| July 14, 2020
“Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me. I’m thinking of the days, I won’t forget a single day…” are words sung in an emotional crescendo near the end of Until The End of the World, a Kinks song sungalong in the middle of the night on the bottom of the planet at what a raft of characters believe is already of the end of civilization as they know it, as Wim Wenders and his co-writers Peter Carey and Solveig Dommartin anticipate.
What appears to be a cosmopolitan picaresque moves from moment to moment to momentousness, through the wanderings of one Claire (Solveig Dommartin), from Venice to Paris to Lisbon to Berlin to San Francisco to Japan to China to Moscow to Alice Spring, Australia, fifteen cities across five continents, where finally, in a cavern on native territory, virtual reality-like images are reproduced in a blind woman’s mind. It’s an Odyssey, to be sure, but about more than a journey, including the reunion of an obsessive scientist, Dr. Farber (Max von Sydow) and his peripatetic progeny Sam (William Hurt). For what it’s worth, in German, “farber” can be a dyer of cloth, and there are colors galore in Wenders’ tapestry. (He’s also written that the noirish narrative is “Penelope decides to set out in pursuit of Odysseus.”) The threads include the anticipation of high-definition images, the first seen in a feature film, and Claire’s ex-boyfriend Eugene (Sam Neill), a novelist who narrates and refracts the movie we are seeing as a narrative he is transcribing and transforming.
It’s love stories: “We are criminals that never broke the law,” David Byrne intones in the first of the wall-to-wall stretches of seductive, alternately dreamy and percussive music, and “she was in love with the idea of being in love,” Eugene narrates.
It’s the most melancholy of romantic fairytales. How did the story begin? A satellite began to fall from on high and Claire began to tumble into adventures: “I broke up with my boyfriend, he fucked my best friend, I went to Italy.” And later she marvels at the motivations of her men: “Why are you so good to me? It is your way to punish me?”
But Wenders does not punish Claire. His then-partner Dommartin extends the grace of her physical performance as the trapeze artist in Wings Of Desire: the way she moves! Coiled, tensile at rest, on the balls of her feet as she walks across a frame in a miniskirt patterned like a Buckminster Fuller geodesic design, she provides lithe counterpoint to the lassitude of other characters. She begins as a sybarite in a black Louise Brooks wig with architectural bangs: when she whips it off, a cascade of thick blonde curls erupt and the film is freed, just as in Wenders’ Kings of the Road when the narrative was loosed only by a character has a seriously successful release on a beach, each figure freeing themselves physically to whatever may come next.
Now a lustrous epic masterpiece of effortless science fiction, with giddy film genre borrowings, and futuristic prediction turned period piece, World was first released in a shorn, shattered version of 179 minutes that satisfied no one, especially Wenders. Time is of the essence: set in 1999, shot in 1990-91, released at a compromised, unsatisfying 179 minutes in 1991, Wenders’ dream is only just now released in an integral, near-five-hour walkabout.
And another form of time is of essence: below the sleek, cool, yet warm-to-the-touch surfaces of Wenders’ bold film, his years-in-thought, predicting 1999 in 1990, anticipates 2015 and beyond. “When we finally got to shoot it, the year 2000 was ten years away, but it was still fun to project ourselves into the future of the audiovisual revolution that had just started,” Wenders observes on the Criterion edition. “The word digital was still only known to some technofreaks. Nobody had any idea that everything was going to be digital: images, text, our whole lives.”
The world’s fears of end times come with the descent of an Indian nuclear satellite into the atmosphere, where the United States threatens to detonate it mid-air, which could cause a worldwide electromagnetic pulse, wiping the memory of all the machines. The fear of Y2K had not yet made the news; the personal computer browser was a couple of years from introduction, although World uses “Russian software” like latter-day apps doing the work Google (launched 1997) does now. Autonomous cars ply neon roads of Tokyo. Suicide bombers release propaganda video before killings.
“In the beginning was the word. What would happen if only the image remained in the end!?” someone exclaims. Most disturbingly and most prophetically, characters grow obsessed with images they stare into on handheld devices, images from one’s own dreams as harbingers of mental illness.
But in the end, as Eugene narrates, Claire overcomes her “deep well of narcissism” and there is a delirious moment that should be laughable, but it is instead the perfect place for Claire to celebrate her thirtieth birthday, which I’ll hint at only as an angel’s flight.
A single day after a single day, after nearly twenty-five years of sacred days before Until the End of the World: a great and poetic and caring film has arrived at last.
"We had a very good plan to put on the SHOW safely. But with an unending number of cases and the national chaos, even the best strategy is threatened by this out-of-control environment. No matter how much many of us wear our masks and observe social distancing, [circumstances have] worsened and the health and safety of you—our passholders, filmmakers, the people of Telluride and its surrounding areas—cannot be compromised. We have been working cooperatively with our fellow fall film festival partners to champion global cinema and its artists. We hope that many of you will seek out and discover the titles we’ve selected for this year’s program at the New York Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival or Venice Film Festival. We will announce soon what we have programmed in the hopes that you will experience as we did, the best in film this year. We understand that film festivals and their long-term health are not top of mind today. A safe vaccine, vital medical interventions for those sick and properly enforced health regulations are. However, we do ask that you take this moment to consider a world where gathering around a shared love of culture is no longer possible and what that means for the psychological condition of the world. If the prospect prompts a sense of despair, please advocate and champion the return of our gatherings that provide vital nourishment and oxygen to humanity's soul."
July 14, 2020
"After months of intense due diligence around physically holding an event, we’ve come to the heartbreaking but unanimous conclusion to cancel this year’s Labor Day celebration of film in Telluride."
July 14, 2020
Focus Features Takes U.S. Rights To Schrader's The Card Counter; Universal Pictures International In UK, France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Australian, New Zealand China, Japan, South Korea, Latin America and Airlines. Schrader: "The folks at Focus are the best at what they do. Over the years I've been jealous of directors in the Focus fold. Now happily I am one."
| July 14, 2020
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