Under the satellite

Wim Wenders on Sam Shepard, Jeanne Moreau and Until The End Of The World

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Until The End Of The World director Wim Wenders with Paul Auster and Sam Shepard at Balthazar in 2005:
Until The End Of The World director Wim Wenders with Paul Auster and Sam Shepard at Balthazar in 2005: "Actually, he [Sam] is the guy I offered the film first." Photo: Tom Farrell

In the second instalment of my conversation with Wim Wenders on the 25th anniversary of his masterwork from 1991, he discussed the influence that Sam Shepard had on Until The End Of The World (Bis Ans Ende Der Welt) and how it was his "dream come true" that Jeanne Moreau "accepted to travel all the way to Australia with us and spend months and months in the Outback."

Wim spoke about the relationship between Max von Sydow and William Hurt, the contributions from Peter Carey and Michael Almereyda on the script, the scenes of Tom Farrell (Paris, Texas, and Lightning Over Water), and that in the end the film is Solveig Dommartin's and his story.

Jeanne Moreau (Edith) with Max von Sydow (Henry Farber):
Jeanne Moreau (Edith) with Max von Sydow (Henry Farber): "She was absolutely marvelous and wonderful to work with."

Wim Wenders' latest film, Submergence, starring Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy with Reda Kateb, will open the San Sebastian Film Festival next month.

In the past week, Jeanne Moreau (on July 31) and Sam Shepard (on July 27) have passed away.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Let's talk about the names in Until the End of the World. The name Farber, as in Homo Faber [the novel by Max Frisch], with the spelling adjusted for English pronunciation?

Wim Wenders: Yes. I had Homo Faber in mind.

AKT: And Sam is from Sam Shepard?

WW: Yes, Sam owes everything to Sam Shepard. And Sam played Homo Faber.

AKT: I know, in Volker Schlöndorff's film.

WW: It's one of my favourite novels of all time. And it's a little reference to Sam as well. Actually, he is the guy I offered the film first. But Sam was horrified by the fact that we were going to shoot all over the world and that he would have to take all these airplanes. And finally when he read the script and he really wanted to do it, then he realised that he had to be in a plane every second weekend.

And he has this phobia of flying, Sam Shepard, and he finally said, "I can't do it because I'm going to be like a vegetable. Each time you are going to have to put me on a plane, I'll die a thousand deaths." That's why he refused it. So at least I called the character Sam.

AKT: This really is the worst film imaginable for someone who doesn't want to fly.

Claire (Solveig Dommartin) with Sam Farber (William Hurt)
Claire (Solveig Dommartin) with Sam Farber (William Hurt)

WW: He actually at the same time shot Homo Faber while we did this.

AKT: That must have been1989. Sam told me that when the [Berlin] Wall came down he was working with Volker Schlöndorff. The script for Until The End Of The World seems to have a few fathers. Michael Almereyda and Peter Carey were both involved?

WW: Peter Carey really pulled it off. Michael wrote a first draft with us. But not much remained of that first draft, except for the story. And the story was Solveig's and mine, anyway. Peter did the heroic effort to pull it all together and throw half of our story out because it was even more abundant.

We cut several countries. We cut South America and Africa as continents. Peter also wrote the entire narration which is such a crucial part for the film.

AKT: The scenes between Max von Sydow and William Hurt as father [Henry] and son [Sam Farber] are incredibly intense. Can you tell me about how these two were working with each other? The dynamics you captured there are fantastic.

WW: Actually, they hit it off really well. They really liked each other. And because they really liked each other they also were able to go quite far in the antagonism that they played. Max really was a nasty father and every now and then, I remember, after the scene, he apologised to William that he was such an asshole. They were fun to work with and they really loved playing with each other.

Claire with Sam Farber - Until The End Of The World
Claire with Sam Farber - Until The End Of The World

AKT: Hurt's reactions at some points are as if he didn't know what insult was coming. It is one of the film's acting highlights. Jeanne Moreau [Edith Farber] enters the picture fairly late, although much of what went on before centers around her character.

WW: Yes, we needed such a great actress because she has been talked about for so long and when you appear so late in the film, you're anticipated so much, you better hold water. She's really my favourite part of the film. When she first shows up in the film, I still get the shivers and when she dies in the film I still cry. She's still for me the absolute highlight of the film.

She was absolutely marvelous and wonderful to work with. For 20 years, ever since I was a filmmaker, I wanted to have her in a film but I never had the part until I had this one. I produced a film that she was in with Peter Handke, called The Absence, but I had never actually worked with her.

This was my dream come true that she accepted to travel all the way to Australia with us and spend months and months in the Outback. She came with two suitcases. One, the small one, was her stuff. And the big suitcase was the books. She was reading so much and she said "I was anticipating we were shooting for weeks in the desert and that I would have to wait a lot so I needed a lot of books."

The lights dimmed at the Music Box Theatre on August 2, 2017 in honour of Sam Shepard
The lights dimmed at the Music Box Theatre on August 2, 2017 in honour of Sam Shepard

AKT: You didn't put her books in the film? Hers wasn't the Walt Whitman or Wahlverwandschaften we see lying around?

WW: No.

AKT: Do you remember any of the books she brought?

WW: No. She had lots of novels she was reading. Every day, also between takes. She was always very much at ease and she didn't mind waiting because she had something to do.

AKT: The biggest laugh at the press screening came when Tom Farrell returns after his scene at the Hotel Adlon. Were both of these scenes in what you call the reader's digest version?

WW: In the reader's digest there's just the little scene when he appears on the TV set as a terrorist who is about to blow up the American Ambassador. And the entire scene in the bar is not in it. You know, of course, Tom's first appearance?

AKT: In Paris, Texas? On the bridge?

WW: On the bridge. The prophet in the desert. And of course, he's also in Lightning Over Water.

Read what Wim Wenders had to say on looking back at life under the shadow of a nuclear satellite in Until The End Of The World.

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