Columbo Is Dead

Peter Falk died yesterday at his home.

Most people think of him as Columbo, but I never saw him in that role except in short little commercials.

I’m sure I’m like many people my age in that I recall Falk primarily as the cheery, loving grandfather in “The Princess Bride.” The movie wouldn’t have been the same with a different actor in that role, and though he and Fred Savage act as a framing device for the action fairy tale part of the flick, perhaps the real story of the movie is that of a little boy bonding with his grandpa.

Unlike most Americans, though, I vividly remember Falk in another role. He played himself, as a matter of fact, in “The Wings of Desire,” an arty German movie about an angel, who, tired of merely watching humans going about their business, longs to become one.

The German title really translated something more like “The Heavens Over Berlin,” and to me, at least, it was an odd movie. I saw it in a philosophy class, and it was definitely a lot more philosophical than most movies I’ve seen (even movies about philosophers). Nick Cave was in it. There were scenes in a circus (the angel’s love interest is an acrobat). A large portion of the movie centered around the Berlin Wall and what it meant, what it did, what it was.

It was a much, much better movie than its American remake, “City of Angels,” which removed the philosophy, removed the Berlin wall and changed the ending of the love story.

“When the child was a child, it was the time of these questions. Why am I me, and why not you? Why am I here, and why not there? When did time begin, and where does space end? Isn’t life under the sun just a dream? Isn’t what I see, hear, and smell just the mirage of a world before the world? Does evil actually exist, and are there people who are really evil? How can it be that I, who am I, wasn’t before I was, and that sometime I, the one I am, no longer will be the one I am?”

Peter Falk played, more or less, himself–a film star doing a movie in Berlin. The movie had something to do with the Holocaust. There was a bit of a twist in Falk’s character which I don’t want to give away, in case you plan on seeing the movie, but he instilled the role with great humanity and a bit of quirkiness:

[sketching an female extra, who is waiting on the set] “What a dear face! Interesting. What a nostril. A dramatic nostril. These people are extras. Extra people. Extras are so patient. They just sit. Extras. These humans are extras. Extra humans.”

Apparently, Falk had his eye removed as a child because he had a malignant tumor. This came as a complete surprise to me.

Either way, he will be missed.