Until the End of the World (1991) begins with a grim end-time scenario. A nuclear satellite threatens to crash through the ozone layer and wipe out the world’s communications system. It is said to be circling above like a bird of prey. Watching the film now, in 2023, it’s daunting to realise that the unrestrained pursuit of progress and technology and the catastrophic effects of human activity on the global climate already raised issues and a great deal of interest more than 30 years ago.
Claire Tourneur (Solveig Dommartin) is a restless wanderer whose life is forever changed after she takes an unknown route with her car and survives a car crash. Claire embarks on a trip around the world after she encounters a mysterious man, Sam Farber alias Trevor McPhee (William Hurt), and falls in love with him. Along with some interesting companions, among whom is Eugene Fitzpatrick (Sam Neill), a writer and her former lover, she will eventually end up in the Australian outback, a journey that will also take her deep into her own self, but also very far away from herself.
During this worldwide chase, we learn that Sam is collecting images from various places around the globe. Visual impressions from his blind mother’s past that he would like to give away to her thanks to a technical innovation by his father, Henry (Max Von Sydow). In order to make his wife Edith (Jeanne Moreau) see, Henry Farber has invented a process that makes it possible to transmit the images recorded in the brain of sighted people directly into the visual system of blind people. Dream images that become our world, the only world we connect to, a striking vision of the near future, an idea that speaks with eerie prophecy of how people would learn to deal with images, or become their victims – “There is a line that should never be crossed and we passed it a long time ago.” Both Claire and Sam become gradually entangled in a world of dreams, images and technology, completely engrossed in their handheld devices.
“They suffered finally from a complete loss of reality,” narrates Eugene, who is recording Claire’s story in writing. “Their dreams became black holes where they lost themselves in.”
Twelve years in the making, with a shooting time of over a year, filmed in 9 countries across 4 continents, Bis ans Ende der Welt (1991) runs for almost 5 hours in the epic length Wim Wenders intended, considered the only valid form of this “ultimate road movie”. The Director’s Cut version is also the only version that features the soundtrack in its totality, which in the initial edited release of the film was drastically cut by the producers. This film without its soundtrack doesn’t even make sense.
The soundtrack is as intrinsic to this road movie as Yohji Yamamoto’s costumes are. The Japanese designer made the costumes for both Solveig Dommartin and William Hurt. In 1989, Wim Wenders made a documentary film about Yohji Yamamoto, Notebook on Cities and Clothes, where he interestingly linked cinema with clothes, cities, mobility and motion. When he was contacted by the Centre George’s Pompidou in Paris to make a documentary about a fashion designer, Wenders, who had no real interest in the industry of fashion, knew exactly who he wanted to make it about: Yohji Yamamoto. And it all started with a shirt and a jacket. “My first encounter with Yohji Yamamoto was in a way an experience of identity. I had bought a shirt and a jacket. You know the feeling. You put on new clothes, you look at yourself in the mirror and you are content, excited about your new skin, but with this shirt and this jacket, it was different. From the beginning they were new and old at the same time. In the mirror I saw me, of course, only better. More me than before. And I had the strangest sensation. I was wearing, yes, I have no other words for it, I was wearing the shirt itself and the jacket itself. And in them, I was myself.”
Notebook on Cities and Clothes ended up playing a huge role in developing the story of Until the End of the World. Wim Wenders shot Notebook by himself, as a one-man team, many times with hand-held cameras, an experience he described as “the oddest thing”, and, during filming, he realised that the future lay in that kind of device. Without that shooting experience, he confessed that Until the End of the World would have been a very different movie, the least of all a projection into the future of the audio-visual revolution that was just starting. Even the name digital was a word only known to some techno-freaks, he said, but nobody had any idea that everything was going to be digital, images and text, in the near future. The film tried and succeeded to project itself into that future, and even used pioneering technology to accomplish that.
In Notebook on Cities and Clothes, Wim Wenders framed the portrait of a dressmaker, an auteur amidst a gigantic industry – “I could understand how Yohji’s tender and delicate language could survive in each of his creations.” You sense that delicate language in Claire’s clothes, especially the nude dress she is wearing throughout much of her time in Australia. In Yohji Yamamoto’s clothes, from the short dress made of metallic discs, to the abstract hats and oversized knitwear, Claire projects an otherworldly image of someone in search of herself. She always wears flats, too, one of the signature styles that Yamamoto is famed for, and rightfully so, because she seems to be walking on air, channeling the very idea of beauty existing only for a very brief moment in time. In Yamamoto’s hands, challenging modernity segues with breathtaking romance.
There is a youthful sentiment about Claire and she lives her life by it, her true self emerging from the very heart of her existence. Her clothes reflect that. And Yohji Yamamoto, by voicing opposition to established conventions, reflects that in his designs. She is delicate and stark at the same time. That’s why I love the long dress look so much. It’s so ethereal that it puts you off. You don’t perceive the strength behind it at first. But when she puts the worn-off leather jacket on, a jacket that always pops up throughout the journey, it literally looks like it can survive everything and everywhere. It carries some of the adventurousness of Indiana Jones and a lot of that Blade Runner future-shaped-by-the-past mentality. It has what it takes to take Claire until the end of the world. “You can say that designing is quite easy,” Yamamoto confessed. “The difficulty lies in finding a new way to explore beauty.”
This piece is published courtesy of classiq.me