It’s not often that the soundtrack for a film eclipses the actual movie itself, but it’s also not an unprecedented feat. 1984s Purple Rain is a fantastic film, though its album surely precedes its the movie’s legacy, and the same can be said for 1977s Saturday Night Fever. Though for the finest directors in cinema, this must be an impossible feat? Well, unless you include Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 classic Pulp Fiction (which you controversially could), the most notable soundtrack to eclipse the legacy of its film was Wim Wenders’ 1991 sci-fi Until the End of the World.
Released at the turn of the 1990s, Wim Wenders’ strange sci-fi love story was a futuristic road movie set in the backdrop of an impending nuclear disaster. Starring William Hurt, Sam Neill and Solveig Dommartin, Wenders wished to create a surreal vision of the future, stating to Movieline in 2011, he explained: “The film has strange insights into the future”.
Continuing, he added, “If you look at the people running around looking at their little monitors in front of them all the time, that’s what you see in the streets today everywhere — that sort of addiction to the computer image. You’ll find that in many young people today. It’s a real disease”.
To achieve this, Wenders wished to craft a soundtrack that reflected the sounds of the future, recruiting the likes of Talking Heads, Julee Cruise, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Nick Cave and Depeche Mode in order to do so. Commissioning original songs from each musician, Wenders asked each one to anticipate the kind of music they would be making in a decade’s time in order to reflect a futuristic sound.
As Wim Wenders stated in an interview for The Music Show with Andrew Ford in 2003, “I also have started to use more and more songs made for the film by all sorts of artists, in order to help tell the story, and I think music and rock ‘n’ roll are so much art of our contemporary lives that it’s almost unthinkable for me to not have music become part of what the film is about, and part of the contemporary landscape, so to speak”.
Collecting sixteen tracks that together would prove to be more successful than the film, the soundtrack itself is a fascinating one, driven by a dark, ancient rhythm that punctuates the dangers of such technology seen in the film. This supports the words of Wim Wenders, who noted: “One of the discoveries of the road movies was not only that you could travel and work and make a film at the same time, and improvise it, but that rock and roll could also be, in the true sense, a driving force”. By the sounds of it, Wim Wenders would’ve been quite delighted that the soundtrack performed so well, even if it was in spite of the film’s commercial success.
As noted by artist David Byrne, who recalls his time working on the film’s soundtrack in the liner notes of Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads, “The movie is supposed to take place in the year 2000, so I spent a lot of time trying to imagine music of the near future: post-rock sludge with lyrics sponsored by Coke and Pepsi?”.
Continuing, the singer fascinatingly explains, “Music created by machines with human shouts of agony and betrayal thrown in? Faux Appalachian ballads, the anti-tech wave? The same sounds and licks from the 60s and 70s regurgitated yet again by a new generation of samplers? The Milli Vanilli revival? Rappin’ politicos… sell your soul to the beat, y’all? Well, it was daunting… so I figured, hell with it, I’d imagine Talking Heads doing a reunion LP in the year 2000, and them sounding just like they used to”.
Take a look at the full compilation album of Until the End of the World below.