Wender's latest disappoints; Hearts is apocalyptic
UNTIL THE END
OF THE WORLD
Directed by Wim Wenders.
Starring Solveig Dommartin,
William Hurt and Sam Neill.
Now playing at Loews Copley.
HEARTS OF DARKNESS:
A FILMMAKER'S APOCALYPSE
Directed by Fax Bahr
and George Hickenlooper.
Now playing at Loews Nickelodeon.
By CHRIS ROBERGE
IT IS NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE to sit through Until the End of the World and not be impressed with its many technical achievements of the film. Then again, merely sitting through Until the End of the World -- for well over two hours -- is an impressive achievement in itself. Set in 1999, the film was photographed in eight countries across four continents and boasts both innovative advances in computer graphics and video technologies and an incredible song soundtrack featuring such alternative giants as U2, R.E.M. and Talking Heads. This immensity in scope is nevertheless put to the service of a story that has a surprising tendency to drag, preach and often bore.
1999, as envisioned by the movie, is a time in which world travel is amazingly quick and accessible, and communication from any location on the planet to any other with the help of videophones and other gadgets is relatively easy. Not all technologies have been as beneficial, though. A nuclear-powered satellite is plummeting out of its orbit and could have catastrophic consequences for the planet.
According to the movie's narrator, Eugene (Sam Neill), none of this bothers his girlfriend, Claire (Solveig Dommartin), who is currently party-hopping throughout Europe. Traveling through France, Claire meets two bank robbers who offer her a percentage of their take if she flies the money out of the airport at Nice. Along the way, she runs into a similarly distressed man, Sam Farber (William Hurt), who is on the run from secret agent Burt (Ernie Dingo), who claims that Sam has committed some form of industrial espionage.
A romance begins to develop between Claire and Sam, who is travelling around the world "photographing" family members with an invention of his father's (Max von Sydow). The device records the biochemical process of sight so that it may be replayed as a means for giving a crude form of vision to the blind. Sam and Claire chase each other from city to city while they themselves are being chased by Eugene, Burt and a hapless detective, Philip Winter (Rudiger Volger), throughout the first half of the story. This section of the movie plays like some type of art-house madcap adventure with the requisite passionate couple and bungling pursuers. The results are innocuous but fairly enjoyable thanks mainly to the exotic locations and excellent music.
The group eventually makes its way to the Australian outback, where Dr. Farber's lab is located, and begins to explore the possibilities of the revolutionary camera. Once in Australia, any sense of fun from which the film benefited disappears, and the pace grinds to a halt. Wenders introduces the ironic proposition that in a time in which people can visit any place, the world as a global entity is ceasing to exist, being replaced by a world as a personal entity within our own minds. As technologies work to bring different cultures and societies to us, we want less to visit them, and curiosity turns inward. This transition from "wacky chase film" to "deep, ponderous film" is poorly executed, and Until the End of the World never recovers.
Until the End of the World is difficult to review. Many sequences are individually excellent, but director Wim Wenders, most famous for the beautiful Wings of Desire, doesn't show much storytelling sensibility here. He never provides a strong narrative pull to guide the audience through his visions, and without that, a two hour and forty minute movie becomes fatally flawed.
A MUCH MORE INTERESTING and entertaining movie now playing is the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmaker's Apocalypse, which describes the making of Apocalypse Now in exciting and frightening detail. The filming of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now became famous in the late 70s for the production's astonishing ability to attract disaster, and Hearts of Darkness uses documentary footage shot by Coppola's wife, Eleanor, and contemporary interviews with filmmakers close to the project to demonstrate this fact. Directors Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper have created a very good movie that is both a great look behind the scenes of one of the more significant films of the past few decades and a suspenseful and engaging work in its own right.
From the beginning, Apocalypse Now sounds like a poorly planned project. George Lucas, the film's original director, is shown explaining that initially, the movie was to be shot in Vietnam in the midst of heavy combat. Apparently someone woke up and realized the inherent stupidity of this idea and the crew, now with Coppola at the helm, traveled to the Philippines in 1976 for what was expected to be a 16-week shooting schedule. The cheap local labor constructs huge sets, which are partially destroyed by the strong winds and rains of typhoons that batter the island. Military helicopters rented from the Philippine government are called away during shooting to fight in a civil war elsewhere on the island. Standing not-so-confidently among the wreckage is Coppola, trying to film a screenplay without an ending and complaining, in private interviews secretly taped by his wife, that the movie that he is making is absolutely no good at all.
The insanity of the film also extended well into the cast. Very early into the production, Martin Sheen replaced lead actor Harvey Keitel. Sheen is shown later drunk in a hotel room, smashing a mirror with his fist and slicing open his hand. Coppola continued to film before calling an ambulance, and the footage made its way into the finished movie. Soon afterwards, Sheen wanders the streets one night and collapses from a heart attack. Coppola seemingly ignores this, insisting that no one in America should hear about the incident, saying "I want to hear that everything is okay until I say that Marty is dead." Another actor is asked if he dropped acid during the filming of a scene in which his character used the drug. The actor replies that no, in that particular scene, he was using speed instead. Even Marlon Brando is seen as an obstacle of huge proportions. Brando demands a salary of $1 million per week for the three weeks that he works for the film, and then arrives, having not read the source material, and proceeds to debate the film's ending with Coppola for the first week and a half.
With all of these problems, it is fairly amazing that any movie was actually made, never mind the genuinely good one that Apocalypse Now became. Hearts of Darkness seems to put forth the argument at times that the madness of the production, and in particular, Coppola himself, brought about the greatness of the film in much the same way that William Burroughs, in Naked Lunch, used a different form of madness to fuel his creativity. Whether or not artistic brilliance is indeed linked to insanity is debatable, but the fascinating nature of Hearts of Darkness is not.