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Anselm - Das Rauschen der Zeit

Directed by Wim Wenders
Produced by Karsten Brünig
With: Anselm Kiefer, Daniel Kiefer, and Anton Wenders
Cinematography: Franz Lustig
Editing: Maxine Goedicke
Music: Leonard Küßner
Runtime: 93 min
Release Date: 12 October 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

Wim Wenders, the 78-year-old German director of such immersive works of fiction as Alice in the Cities (1974), Paris, Texas (1984), and Wings of Desire (1987), has always possessed a similar gift for creating documentaries that pull viewers into the spaces his subjects inhabit or observe. His hit Buena Vista Social Club (1999) showcases an ensemble of legendary Cuban musicians who came together to record a historic album, while the less famous but more impressive The Salt of the Earth (2014) is a striking portrait of the Brazilian social documentary photographer and photojournalist Sebastião Salgado. The greatest of Wenders' nonfiction pictures is the 3D documentary Pina (2011), about the work of German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch. Pina invites non-dancers to experience dance, allows the uninitiated to witness a close approximation of live theater, and provokes 3D naysayers to embrace a 3D movie. It's also a gift from one artist to another, and all who see it feel as if we're the recipients of that gift.

With Anselm, Wenders does for visual art what he did for dance in Pina and for still photography in The Salt of the Earth by exploring the work and, to some degree, the life of a compelling master of the medium in an immersive yet fundamentally inscrutable way. His subject is one of the most dramatic and cinematic contemporary painters, sculptors, and installation artists, Anselm Kiefer. Going strictly by what he puts on screen, one could assume that Wenders chooses his subjects based solely on the visual power of their work, but there's probably a more personal aspect to these selections. Like Bausch and Salgado, Kiefer is Wenders' contemporary—at five months older than the director, he's one of his closest contemporaries. Kiefer's work explores growing up in post-WWII Germany in fascinating ways that Wenders only offers fleeting glimpses of by way of press coverage that occurred during various points in his controversial career. These TV and film clips sometimes seem like part of Kiefer's art that we're observing at the time, but they're actually integrated as part of Wenders' art.

The semi-opacity of Kiefer's biographical details is more than made up for by the lavish attention paid to his art and artistic process. Wenders' stereoscopic camera slowly tracks, flies, and lingers on the giant burnt canvases, massive weathered sculptures, and cavernous spaces that serve as both Kiefer's studio and, presumably, exhibition halls. Though the film provides titles for where and when many of the works were created, it doesn't explain how anyone sees any of this art. Most of it is so enormous that someone fairly ignorant of the art world, like me, can only assume it requires traveling to the various massive compounds that Kiefer has bought (?), commissioned (?), or been provided with by some devoted patron (?).

I'm sure it would be an experience to see all this work in person, but, as Pina does, Anselm lets all viewers of the documentary have both an astonishing visual presentation and an oblique sense of the artist's intentions and where they fit into history. Again, this presentation feels like a gift. Unlike Werner Herzog's self-indulgent 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) or Jean-Luc Godard's use of 3D to deconstruct the medium he'd already deconstructed multiple times in the essay film Goodbye to Language (2014), Wenders’ 3D documentaries don’t feel like mere expressions of a filmmaker, because the filmmaker is present strictly as an observer. Wenders allows the subjects of these films to speak for themselves by spending most of the movie's running time observing the subject's work.

When I saw Pina, I felt that Wenders was the first filmmaker since Alfred Hitchcock to realize that 3D's best use is for capturing theatrical subjects and the performing arts. I can think of fewer than ten movies that benefitted from the 3D process. Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) plays just as well in a traditional flat presentation, but when I first saw it projected from a 3D 35mm print, I was enthralled by the feeling of watching a live-action diorama. It was as if Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams, and Anthony Dawson were tiny humans enacting a delightful Broadway show inside a shoebox just for me. George Sidney's Kiss Me Kate (1953) has a similar ability to make viewers feel like we're watching a well-staged play, though the sensation is more akin to having the best seat in the theater, whereas Dial M feels like it's being performed just for you.

I've enjoyed other 3D movies. House of Wax (1953), Inferno (1953), and Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) have their novelistic charms. Robert Zemeckis's The Walk (2015) made me gasp in several places. Bi Gan's Long Day's Journey into Night (2018) combines my favorite movie gimmick, the single unbroken take, with the illusion of depth. The Avatar films would be unwatchable were it not for the 3D. And while Ang Lee's Life of Pi (2012) and Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity (2013) are solid film stories, I still only want to watch them with 3D glasses on.

Pina is my favorite 3D movie because of the stage-bound environment. Utilizing little camera movement and few cuts, it creates a feeling of being in the live audience of what's being filmed rather than watching a filmed recording of something that happened a while ago. This "you are there" quality is something Cinerama also tried to do back in the 1950s, but I never saw Cinerama in its proper form, so I have no way of knowing if it created this same sensation back then.

3D is a technology that provides both detachment and immediacy. The audience is always aware of the artificiality of the experience, but we're nevertheless drawn into the realistic allure of depth. Anselm engages us in ways other than visual. I think Pina is a superior movie, but after seeing Pina, my immediate desire was to visit Germany. After seeing Anselm, I want to learn more about Anselm Kiefer. I don't know if that response makes Anselm a better or a worse documentary, but I always love seeing a great movie that defies categorization.

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Wim Wenders does for visual art what he did for dance in Pina, using 3D to present and explore the work and, to some degree, the life of a compelling master of the medium in an immersive yet fundamentally inscrutable way.