In Palermo shooting, Wenders also addresses this issue. In a particularly powerful moment the character representing Death, played wonderfully by Dennis Hopper, meditates on the intrinsic qualities of death in photography in the following statement.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against photography. I’m actually very fond of that invention. It shows the efforts of my labor better than anything else. “Death at Work.” That’s what most still photographs should be called. I really like the idea of the negative, the reverse side of life. The reverse side of light.”
This moment in the film struck a nerve deep inside of me personally. I have often considered that a photograph is in some way a “memento mori.” Even a simple snapshot, whether viewed in a photo album, as in day’s past, or more likely in today’s world, on a Facebook page, contains elements of sadness, and loss. A photo of smiling family, seen enjoying a candid moment, takes on a darker subtext when considered that this will be evidence of a life that no longer exists once those in the photo have passed away.
In Palermo Shooting, Wenders is overt in this exploration of photography’s intrinsic deference to death. A quick search of movie reviews will yield much evidence of what is almost unanimously considered the directors ham-fisted, obvious, unsuccessful story of a man’s confrontation with his own impending death. However, perhaps it is because of the Sicilian blood that still flows through my veins (thanks to my ancestors) that I felt an affinity with this film.
Some of the most dramatic scenes in the film were the haunting dream sequences. This includes several scenes that were shot in the macabre catacombs underground Palermo. Wenders obviously was using the location of the Sicilian capital as ground aero for the realm of the dead. Some might argue that that title more rightly should go to the city of Naples. But for me these are minor issues.
Another aspect of the film that appeal to me directly, and most likely to you, as a photography enthusiast, is the obvious camera porn on display. The main subject, Finn, is seen throughout the film shooting with a beautiful Japanese medium format camera, the Plaubel Makina 67. There are also several scenes where he is shooting with a 360° panoramic camera, including a pivotal moment in the film where it almost leads to his demise. And perhaps the most touching moment of the film is when Finn crosses paths with noted Palermo photographer Letizia Battaglia. She is seen shooting a Leica and has a heartfelt exchange about the subjects of photography and death with our hero.
Ultimately, Palermo Shooting is far from Wim Wenders’ best work. His pinnacle remains “Wings of Desire,” though one could make a strong argument for “Paris, Texas.” However, if you have the desire to watch one man’s journey towards the acceptance of his own demise, shown through the viewfinder of photographic expression, devoting two hours of your time to this movie is well worth the investment.