Until the End of the World is German film director Wim Wender’s epic road movie – which came out at the beginning of the nineties and captured my heart for all my years of intense travelling. It is one of those films I would call a Real film. It drags you in to a surreal, impressionistic atmosphere set in a future which convinces easily due to understated acting and the deliberately casual way it deals with ‘new’ technology. Technology we now take for granted.
The delightfully imagined appliances come surprisingly close to the truth, with the added effect that no consideration is made to keep them clean, in a Star Trek kind of way. The world portrayed in ‘Until the End of the World’ is motley, wayward, apocalyptic, and the use of technology is brute; it can get dirty, is handled casually, but loved. In my opinion Wenders manages to accurately foresee how we would cherish and make use of technology to enhance our human activities. However, the main emphasis of the story stays close to human issues, desires, plight and joy.
The introduction to the film came by my good friend Gavin, in a video shop on Rockey Street, Yeoville, which is a very rough neighbourhood in Johannesburg. “This is one to watch”, he said. That was it. I saw the face of William Hurt on the cover, and had pleasant memories of ‘The Big Chill’, so I grabbed it. Since then, there have been occasions that I hired it in a random city, to watch at someone’s house, and was confronted with footage on the tape I had never seen before. Slowly, the story unfolded itself to me: it turns out, when watching the Warner Brothers version, you only ever see the tip of the iceberg: Wenders shot enough footage to make an 8-hour movie experience. The commercial value of such a long film may be slender, but Wenders must have been having absolute ball. Apparently he ran out of money before being able to cross over to Africa, and shoot in the Congo.
I was shocked to read on internet that Solveig Dommartin died of a heart attack at age 47. She was the wonderful, wise and wild leading female part in “Until the End of the World”. Dommartin was really special; her eyes; that secret smile, speaking English with a strong but elegant Euro-German accent (she was French), her moves. When I saw the film or listened to its fantastic soundtrack, I always ‘was’ her. Dommartin was never an icon, but she looked fantastic in the Australian desert with that hat on, and the flowing, brown skirt, face round and shining like a moon, wild shock of blond curls.
The foreboding apocalyptic scenario, caused by a nuclear satellite out of control orbiting the earth, set in a (then) future 1999, to a raging, tailor made soundtrack by some of the hottest rock and protopunk artists of the 1980’s, help superbly in releasing all one’s contrived ideas about the comfort of civil solitude. Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, U2, Neneh Cherry, Peter Gabriel, Patti Smith, just to name a few, actually sat down on assignment by Wim Wenders, and penned a song AS THEY COULD IMAGINE THEMSELVES WRITING EIGHT YEARS IN THE FUTURE, produced exclusively for this film. That in itself goes down as a superb idea, now doesn’t it?
I was satisfied with just 2 and a half hours’ worth of futuristic travel epic across 4 or 5 continents. I was living that kind of life at the time. For many years this film was the visual and soundtrack of my life. It is impossible for me to write down, with any accuracy, the feelings that I get when watching this film. Perhaps, I muse, this is where film as a medium comes in, made sublimely complete with accompanying music, together, in their finest moment, proving more apt to convey a touch and feel, and an odd recognition, than even the best poetry on paper. How could I say?
When Solveig died, a murmur passed through the press, like a passing breeze, leaving no trace. She had managed to star in the greatest road movie of all times, and then slip back into life as she lived it, unnoticed.
Well, I’ve noticed.