“They Shot Down The Satellite…It’s The End Of The World”

March 20, 2010

There’s a cool blog called The Song In My Head Today that I happened across not long ago. Recently, the subject was favorite movie soundtracks.

I’m not sure if I could name one favorite – could any sane person do so? – but the soundtrack to a little-seen movie called Until The End Of The World would definitely receive consideration.

I’m not sure when I became intrigued with the movie or even really what about it that had caught my attention. It was several months before it had a release date and I’m certain that much of the interest stemmed from the fact that Wim Wenders was the director.

Wenders had done a couple films – Paris, Texas and Wings Of Desire – that were popular with the staff of the record store where I was working in late 1991. The latter might be more familiar to most folks as the dreadful (and somewhat creepy) American remake City Of Angels.

Working in a record store, one-sheets for the Until The End Of The World‘s soundtrack had caught my eye for its impressive array of acts including Talking Heads, Patti Smith, R.E.M. and U2. U2’s song Until The End Of The World was one of the few previously released songs (it had appeared on the, then, just issued Achtung Baby) and one of the few not written specifically, at the request of Wenders, for the film.

One co-worker in particular, who was a bit of a film buff, shared and helped stoke my anticipation for the movie. We knew that it was being touted as the ultimate road movie, taking place in fifteen different countries.

We also knew that a five-hour version had been enthusiatically received in several limited showings at film festivals. We also had read that the cut for American audiences had been whittled down to just shy of three hours.

Then, we learned that the movie would feature a new song from Peter Gabriel and the opportunity to hear new music from the slow-working Gabriel – it had been more than five years since So – made seeing the movie a must-see event.

And so, it finally arrived in our city – at one theater. With another co-worker, we took the first chance to see the movie, knowing that it wouldn’t likely play for very long (I think it ended up playing for a week).

The theater screening it was in a multi-plex in a down-trodden part of the city. The multi-plex was part of a larger complex of stores and restaurants that had opened only a few years earlier in an effort to revitalize the area.

It hadn’t.

So, the theater and the entire complex had taken on the vibe of a ghost town and the few signs of life were mostly members of rival gangs. Aside from my two friends and me, there were two other people in the theater at the midnight showing we attended.

It was a maddeningly disheveled flick – there were obvious points where the cuts were made – starring William Hurt, Sam Neill, Solveig Dommartin, Max von Sydow, and Jeanne Moreau. At the heart of the visually stunning film was a piece of technology that would allow the blind to see.

And all the while, we were waiting. Through Berlin and Paris, and Lisbon and Moscow, and Paris and San Francisco, we listened with each song that played for Peter Gabriel.

Finally, two-thirds of the way into the movie, In the deserts of Australia, with Hurt and Dommartin trekking through the vast emptiness after what they believe has been the end of the world, we heard, for the first time, Peter Gabriel singing Blood Of Eden.

The song, the soundtrack, and the movie have stuck with me for twenty years. I own a copy of the movie on VHS, though I haven’t watched it more than a couple times in those two decades.

It’s an interesting movie. It’s spectacularly ambitious and some of the visual effects are evocative.

And, it seems that the full-length original cut is a bit of a “Holy Grail” to some fans on the internet.

The soundtrack did create some buzz. Jane Siberry’s gorgeous duet with k.d. lang Calling All Angels and U2’s title song got a lot of airplay on alternative radio.

It was difficult to reduce the soundtrack to a mere four songs. There are the songs and artists that I’ve mentioned and previously unreleased music from Lou Reed, Julee Cruise, T-Bone Burnett, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, Daniel Lanois…

So, here are four songs that happened to choose me today…

Peter Gabriel – Blood Of Eden (Special Mix for Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World)

Blood Of Eden wasn’t on the movie’s soundtrack. It didn’t pop up until it was on Gabriel’s Us a year later. And though it featured Sinead O’Connor, who I usually dig, it wasn’t the version I’d loved in the movie.

Some time later, the version from the film appeared on the single for Blood Of Eden. It’s wispier and starker, than the Us version. It also played in it’s entirety in the movie and – with a backdrop of the Australian desert at dusk – it suited the scene perfectly.

Talking Heads – Sax And Violins
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack

The Wikipedia entry for Sax And Violins refers to the song as one of Talking Heads’ most popular ones.

I don’t remember it being particular popular at the time, but I think it’s a wonderful song, maybe one of their poppiest, yet still possessing the Heads sardonic take on things.

The song plays during the scene where Solveig Dommartin’s character Clair is introduced in a state of confusion. Dommartin had been the trapeze artist in Wenders’ classic Wings Of Desire.

Neneh Cherry – Move With Me
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack

Neneh Cherry seemed, for a few months in 1989, to be headed for superstardom. The daughter of jazz legend Don Cherry, Neneh caused a stir with her Raw Like Sushi debut. The album’s blend of R&B, rap, pop, and dance music was enthusiastically received by critics and her song Buffalo Stance was a global smash.

Move With Me would appear on the singer’s follow-up album, Homebrew, but Cherry would only release one more solo album in the ensuing twenty years.

Move With Me, though, is slinky and hypnotic with more of a trip-hop vibe and – hearing it again after all these years – makes me think I should pull up my copy of Homebrew and reacquaint myself.

Elvis Costello – Days
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack

They are slightly passionate about the music of Ray Davies and The Kinks over at The Song In My Head Today and why shouldn’t they be? For all of the success of Uncle Ray, I’d have to file him under underappreciated.

For the movie, Elvis Costello contributed his take on the gorgeous Davies’ masterpiece Days.

Adios John Hughes

August 9, 2009

Last Thursday night, checking the news before going to bed, I read the headline that filmmaker John Hughes was dead. As I am of the age I am, it’s a passing of someone that had a rather measurable impact on my childhood.

In 1983, it was pretty much every line from Hughes screenplay for National Lampoon’s Vacation that my friends and I were quoting (especially on any road trip).

Years later, those quotes provided some comic relief when traveling through Thailand.

“I think you’re all fucked in the head. We’re ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out.”

“Roy, could you imagine if you had driven all the way to Florida and it was closed?”

“Perhaps you don’t want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away?

The next thing from Hughes to catch my attention was The Breakfast Club which he wrote and directed.

(Yes, I’m skipping Sixteen Candles – didn’t see it in 1984 and have never seen it all in one sitting)

So, it was The Breakfast Club. And I have no doubt that if I came across the movie on cable tonight I’d be quoting most of – unedited, of course – almost involuntarily.

Like Bender, my friends and I would mouth off to people to “eat my shorts” years before Bart Simpson. Like Bender, we knew that “screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.”

Later in 1985, Hughes’ Weird Science introduced us to Oingo Boingo, Robert Downey, Jr., and Kelly LaBrock. Bill Paxton as an obnoxious, psychotic older brother Chet who had the lines we were spouting indiscriminately.

“How ’bout a nice greasy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray?”

“Chet. My name is Chet.”

“Do you think they’re having a good time being catatonic in the closet?”

The last movie of John Hughes that would really take up space in my world was Pretty In Pink in 1986. During the remainder of the ‘80s, I’d see most of his movies. Though I’ll stop channel-surfing immediately if I come across Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, Some Kind Of Wonderful, or She’s Having A Baby, none were as dear to me as those earlier movies.

I had gone off to college and saw less and less of the friends with whom I had shared those earlier films.

Pretty In Pink served as the transition. I saw it with a girlfriend at a midnight showing on a Tuesday night. The dialogue didn’t become a part of my daily conversations, but some of the music on the soundtrack became future staples.

I didn’t follow Hughes into the ‘90s, but movies made from his screenplays – the Home Alone flicks – must have made him a few ducats.

The guy made a pile of money, created characters and images that dominated the pop culture landscape, and was, based on the reactions I’ve read from actors with whom he worked, apparently a good egg.

Some songs from the movies of John Hughes…

Lindsey Buckingham – Holiday Road
from National Lampoon’s Vacation

I can’t hear Holiday Road and not want to cruise through a desert in the American Southwest in a station wagon with a dead aunt strapped to the roof on the way to a theme park thousands of miles from home.

Simple Minds – Don’t You (Forget About Me)
from The Breakfast Club

If I’m a betting man, my money is on The Breakfast Club to be remade (I think it’s been rumored of such a thing).

My friends and I were the perfect age for The Breakfast Club in ’85 and Judd Nelson’s John Bender was one of our first anti-heros. It helped that the movie was eminently quotable.

As for Don’t You (Forget About Me) – it’s still catchier than bird, swine, or ring-tailed lemur flu.

General Public – Tenderness
from Weird Science

Some songs just make me smile when I hear them and Tenderness is one of them. The melody is irresistible.

Of course, the lyric is pretty angst-riddled.

Kate Bush – This Woman’s Work
from She’s Having A Baby

1988’s She’s Having A Baby had a slew of great acts on the soundtrack including Kirsty MacColl, Everything But The Girl and the great Kate Bush. Bush hadn’t released an album in three years and her next one, The Sensual World, wouldn’t arrive ’til the following year.

But the movie made fine use of her lovely This Woman’s Work and the song is arguably her best known song to the mainstream public.