Jonathan Taplin on Wim Wenders: “If you think about Wings Of Desire, I think it’s one of the most profound spiritual films that ever has been made.”
In my conversation with Wim Wenders on Until The End Of The World (Bis Ans Ende Der Welt), his masterwork from 1991, he told me 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 influence Sam Shepard had, the contributions from Peter Carey and Michael Almereyda on the script, the scenes of Tom Farrell (Paris, Texas and Lightning Over Water), and that ultimately the film is Solveig Dommartin's and his story.
Until the End of the World producer Jonathan Taplin on Wim Wenders’ script: “He wrote it before Paris, Texas …” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
In the second instalment with Jonathan Taplin, Until The End Of The World producer and author of the remarkable The Magic Years: Scenes from a Rock-and-Roll Life, we discussed the soundtrack (that features Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, U2, Julee Cruise, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Neneh Cherry, REM., Patti Smith, Robbie Robertson, Daniel Lanois, T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, Jane Siberry, kd lang, Depeche Mode, Crime and the City Solution, David Byrne with Talking Heads), faith for Martin Scorsese, Eric Clapton, and Aretha Franklin, plus how it felt traveling to 26 countries with Wim Wenders “one of the calmest, most centred people I ever met in my life.”
From Los Angeles, Jonathan joined me on Zoom to talk about his illustrious life in-depth.
Anne-Katrin Titze: Two things I want to talk about [in the context of the filmmakers Jon worked with]: Faith and rage. You bring up that Martin Scorsese was going to be a priest and you have four lessons you got from working with Wim Wenders.
Jonathan Taplin: Right!
AKT: Lesson number four is “Don’t underestimate faith!” These two directors are very different [Coming up, stories from Jon on Scorsese’s rage]. Did you ever see Wim in a rage, throwing things?
Solveig Dommartin as Claire Tourneur in Until The End Of The World
JT: Never. Never. Wim is one of the calmest, most centred people I ever met in my life and always finds a humorous way out of any bad situation. I mean, it’s not that he can’t be angry, but rage is not part of Wim’s character. And if you think about Wings Of Desire, I think it’s one of the most profound spiritual films that ever has been made. And, of course Marty, I think faith helped Marty out of his dark place too. And it’s probably right that he wanted to make a movie about Christ and all of that at the point that he’d come to the bottom of his life.
I don’t know, I’ve seen the role of faith come in all sorts of places. I’ve seen it with Eric Clapton. He said straight out that that’s what saved him from the addiction he was in. I’ve seen it in Aretha Franklin in Amazing Grace. I think it was so profound for her in that movie. She was so moved and out of control, not even being able to control her own instrument that when she saw it later she was embarrassed by it. Because she had this whole persona that she was the great diva and here was this young woman, sweat pouring off her brow and just singing to the Lord in such a way that she wouldn’t allow the film to be released while she was alive. She was embarrassed by it. So strange.
Sam Farber aka Trevor McPhee (William Hurt)
AKT: Because it’s really showing …
JT: … vulnerability!
AKT: Ultimate vulnerability.
JT: Yes, yes.
AKT: I actually think that Until the End of the World is Wim Wenders’ best film.
JT: Thank you!
AKT: It’s my favourite. I loved it when it opened and I think I love it even more now because of what it shows and how much it really told us about the future.
JT: Right. So true! Wim first wrote the script in like 1983 or ’82. He wrote it before Paris, Texas, and he kept trying to get it made and he never could because it was more expensive than any movie he’d ever made. Eventually after Paris, Texas, and the grand prize at Cannes, the next year, Wim was made president of the jury of Cannes. And he called me and he said “I have one last shot to try and get this movie made.” And I was at that time an investment banker, by pure chance, and I was not liking it. I was not enjoying being separated from the creative world.
Eugene Fitzpatrick (Sam Neill) and Phillip Winter (Rüdiger Vogler)
AKT: By the way, these Bass brothers [he worked for] have nothing to do with our favourite shoes [Bass Weejuns]?
JT: Nothing! So it was like a lifeline. Wim said “If you would come and produce this for me and help me raise the money, let’s do this.” So I went to Cannes, Wim was the president of the jury. That was the year that Sex, Lies and Videotape won.
AKT: Soderbergh, yes.
JT: And Wim had a lot of battles to get that to happen [Until the End of the World]. Then I just said, okay, I’m in. Little did I know that it was going to be like three years. It really was a year and a half of location scouting, which was actually the most enjoyable year and a half. It’s both sad and happy for me, because I was seeking to escape from Wall Street but I also had broken my marriage by becoming an investment banker. My wife thought I was a complete sellout and split from me.
It was like joining the French Foreign Legion. We went to 26 countries, four continents, it was amazing. It was one of the great experiences; to be on the road with Wim is like magical. Because he’s just “Oh let’s go over here! Let’s see if we can see another vista!” We’re in the middle of the Australian desert, you know. “No, I see some mountains over there, let’s go!” It was just constant, it was great, it was totally exciting.
Jeanne Moreau as Edith Farber leads us into a cave in the desert, a dreamworld laboratory, that is as enticing as it is dangerous.
AKT: The film also has a fantastic soundtrack.
JT: That was a lot of what I helped do. I mean, look, Wim organized the soundtrack in the sense that he wrote 16 letters to 16 separate musicians, saying “I’m doing this movie and this is in the future and could you write a song for it?” That’s all he did. And all 16 came back and said yes, including Bono, including T Bone Burnett, including David Byrne. I mean, just the crème de la crème.
I would say the most amazing thing about Wim was his understanding that we would become addicted to our screens. You think about in 1983, nobody had any sense that there would be an iPhone or some little thing you would hold in your hand and then be able to communicate. It was just brilliant and he saw it all. Not only did he see that the technology was coming but he saw that the technology would cause trouble.
AKT: Yeah, oh god, yes, does it not cause trouble.
Claire (Solveig Dommartin) with Sam Farber (William Hurt)
JT: It does.
AKT: And it all started with Jeanne Moreau and Max von Sydow.
Read what Jonathan Taplin had to say on Julie Christie in John Schlesinger’s Billy Liar; Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity; Edward Hopper and Wim Wenders; Katharine Hepburn and his mother; Wallace Stevens, and countering the pessimism of Ben Lerner.
Coming up - Jonathan Taplin on working with Martin Scorsese; Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino, and Charles Manson; Robert Frank and The Rolling Stones; Leni Riefenstahl, Jodie Foster, and John Hinckley, and Scott Hicks, Shine, and Harvey Weinstein.