and spoke about something else.
But there was a connection between us, definitely.
In a strange way, from that first meeting on,
I felt like Pina was the older sister I never had.
We were born 50 kilometers apart,
Pina a few years earlier than me, during the war, me right after it.
We spoke with the same accent of this “Rhineland”.
We met again a year later, when I visited Pina in Wuppertal,
the city where her company was based since 1973.
Which was strange, because in that same year
I had shot a film in that town, “Alice in the Cities”,
which had been highly important for my life as a film director.
Of course we did not know about each other then…
In that second meeting Pina was a bit more talkative,
and she asked me: “Last time you mentioned a movie.
That is interesting…”
She had heard me.
We kept seeing each other over the years and became friends.
I saw a lot of her premieres
or met her somewhere in the world,
because Pina and her company toured all over the planet.
The subject of a film kept coming up.
Then Pina made a film herself, the only one she ever did,
“The Lament of the Empress”, in 1990.
That was the only year I was unable to help her, or be there,
because I made a film, all over the world, all year long,
“Until the End of the World”.
The result of Pina’s film was amazing, in my book,
but she herself was not so pleased with the experience.
She felt uneasy about the camera,
and much more comfortable with the stage situation.
So the question of a common film came up again,
more serious, as time went by.
If it had been me to suggest it in the beginning,
it was now Pina who insisted.
I took it seriously now and started thinking about
how to capture her work.
How to film dance,
or more accurately, her “Tanztheater”, dance theatre.
And I soon realized I was in trouble.
Trying to imagine how to put her work on screen,
I simply … failed.
I just did not know.
It seemed to me that there was an invisible wall
between what Pina put on stage,
her very physical, intoxicating, contagious, joyful,
sometimes painful, personal work,
and what my cameras could capture.
Pina also showed me the recordings that had been done
of some of her plays, for television,
(on some of which she cooperated)
and she was not so pleased with them.
“We have to do better”, she said,
“I’m sure there’s a better way!”
The pressure was on.
As a friends I could not possibly disappoint her.
But I felt I just did not have the tools to do justice to her work.
Something was badly missing.
Either in my craft, or in my imagination.
But there’s only so much a camera can do in front of a stage.
You can put it on a tripod, you can put it on tracks,
you can put it on a crane, even with a remote head,
you can put it on the shoulders of your cameraman, handheld,
or you can use a steadycam…
None of it seemed to solve my problem.
In my despair, I turned to film history
and saw all dance films I could lay my hands on.
But the more I saw the clearer the picture became:
there was a problem between DANCE and FILM.
That invisible wall was not just in my imagination.
It was definitely there.
I had to be honest to Pina and tell her.
There was no use hiding anything from her, anyway,
she could see right through any lie.
She was not astonished about my statement
that I did not know how to do it.
It almost felt like she had expected it.
But she did not give up.
“We’ll have to find out!” she said.
“There’s got to be a way!”
I thought so, too.
I figured I just had to dig deeper,
in my own imagination and in my craft..
Over the years, Pina’s request became more urgent.
And I understood why:
Her work was very fragile.
Dance theatre is a very ephemeral medium.
It only exists when you perform it.
You cannot write it down, like Shakespeare,
and pass it on to another company to do it…
It only works in this one configuration,
this one troupe of dancers and this one choreographer.
Pina developed a new piece every year,
that was months and months of work,
they toured like a Rock ‘n Roll group, all over the planet.
She was running a huge company.
This was a lot to handle already.
But on top of that,
Pina felt she needed to keep her entire body of work alive.
So she also played and re-rehearsed and re-cast her older pieces,
and by now there were 30, later on 40 pieces.
This was a true Sisyphus work
to keep them all in the repertoire
and to literally keep them all alive.
That’s why Pina was so determined
and felt like she just needed to find another language,
a valuable way to film her pieces,
to preserve them, “guard” them in a different way
than live performances…
That was her (vital) interest in our collaboration.
Mine was still the same as in the very beginning:
I wanted to find out about her look,
the way Pina looked at the world,
but especially at her dancers.
What enabled her to do her unique work
that nobody in the world had done like that before.
Pina had really revolutionized dance, and ballet, anyway,
had put that entire world upside down, or rather on its feet.
Before her, dancers had been “performers”,
playing parts in pre-existing or pre-shaped choreographies.
Dancers were highly trained athletes,
extraordinary bodies, removed to a world of their own.
Pina had given dance back to common humanity.
Her dancers were young and old,
often way too old for any other dance, let alone ballet company.
They were skinny and way too voluptuous,
small and way too tall.
They were from all over the world.
Plus: they were dancers and actors.
They spoke on stage,
they did a lot, that actors would do.
But they did a lot, too, that only dancers could do.
My interest was to make a film about her eyes,
show (and understand) that look of hers at work,
which had turned dance
from an aesthetic experience into an art form
that actually reflected our world, our hopes and anxieties.
As much as Pina mistrusted language, she trusted her eyes.
She was a passionate and patient observer like I had never seen one.
And she had an incredible gift,
and really specialized her entire being
in watching and reading and deciphering one thing:
Now, us movie directors fancy ourselves
as being somewhat specialists in that field.
We have actors in front of our camera,
sometimes even famous actors,
and what’s called their “presence” in front of the camera
is nothing but their body language.
We tell these actors what to do, we direct them
- more of this, less of that -
so we have the impression
that we know something about the business of body language.
Watching Pina work
and seeing how differentiated and detailed and rich
her knowledge of this language was,
I realized I was almost an analphabets
in the grammar and the vocabulary of body language.
And so were my colleagues.
Pina had gone so much further!
Her method of developing a play was amazing.
Around the given subject of the new piece
she would start by developing a catalogue of hundreds of questions,
some very general, some very personal, some very details,
some just words…
and give them to her actors/ dancers,
and let them give her answers,
but not in words, with the spoken language,
but in their own language, the language of their bodies,
with gestures, movement, dance…
They were not allowed to talk.
And Pina would look at the answers
and ask for more precision,
to be more specific, more detailed,
and she would ask the same question, or a refined one, the next day.
And she would persist, for weeks,
until she had a whole “anthology of body answers”,
often hundreds of hours,
and out of these she would then compose her pieces.
So that’s why I was so touched by her work.
It had not been imposed on the dancers,
they had found it in themselves, in their answers,
and those had started in their bodies to begin with.
That’s why I related to Pina’s work so physically, so existentially:
it had come out of life, out of experience
it had not been forced onto the dancers.
With that method, or approach,
came another peculiarity of Pina’s work.
She abolished all sense of “character” or “role-playing”.
Her dancers/actors were lead to be radically themselves,
drop all disguises,
show and reveal their innermost selves.
Pina’s work was also about “identity”.
Who we are,
when we are stripped of all defenses.
Her dancers all carry their own names on stage.
To get back to my chain of thought:
there we were,
with our mutual interests in a common film,
• finding a language to preserve the pieces on her side
• watching her eyes at work on my side
and those were easily compatible.
But: we were without a clue how to do it.
Each time we saw each other,
Pina asked me: “Do you know now?”
and I answered: “Not yet, Pina.”
This went on for years.
Eventually she just raised her eyebrows when she saw me,
and I shrugged my shoulders.
It was almost like a slapstick routine between us,
and we laughed.
But it was quite serious, after all.
I would have dropped everything and anything
to do this film with her.
And that could have been the end of the story.
I could have kept on thinking that I had to find it in myself,
the way to tear down that invisible wall,
that missing language for dance…
and Pina could have relied on me for an eternity to discover it one day.
I did not, and I would never have found it in myself.
Instead I found it one sunny day in a place I had expected it least,
and had certainly not looked in: in technology.
At the festival in Cannes, in May 2007,
U2 was playing live on the famous Festival stairs
and the additional attraction - as if it needed one -
was a film very ingeniously called “U2 in 3D”.
I went there, not expecting much.
I went there for the music.
I had a film in competition,
and in Cannes you can use all the relief from pressure you can get!
So I sat down in the Grand Palais
and put these glasses on, for the first time.
Instead of a quick entertainment break,
I was in for something big.
I had one these “revelations”
that you don’t have too often in your life.
It completely took me by surprise:
From the first shot on
a door opened up in the screen.
Actually, the screen disappeared.
It made room for something that took place before it and behind.
I was invited into space, into a space adventure actually,
that would not lose its grip on me for years to come.
And that will not end today, either.
So from the first moment on I thought one thing:
Eureka! This was what we had been looking for!
This was the language for our film!
It seemed so obvious!
How could I have missed it, not have thought of it!
The dancer’s realm was space,
with every gesture, every step, every movement
they were exploring it, delving into it.
And here was a tool that gave access to it!
My craft had just been given an extra dimension!
Not a small thing, not a gimmick!
I mean: for a hundred years cinema had invented splendid tricks
which I loved and cherished (and still do)
to overcome its huge deficit.
It had always made us believe
that “space” was actually available on the screen.
By moving the camera on tracks, on cars, on helicopters,
by dropping it from planes, by letting it float and fly
- Abel Gance had swung a camera through a room
hanging on a rope, in 1927! -
cinema had created the illusion that it had a grip on “space”.
That we were, indeed, on a “Space Odyssey”.
But it had always ended up on a two-dimensional screen.
Anyway, this all ended for me one sunny day in May 2007.
I didn’t have much eyes for the film,
I even didn’t want to see its flaws,
the figures of Bono and Edge that looked like cutouts,
the jerky movements sometimes, the wrong editing rhythm…
after all, this was a predecessor to something bigger to come.
I just saw the possibilities
and the affinity.
This medium (and I took it for granted it was going to be one)
was made to represent dance, to bring out its best.
And somehow I even felt
it was also going to work the other way around:
dance was going to bring out the best in 3D…
music wasn’t necessarily its best subject.
As soon as the screening was over I called Pina
and told her: “I think I know now how we could do it!”
I did not need to say more…
Soon afterwards we started to actively conceive of the film
and to prepare it.
For Pina the most important thing, of course, was:
Which ones of the plays can we film?
There were forty-something to chose from.
We only could pick four!
More was impossible for one season.
The pieces needed to be put on the agenda of the theatre.
If they weren’t rehearsed and played publicly,
we would have no stage, no sets, we could not film them.
The first possible moment for the company
(with their long-time planning)
was the fall and winter of 2009.
We chose the four pieces,
CAFÉ MÜLLER, SACRE DU PRINTEMPS,
KONTAKTHOF and VOLLMOND,
which was in itself a heart-breaking process,
as we had to rule out so many others.
So then we had the backbone of a film, and a start date.
We were in late 2007,
and I had enough time to find out if my 3D idea was holding water
or was just a pipedream.
3D was not really on the map of the cinematographic landscape.
There was not much to be known about it.
Rumors of equipment, of things to come.
I was fishing around in the dark.
It seemed way too early to want to do a live action film.
The only movies that were starting to come out
were animation films, some of them really well made,
and a couple of unspeakable horror films
that rightfully carried the name of their genre.
Nothing I could possibly show to Pina
to support my wishful thinking of the new language.
I had to find somebody who would know something…
You can’t even begin to understand how lucky I was!
I asked my neighbor.
Yes, the man living next door to me in Berlin.
A Frenchman who was teaching in Paris,
as a Professor at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Art Décoratifs.
Francois Garnier is his name.
At some earlier point, over a glass of wine,
he had told me he was writing something about 3D,
and was involved in developing and designing 3D virtual spaces.
It turned out that he knew a lot about 3D, practically and theoretically,
- actually he was working on his doctor’s thesis about it -
and Francois had actually made
a couple of experimental short films in 3D
for theme parks and museums in France.
And he had worked on these adventures with a man
who had constructed the stereo rigs for those films himself:
stereographer Alain Derobe.
Francois and I went to Paris
and he introduced me to this man with the unknown profession.
And that was my greatest piece of luck.
I met a white-haired man in his early Seventies
who had for a long time been a D.P. in French cinema
and who for the last 12 years had dedicated his life
to the exploration of stereoscopie
and the development of 3D equipment.
This Alain Derobe had practically made all the rigs himself
that were available in Europe at that moment.
And not only that he knew the technology.
Here was the only man in Europe who understood what I had in mind.
Because he had not only been passionate about 3D for years already,
he was most of all passionate about the physiology of seeing.
He loved 3D for what he hoped (and knew)
it was going to be able to do one day.
So when I told him at our first meeting:
I am not convinced with the sort of three-dimensional representation
we can see at the moment.
I want you to tell me if there is a 3D to invent
that would feel so effortless and genuine
that you would forget it after a few minutes.
I do not want 3D to be the attraction of my film,
I want Pina Bausch’s dance to be the attraction.
The 3D I am dreaming of will be pleasant to the eyes,
it will not hit you over the head,
it will never feel like a rollercoaster ride.
It must feel natural and unpretentious.
Sincere! The opposite to gimmicky.
Alain hesitated a long time before he gave me an answer.
And his answer was a question:
“When do you want to do this?”
At that moment we had more than a year to go.
I told him so. He nodded.
“But there will be a lot of work.”
I did not really understand what he meant.
I only understood when we did our first test,
out in the streets of Paris somewhere.
It felt like the Lumière brothers breaking out their first camera
and shooting people exiting from the factory.
The only thing was: we did not have to hand-crank our cameras.
They were digital.
It felt exciting!
An assistant was running around
producing some sort of movement in front of the camera.
Waving his arms, turning in circles, gesticulating.
After all, we wanted to eventually shoot dancers.
The hour of truth came when we watched our material
a couple of hours later.
On the screen, the arm-waving assistant
was a four-armed Indian Goddess.
He also had lots of legs when he was running.
The space was there, alright,
but the shocking news was:
this technology could not represent movement well!
For dance, for the elegance of Pina’s art,
that was just as important as space.
I could not possibly show these tests to Pina.
She would have been appalled.
For the next few months we experimented.
And shot, and tried, and did everything in the book
to improve on that deficit of 3D.
Obviously, shooting with 50 frames, or 48 was the solution…
We tried it, and projected it ourselves with our 2 beamers.
It was too good to be true:
Impeccably smooth and elegant movement.
But Alain immediately dampened down my excitement.
We could shoot in 48 frames alright.
But we could never project it commercially.
All cinema beamers in the world were normed to run at 24 frames.
Later on, we found out that even James Cameron
had unsuccessfully tried to go up against that norm.
We tried other things.
Experimented with other shutter speeds.
Compared the effect of focal lengths on stroboscoping.
Used some motion blur in post-production.
Avoided too stark contrast…
And slowly got better results and made progress.
One thing was obvious:
any small default shooting on film, in 24 frames,
was multiplied, even potentiated in 3D.
When there would a little stroboscoping on film,
it would be massive, and unacceptable, in 3D.
Alain met Pina, we saw her new piece together, he was very moved,
and Pina felt more confident about this 3D thing.
She had never seen anything,
and she did not want to see anything else than her own dancers.
We were finally confident and ready to show her.
For late June of 2009 we prepared a huge series of tests
that we were going to do on Pina’s own stage, in Wuppertal,
with her dancers, over several days,
and a big live screen on which Pina could see for herself
what I so far could only describe to her
and what I had promised her was that new language
we had been looking for.
We packed a truck in Paris
with all the equipment for this first “acid test”.
We were sitting in our office in Berlin
to discuss in which order we were going to record what,
when the phone call came.
The unimaginable had happened:
Pina had died the night before.
From one day to another.
Unforeseen. Suddenly. Tragically.
Apart from her son,
nobody had been able to say good-bye to her.
None of her dancers,
and for some of them she had been the centre of their lives,
they had worked with her for thirty years.
We pulled the plug,
called our French co-producer, the financiers, the crew,
and called the film off.
There was nothing else to do.
For twenty years we had dreamed of it, together,
there was a concept for a film with Pina Bausch,
for a film about her look at work.
Without Pina, none of that was possible any more.
In a tragic way, it seemed,
we had hesitated for too long to make this film,
or rather had waited for 3D for too long.
Then again, to soothe my regrets and my pains:
we could not have done it any sooner.
There was a very moving memorial service for Pina.
The company was in disarray and in a state of shock.
But the dancers decided to continue
and to fulfill all the obligations
that the company had undergone with Pina.
So they decided to start rehearsing the pieces
that Pina had put on the agenda for our film.
And that was the turning point:
These four pieces that Pina had wanted so much to be filmed
and to be preserved in that new language
(hopefully in an adequate way)
were going to be performed, maybe for the last time.
It was the dancers who pointed it out to me:
We performed, even on the night when we learned about Pina’s death,
we played in tears,
but we knew it was what Pina would have wanted us to do.
She meant it when she said:
“Dance, dance, otherwise, we are lost!”
For her, dancing was the answer to all letdowns and struggles of life.
Dance was her weapon.
Canceling the film was the wrong thing to do,
it slowly dawned on me.
We could no longer do the film with Pina that we had planned.
But together we could do a film for Pina!
It would be an homage to her,
but also a way for all of us to say goodbye, and thanks,
and to deal with the loss and the grief.
After all, it needed to be a film for the living
in order to come to terms with Pina’s death.
So from one day to another we jumpstarted the film.
And we were ready just in time to shoot the plays.
We did not know yet what else to do.
These plays on their own would not constitute a film, far from it.
But there was no concept yet
to replace everything we had planned to do together with Pina,
with her in front of the camera and behind.
The film that needed to be done was now, in effect,
much more to be invented on the spot.
We shot three of the plays in that fall of 2009.
For each of them we had four public performances
and two days with the ensemble alone, without an audience.
On the days with audience,
we had to shoot from a huge “Technocrane” with a remote head
that allowed for wide shots from the center of the theatre
and to enter the stage up to the middle of it.
The crane and its platform filled half the theatre,
so only the tickets for the other half could be sold.
And of course we had to know the pieces by heart
to know at each and every moment
where to be placed with our camera to have he best possible angle
to bring out the architecture of the choreography,
and to never be in the way of the dancers.
In the public performances we could not interrupt, of course.
Our takes were up to an hour long.
(2 of the plays last two hours and a half…)
3D needs a lot of light.
The mirror rigs (and we only worked with the mirror)
eat a good f-stop of light.
So a great challenge was to boost the light in a way
that it did not interfere or change Pina’s lighting concept.
Even if there was more light, the pieces had to look exactly the same.
For the film, we were aware of that,
we only needed short excerpts of each piece.
But as Pina would have wanted it,
we covered the plays meticulously, in their entire length.
And I am now editing the full length version of each play.
We had two stereo rigs going at the same time.
The one on the crane and one parallel one
that shot either from the balcony or from the side of the stage.
For Alain, the stereographer,
that was an enormous amount of preparation.
During the shots we could not interrupt or change anything.
So he had to set up each rig for all possible angles.
Both were able to change the interaxial (or interocular) distance,
thereby shifting the convergence, the plane of the screen,
forward and backwards,
which would put the dancers either on the plane of the screen
or behind it or in front of it.
Each rig had 8 electrical motors that ran simultaneously.
Everything was on remote control,
f-stop and focus anyway,
and was monitored by the D.I.T. the digital imaging technician,
during the shots,
and he could supervise and change all internal parameters
like contract, color, aperture,
of course simultaneously and in total synch for both cameras.
It was high pressure work.
On the days without the audience
we could actually enter the stage and place the crane on it
or right in front of it.
I could also interrupt and repeat sections
that we were not able to capture well in the public performances.
We had learned a lot of things from our tests.
Lateral movements and panning of the camera were a complete no-no.
There was stroboscoping right away.
Only if we followed a dancer’s move very precisely,
the camera could pan with them laterally,
but really had to be glued on to them.
We refrained from changing lenses.
3D only works well in a focal range
that corresponds to our human vision.
In camera terms that means a wide to normal angle.
We finally decided for the 10mm lens as our main vision.
Only occasionally, for close shots, we went to a 14mm.
That was for a Sony 1500 camera, with a 2/3 chip.
Zooms were out of the question.
Today the technology exists to use a zoom lens,
at the time, in 2009, it was impossible.
And we did not want it, anyway.
I also found out, when doing my first editing in 3D,
at the end of the first days of shooting,
that switching focal length between shots
was perceived as unpleasant.
Our eyes only have one fixed lens and one angle of vision, anyway.
And we had determined
that 3D felt the best, and the least intrusive,
if we imitated with two cameras, as good as possible,
what two eyes are doing, and how they are working.
Eyes never change angles and focal length.
So we shot the entire film, more than 90% of it,
with one set of lenses.
And as two lenses are never the same,
we carefully compared lenses until we found the perfect matches.
We had also learned that slowly moving in with the camera
was a very natural thing to do
and represented a human point of view
of somebody who was attracted and therefore moved closer.
Very slight lateral moves of the camera were fine as well,
they shifted the perspective a bit
and helped creating space and depth.
On that first phase of the filming, we only shot on stage, only three plays, the fourth and last one was planned for the spring.
And then we paused. We had no clue how to continue.
I started editing, curious of how the material that we shot so far, would cut. And hoping that it would somehow reveal a continuation.
During those months, on Christmas of 2009, “Avatar” came out.
It did put 3D on the map in a big way.
I was so grateful,
because finally our film, too, was taken more seriously.
Before, most people who knew about our project
thought we were plain crazy.
And the most frequent question was:
Will the film also come out “normally”?
“Avatar” changed that.
I don’t know how you think about the film.
I thought it was a masterpiece,
a grand vision like they rarely happened in the history of cinema.
Of course, it had flaws, especially in the script.
When I saw the film for the first time,
I was very excited over two thirds of it and then quite disappointed
that it turned into another … war movie, after all.
It had so many (dramaturgic) chances to go another,
more surprising, peaceful or anti-violent ways.
Well it didn’t.
But the world that Cameron had created was amazing,
and I loved the film for that.
Little did I know then that nothing was going to follow it.
Until today, I am waiting.
Cameron had put up the bar very high,
but ever since, nobody tried to jump over it.
They all walked safely underneath.
In terms of 3D, I saw,
that he had had no secret weapon that we did not know of.
All computer-generated stuff worked very smoothly.
The blue Na’vi moved elegantly and beautifully,
but the real people in the background
moved like our assistant at the time:
There were some four-armed goddesses on that planet.
Cameron just cut so quickly it would go largely unnoticed.
And he had a story to pull him through.
We did not have a story, yet…
We had preserved three of Pina’s plays, like she had wanted.
How could I still approach my angle…
to film her look at work,
now she was no longer with us.
As I was editing it hit me:
These dancers were still there,
and some of them had Pina’s look rest on them for years and years,
day in and day out…
They could tell me!
And not as interviews.
This was going to be a film without interviews, I had promised Pina.
All I had to do was employ Pina’s own method.
I would ask the dancers about the nature of Pina’s look,
what she saw in them that they were not even aware of,
when she saw the best in them,
when they felt closer to her than ever before, or after, etc…
and they would answer in their own language, dancing.
I proposed that to them and they all agreed.
Each and every one of them eventually showed me their answers.
It was not improvisations – I had made that a condition -
(I would not have been able to judge this)
it was material they had worked on with Pina,
that Pina’s eyes had been on,
and that had been used, or not, in previous plays,
or had been eliminated in the editing process for a piece.
For these “danced answers” we did not have a stage anymore,
let alone sets.
So I decided to take them outside,
into the city and the adjoining landscapes.
(Pina’s own film only encouraged me to do so.)
I had more freedom for these solos, or duets,
and was able to find a particular place
for each and every one,
that could bring out the best in every answer.
Of course I did not interfere with the chorographic part of it.
But I could now show them from all sides
and could have my camera dance with them.
On stage we had respected the fact
that Pina wanted her pieces to be shown from an audience perspective.
We did the second stage of our shoot in the spring of 2010.
The last remaining piece, KONTAKTHOF,
with the ensemble, of course,
but also with a staging Pina had done with senior citizens
as well as with Teenagers.
Outside, in Wuppertal and the Ruhr district,
we shot the first set of “danced anwers”.
Our equipment was much lighter now.
Instead of the dinosaur crane,
we could now shoot on a steadycam rig
that Alain had constructed for us.
The cameras were lighter and smaller now,
- we used Sony P1s -
even if they were technically identical with the bigger 1500s before.
For the beginning, the middle and end of the film
we worked with the entire ensemble
who performed a “line” from the piece CARNATIONS,
first on stage, then coming out of the theatre into the city,
and then on the highest point in the Ruhr district,
a bleak black mountain of slag.
And I shot with each and every one of the dancers
what we called our “silent portraits”.
I will tell you more about those later.
After this second leg of our shoot
I went back to the editing room.
Finishing a first rough cut,
I realized I needed a few other elements for the film
and in the summer of 2010 we shot one last time.
Our budget didn’t allow for much any more,
so we had to scale down the equipment and the crew once agan.
We shot strictly on steadycam,
this time with the even lighter Sony EX3.
As these cameras allowed to record on-board,
there was no more need for exterior recording devices.
We were really down to a documentary-size crew of 6 people.
In spite of this, we shot about one third of the film this way.
Among my “missing pieces” were more solos,
but also a scene that involved a model of the stage of CAFÉ MÜLLER
that Pina’s art director and stage designer Peter Pabst had built for us.
In our tests we had come upon the “miniaturization effect”
that occurs under certain conditions
when shooting with a wide interocular distance.
People then look strangely miniaturized,
which usually is an unwanted phenomenon,
but we wanted to use the effect on purpose
and had already shot a wide view of the stage of CAFÉ MÜLLER.
We now added a scene
in which two of Pina’s dancers from the original production of the play
look at the model and talk about the origin of the production.
And inside the model we see the miniaturized stage…
The most exciting thing of this one year long 3D experience
had not been our complicated dance shots
- some of them also choreographed in complex ways,
with hundreds of crane and camera moves
for takes as long as one hour -
the most exciting thing was the simplest,
those “silent portraits”.
I had shot medium-size close-us of each dancer,
just sitting in front of the camera,
without words, without sound,
and my only indication had been:
You are on your own,
you’re all alone,
just resting in yourself,
and after a while, on your very own timing,
you will find a way to look into the camera,
as if it was a friend,
somebody very close, who you are very familiar with,
and certainly not afraid of.
For each of these portraits
I sent the whole crew away,
so I was just alone with each dancer,
sitting behind the camera,
looking at the little 3D control monitor on my lap.
That was unbelievable!
It surpassed everything I had expected so far from 3D.
I had dreamed of dance to be shown adequately,
and beautifully, and as naturally as possible,
but all of a sudden,
something else emerged, in front of these two eyes of our camera:
There was a person in front of the camera,
and in front of me,
but also eventually in front of the audience!
A real body.
Not just a shape, a cutout,
like in a hundred years of cinema before.
There was “volume”.
No longer a flat surface,
like in any close-up I had ever seen before,
but a true “presence”.
There was the aura that you only see
when you are confronting somebody
and really RECOGNIZE him, or her.
When you can reach out and TOUCH,
not only with your hands.
You can also touch somebody with your eyes,
when he (or she) is there.
When there is a YOU and a ME.
I and THE OTHER.
That is a situation we only know from life,
not from cinema.
In movies, the screen itself, the flatness of it,
creates an abstraction.
I am always her here, sitting here,
inside me, inside my reality,
and whoever is on the screen is apart from that,
even if the story creates the strongest identification.
We know that.
We have SPACE around us.
That is what our perception needs to give us a sense of reality.
The flat screen only has an illusionary space,
an emotional space (in a good movie)
we can immerse in it for two hours,
but it is essentially the same space a painting has,
or a photograph.
When I sat in front of these actors/dancers
just a couple of meters away, behind the camera,
alone in the room with them,
I was still talking to them, they looked at me,
I gave them some last direction,
we shared the space of the YOU AND ME,
- or the I AND THOU as Martin Buber called it -
and then I stopped talking and left them on their own
and looked at the little monitor,
that I was holding, after all, in my hands,
like I had been holding lots of computers or iPads or screens,
I realized with an immense shock
that some of the mystery, the intimacy,
the uniqueness of a human encounter
that we never ever granted the movie screen to possess
or to be able to carry and capture…
that some of that was there, in this three-dimensional image.
I must say: I was, again, unprepared.
We had been using this technology for weeks already,
and had started to “understand” it,
learn how to move the camera,
learn how to deal with “depth”,
but this sheer presence of a person,
almost without purpose,
I had not seen that in any film before,
not in any 3D film, that’s for sure,
and not even in our own shots.
How this medium was able to actually transcend
(in the very sense of the word)
the realm of cinema,
of cinematic representation,
and create (or imitate, I’m not sure) “presence”,
human presence, in body and soul…
that was shocking.
The most outrageous, though, was, or is:
the present perception of 3D is going in the opposite direction.
It is all taking place in the realm of fantasy,
and the actors on the screen are more devoid of reality
than any actor in any old black and white movie.
Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz in “Pirates of the Caribbean” for instance
(I could pick many other examples)
are not “there”…
they do not exist,
with all the gimmickry around them
they are strange, human-like creatures,
“body snatchers” like in that film by Phil Kaufman.
And that goes for everything that comes packaged
in the 3D envelope of the Major Studios.
They have taken this language, this amazing new medium,
and … kidnapped it,
stolen it, mutilated it beyond recognition,
so none of their audiences could possibly conceive of it as a tool
to represent … reality.
But: I am convinced that this is what 3D was invented for
and what it can do.
when digital technology came up in movies,
in the early to mid-nineties,
it first appeared in commercials,
very expensive video clips
(we all learned the word “morphing” from a Michael Jackson video)
and in expensive special effect shots
to basically blow up everything.
when we all watched 9/11
most of us first thought it looked like movie scenes
we had seen before.
The word “digital” had a strange smell.
It smelled of “manipulating”, “cheating”,
messing with reality and with the truth.
But a few years after “digital cinema” appeared to us under that aspect,
digital technology single-handedly saved the documentary form
and single-handedly reinvented it.
The documentary was dead,
expelled from movie theatres for more than a decade.
Today, there are hundreds,
thousands of good and important documentaries every year
that would not have been made, could not have been made,
without these digital tools.
All I am saying is:
the very same thing is happening with 3D.
It got out of bed on the wrong foot.
People think it is strictly a fantasy tool,
owned by the Big Studios.
And the studios have no interest whatsoever in proving the opposite.
They have no interest in developing 3D as a “language”.
They just don’t take it that seriously!
As long as it rakes in the money,
they are happy to not explore it in any other way
than as an attraction in itself.
But 3D can do/can be so much more!
I go to see most of these movies,
I know what I am talking about.
Some are totally demented, they are about … nothing.
But 3D deserves so much better.
It deserves to be taken seriously!
It should/it will/it must
become the very language of future reality-based movies.
Documentaries as well as fictional films.
It is so absurd that the notion of a “fictional film”
means, for more and more people today,
that it is not related to any reality.
That is a cultural disaster,
a tsunami wiping out our imagination.
Stories are rooted in myth,
and myth is distilled from human experience, from life.
Stories are not recycled versions of other stories
that are already formulated from previous stories.
That is the present state of the blockbuster cinema.
I am getting carried away.
3D has a totally unexplored affinity to … reality.
I had stumbled upon this, by sheer luck, so to speak.
It had been possible
because Alain had put the tools into our hands,
because these amazing people, Pina’s dancers,
had been willing to share this work of grief with us,
and because they had been prepared,
through the years of working with Pina,
to let go of any role-playing, of any parts,
and just be themselves, as much as possible,
on stage just as well as in front of a camera.
3D belongs into the hands of documentary filmmakers,
of independent writers, directors, authors,
of people willing and able to forget limits, rules, formulas, recipes,
and enter a whole new age of cinema,
where there is more…
Believe it or not, 3D has that connecting power.
I have been lucky,
to come back to my opening line,
because I discovered 3D out of necessity,
because dance needed it,
because I had a subject with a strong affinity to 3D.
3D was able to bring out the best in dance,
something that was hidden to cameras before.
And in a strange and unexpected, unintended way,
dance brought out the best in 3D,
something that was also hidden before.
For all of you who intend to use the medium in the future
I wish you will take it seriously, not just as an attraction,
I hope your subject needs it,
and has an affinity to space and depth and volume and presence.
But my deepest desire, my urgent request,
is that you have an interest in the act of seeing,
in the physiology and psychology
of what our eyes and our brains do together, in unison
in the most amazing perfection,
to create space, depth, volume and presence.
Every day, now, “in life”,
when you go outside of this beautiful theatre into King Street,
when you go home and see your friends, or kids, or neighbors.
Your eyes and your spatial perception are miracles.
That is what 3D tries to imitate
and could become:
a miraculous new perception of life.
There is still a long way to go,
this is an adventurous road
and territory that is still largely unknown.
Go for it!
Wim Wenders, June 2011