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Archive for April 21st, 2012

By Bob Clark

The first time I watched Wim Wenders’ science-fiction epic Until the End of the World, it was under both the worst circumstances possible, but also some of the most interesting ones imaginable. Though the 1991 film has never been released on DVD in the United States, much less ever been given a stateside release of its full 280 minute cut that expands upon the truncated “Reader’s Digest” version that the director was forced to put together for its original run, it was long ago given a run in the now charmingly defunct medium of VHS. From there, somehow, it made the leap to digital downloads almost 20 years later when I found it while perusing through the video pages of the Playstation Network store, where I’d already picked up a digital copy of another such mind-bending sci-fi feature starring William Hurt, Altered States. As such, there was a kind of quaint thrill about the prospect of watching a movie about the one-time not-too-distant-future, now the increasingly more-distant past, through a means which would’ve been more or less inconceivable to the dated retro-futurist minds that cobbled together that film’s vision of days to come. It’s one thing to imagine the world put on the brink of annihilation by a falling nuclear satelite, the possibility of a camera that takes videos blind people can see, or a computer that can record and play back a sleeper’s dreams, but somehow it’s just a leap too far to imagine that we’ll outgrow physical digital discs or glass television and computer monitors.

That thrill was enough to make the experience of Until the End of the World just somewhat more bearable than it ought to have been, in that form. Oh, to be sure the movie was a joy to rediscover later on once I’d invested in a multi-region DVD player and picked up a German box-set of the director’s-cut “Trilogy” version of the film, which allowed the film and its early-90’s art-house idiosyncrasies to play out a little more loosely,  but at the length it was originally released in it was something of a chore to sit through. There are times when, due to cramped editing and an over-reliance on the narrative crutch that is voice-over narration, a two-and-a-half hour movie can feel much, much longer than one which spans over four hours, especially when one is dealing in the heady brand of near-future science-fiction, where the blend of face-value realism and elaborate exposition can make a story that’s supposed to be set only a week or two from today feel as infuriating and impenetrable as the densest of alternate-history tomes. And there are no better examples of this kind of genre-crisis filmmaking, or no worse experiences of it, than the 2007 high-concept sophomore slump that is Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales.

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