The End of Violence: About The Production

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THE END OF VIOLENCE evolved from the temporary stall of another movie that director Wim Wenders and screenwriter Nicholas Klein were preparing. Wenders and Klein had met years prior through their mutual friend Bono, lead singer of the popular, innovative band "U2," and the three joined forces to develop a science-fiction film entitled The Billion Dollar Hotel.

Klein recalls, "We had spent about two and a half years together, working on the other movie, and had discussed many things. One feeling we shared was that we were very affected and concerned about the depiction of violence in movies. It seemed to be an issue that kept coming up. We wondered if there was a way to make a movie about the subject of violence and violence in movies without being glib or inadvertently exploitive or pedantic about it. We were intrigued by the idea of making a movie that dealt with violence as a subject rather than a device and wondered if we could explore violence without actually showing it at all."

Wenders adds, "The whole craft, art and business of filmmaking have been thoroughly reshaped by the extensive and explicit use of violence. It has almost become a necessary ingredient. Movies try to top each other in goriness or killing and it is as if everybody's resistance level is constantly lowered.

It's something that afflicts our lives and afflicts my professional life a lot."

While the culture of violence provided the premise, Wenders and Klein had to structure a compelling story and protagonists to illustrate it. This, as Wenders points out, was "a rather unusual approach."

He expounds, "Normally, you come up with a story and inside that story, certain characters get developed according to the needs of your plot. We did the opposite. We had a theme, violence, and we agreed that we wanted it to remain the subject, not to become the device or texture. How do you write a story about violence, instead of with it? We didn't know. So, we first invented a set of characters that we were interested in, each one with his or her own biography. We ended up with a cross-section of people who were not linked by anything, certainly not by a story they had in common. That story slowly emerged out of their different biographies and out of the only element they shared: an encounter with violence."

The challenge of seamlessly juxtaposing these concepts into the construct of a film appealed to Wenders, who finds it "impossible to think of a movie as just one thing. I like to play with the rules of the genre, so I think this one has elements of a thriller and of a comedy."

In the span of a month, Klein produced a screenplay draft, and four weeks later principal photography commenced. The project was independently financed, due in part to the tireless efforts of producer Deepak Nayar.

However, the unique metamorphosis of the script, coupled with the speedy beginning of production, did not allow Wenders the luxury of molding the characters with specific actors in mind, his preferred method of "casting."

"I was lucky to have found excellent and competent help in Heidi Levitt, our casting director. She understood the script and had a great feeling for the kind of actors I was looking for," Wenders says. "As far as our three leading characters were concerned, we didn't have to look long though." The filmmakers cast Bill Pullman as the charismatic producer Mike Max, whose encounter with violence introduces him to real danger and reveals an entirely new life to him, even as it destroys his old one. A pivotal role, it required an actor who could embody paradox, for Max is at times both engaging and despicable, and events force him to lead a literal double life. In the course of his career, Pullman has played the villain, the romantic lead and everything in-between, from a sleazy, doomed opportunist in John Dahl's noir thriller The Last Seduction, to the President of the United States in the sci-fi phenomenon Independence Day, to a troubled jazz musician who may be a murderer in David Lynch's moody Lost Highway. "I saw Bill Pullman twice in one week, in Independence Day and two days later in Lost Highway. Talk about a range; you probably can't stretch much further than that. I thought Bill was powerful and convincing in both," Wenders recalls. "I knew he was right for the part as soon as he entered the room. This character had to appear first as a power-driven, charming, arrogant, slick, hip movie producer and then, through what was happening to him, had to be transformed into a humble, gentle and caring gardener: somebody who was broken and fragile and suddenly confronted with something he had never experienced before. He had to go from cockiness to modesty. It would be difficult for me to say which side of Mike he made me believe more."

The opportunity to work with Wenders appealed to Pullman, as Wenders' oblique, atmospheric film Paris, Texas, written by Sam Shepard, had greatly impacted him. "It was a really interesting embodiment of Shepard's ideas, and texturally, it was haunting and captivating. So I was very interested in working with Wim. I found him to be very watchful and considerate, incredibly alert to the smallest kind of behavioral changes."

The script's use of violence as "a connective tissue" also fascinated Pullman. "Seemingly random acts of violence link these people, but the violence in this film is also, simultaneously, quite calculated. That's an interesting paradox."

Pullman adds that despite the film's brutal theme, "there was a curious, surprising humanity to the script that appealed to me." This "humanity" that arises is reflected in the profound changes that Mike Max undergoes as he reacts to a savage, life-threatening act that effectively destroys his world. "The process of reinventing oneself is very interesting and intricate. I think you have to go through something like the seven stages of coping with death when you are reborn, on any level. You live in denial and anger and go through all of those stages when you realize you aren't what you were, that you can't exist the way you had and you have to look to change. There is a lot of resistance to that, built into the ego, but experiencing that kind of transition is very interesting to me," Pullman comments. Max's wife Paige also sustains a monumental transition, as she foregoes her initial disdain for Max's life to zealously embracing it. Wenders chose Andie MacDowell, an actress he had admired for many years, to play the conflicted woman. Indeed, Wenders had been one of her early champions.

"I have always liked Andie and, in fact, the first time I had seen her was in sex, lies and videotape, in Cannes. I was the jury president that year and we gave the Palme d'Or to Steven Soderbergh's first feature largely on behalf of its leading lady, an unknown actress by the name of Andie MacDowell. She left a big impression on me and I have seen most of her films since."

MacDowell expresses an equal appreciation for the director. "He's just so talented and his movies are so special," she offers. "He had wonderful ideas and sometimes, they were just little, key things. I was eager to work with him; I had been a fan of his for a long time, so I was very happy to have the opportunity. I trusted him implicitly and he trusted us too. He lets you have a lot of freedom."

The movie's theme and its underlying examination of the concept of responsibility captivated MacDowell. "People are always pointing fingers and blaming others for violence in society, but they aren't examining their own participation: how they deal with violence or how they bring it into the world just by being themselves. I found that to be very interesting."

MacDowell describes Paige as "probably unfulfilled in a lot of ways. She probably gave up her career and married someone really wealthy. She feels unappreciated in a lot of ways, feels like she has become an expensive toy." Paige overcomes her feelings of powerlessness by becoming more ruthless than her husband, even as his own command inversely deteriorates. Her growing, savage authority was reflected in the wardrobe, make-up and even in MacDowell's trademark cascade of curly, dark hair, which was cut and straightened for the part.

"This is a woman who has a lot of big diamonds. Her clothes are very sexy and expensive and they become raunchier as her power increases. Her make-up becomes much more extreme too. Paige really works it; that's the way I see it."

The inadvertent emissary of the violence that disrupts Mike's and Paige's life is computer program expert Ray Bering, who is engaged in a clandestine operation that will also profoundly alter his own life. Irish actor/writer/producer Gabriel Byrne personified Bering. "Ray is the most withdrawn character in the story.," Wenders notes. "He is solitary, almost reclusive and it's difficult to know what he thinks. I'd seen Gabriel in a number of films. The last one I'd seen him in was The Usual Suspects. I met him the day Nicholas and I had decided to go for it and write the script. That night, we went to the Viper Room, a Hollywood nightclub, and in the darkness of the back room I was introduced to an actor whose face I couldn't see. It was Gabriel. As we spoke in the darkness, I knew he was right for the role. I remember that when Nicholas and I came out, we looked at each other and simultaneously said, 'Ray!' We never questioned the decision and never thought of an alternative. Gabriel was perfect. That was the only part we cast before we had our first page written," Wenders says.

Byrne corroborates Wenders' description of their first meeting, adding "I'd never met him before... didn't even know who he was when we got to talking. A week later I got the script, and I immediately wanted to be involved with it because it is an incredibly thought-provoking movie. It's a film about ideas and politics and how people are not really in control of their day-to-day existence." Byrne's character becomes part of the machine that confiscates individual free will, under the guise of public welfare, and the violence that results, he believes, is the most invidious kind. "One of the most appalling forms of violence, I think, is institutional violence. The kind that is propagated and nurtured by institutions and corporations for their own benefit and gain. It's one of the issues that comes up in the movie."

Occasionally, THE END OF VIOLENCE is a bizarre movie-within-a-movie, as Wenders filmed sequences in which stuntwoman-cum-actress Cat, played by Traci Lind, performs scenes in one of Mike Max's movies, which, in turn, serve as plot twists in THE END OF VIOLENCE.

"The movie Cat is in is called Seeds of Violence and it is very stylized, so it was an interesting opportunity as an actor to play a role inside a role," Lind comments. The actress adds that the character appealed to her because she "liked the idea of playing a woman who is self-sustained. She is a strong person, someone who keeps everybody at arms length and only Doc, the character that Loren Dean plays, breaks through."

Loren Dean landed the role of Doc after making an audition tape of himself and sending it to Wim. This audition tape struck Wenders, as had Dean's performance in Apollo 13. "I knew Loren only from Apollo 13, where he had really impressed me as this innocent wizard. The part of Doc needed someone who could play this ingenuous policeman with a lot of enthusiasm and no cynicism. Loren seemed to be the right choice."

Although Dean attempted to meet with Wenders before shooting began, circumstances conspired against him. He won the part without encountering the director personally until the night before principal photography began. An unabashed Wenders aficionado, Dean claims to have seen Wings of Desire 35 times. Dean says the role of Doc is "reminiscent of some Jimmy Stewart characters. He's very affable and polite, kind of like a country boy in certain ways, but he is also very sharp, which is a combination that is fun to play."

Wim Wenders' self-deprecatingly calls himself a "failed painter" and, to a certain extent, uses the camera and actors to paint the canvass that becomes the film. "I'm a director who thinks very much in images and in frames. So, I try not to have too many preconceptions about how the film should look. I believe that a film finds its look in the first week of shooting. I'm opposed to having it all worked out beforehand and then trying to force your actors, locations and ambiance into that look. I think it works better the other way around. So, for me, the cinematographer is the most important collaborator."

In fact, THE END OF VIOLENCE marks cinematographer Pascal Rabaud's feature film debut. "He was amazing," Wenders says. "The choice of Pascal came from a strictly gut feeling that he would be good for this film." Wenders adds that many of his cinematic decisions arise from a similar undefinable instinct.

"If filmmaking were all that obvious and cerebral, it wouldn't be much of a film. In THE END OF VIOLENCE, I used longer lenses and went tighter into faces than ever before because I felt that somehow all of this corresponded to our subject and to our locations. These choices weren't all so rational, they were rather emotional."

Wenders, in collaboration with production designer Patricia Norris, also opted for a palette of strong, bright colors, including greens, reds and yellows. The paintings of Edward Hopper, an artist especially known for his famous, hyper-realist depiction of an American diner, particularly inspired them. In fact, Norris recreated the diner for one of the film's scenes.

"Edward Hopper has been a continuous inspiration to me and to many other filmmakers," Wenders says. "I had just written a foreword for the German edition of his Catalogue Raisonne and, therefore, had once again looked at all of his paintings. In preparing THE END OF VIOLENCE, it struck me that there were so many views out of windows or from outside into windows, and this is one of the overriding topics in Hopper's paintings. When the necessity came up to actually construct a diner set, I thought of turning that into an outspoken homage. Patricia Norris liked the task and then built a set as close as possible to the 'Nighthawks' scene."

Wenders and Rabaud elected to shoot the film in the wide-screen Cinemascope, a format Wenders had never used. It allowed the director to highlight and underscore THE END OF VIOLENCE backdrop: the sprawling and contradictory landscape of Los Angeles. Klein remarks that the multi-racial texture of Los Angeles and its widely varying degrees of wealth and power made it the perfect milieu in which to explore the facets of violence.

The film shot on several locations, from the Santa Monica Pier, to the beaches of Malibu, to a wooded enclave of Griffith Park, to the underbelly of Hollywood, to the sprawling San Fernando Valley. For Wenders, there was never any other setting to consider.

"Los Angeles is the place in which the issue of the fabrication of violence has to be brought up," the director states. "More than ever in history, ideas are formed by images today. Our entire Western culture has shifted from a verbal to a visual one. For audiences all over the world, the very idea of violence is created by an imagery produced in Los Angeles in movies and in music. As far as politics are concerned, I tend to believe any story in which crime control, be it police force, CIA, FBI, etc., has perverted into crime itself, or in which crime is finally controlling the controllers. Violence is an unhealthy climate, in real life as well as in the movies."

Klein adds, "One of our fundamental intentions was to be open-eyed, without being politically-correct, about the different aspects of violence that are all interconnected in Los Angeles. Latinos, blacks, whites, rich, poor, real violence, exploitation of violence...all these elements exist in Los Angeles. The idea was to get it all relatively well-balanced, but to conceive a way whereby all these things engage each other, affect one another by access to each other and then transform, from one to the other. We wanted to examine how people with good intentions end up subverting those lofty goals and how catastrophe and violence can lead to epiphanies and transcendence."

Wenders points out that THE END OF VIOLENCE is not a message film. "I hope audiences will be moved by these characters and by their story. I hope that the film will entice viewers on a very personal level to consider their attitude and their appreciation of violence. The film doesn't have a message that you can sum up in the end and leave the theater with. Violence is too complex an issue and its attraction too subtle to put into a handy formula, pro or contra. Nicholas and I tried to look at violence phenomenologically, so to speak, not morally. We didn't want to condemn it nor pass any judgments. We just looked at it for what it is today(a consumer article. Violence has become a product. I think the issue is simply how to deal with violence yourself. You're either a consumer of it, in which case you can't complain if you find yourself consumed by it, or you're not. In the end, I just hope people will be entertained and confronted with violence, without being exposed to consuming it once more."

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