Wim Wenders: When Bono Comes Knocking*
May 1, 2006 · Print This Article
By Matthew Anderson
Ed. Note: In light of the release of "Don’t Come Knocking," Interference.com was lucky enough to get two interviews with director Wim Wenders. The first was conducted via e-mail by Contributing Editor Devlin Smith, and focuses on the relationship between music and film. The second, appearing below and conducted in person by staff writer Matt Anderson, discusses the new film as well as the title track Bono and Edge created for it.
"Don’t Come Knocking" reunites German director Wim Wenders with actor and screenwriter Sam Shepard more than 20 years after their collaboration on "Paris, Texas" won Wenders the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.
This time, their story focuses on Howard Spence, a man who’s made a career out of starring in Westerns and avoiding reality. While on the set of his latest cowboy epic, "Phantom of the West," Howard (played by Shepard) decides it’s time to take off, in the middle of shooting the movie, and confront some things that have been bugging him.
His first stop is to visit his mother (played by screen legend Eva Marie Saint), who clues him in about the child he had with a woman in Butte, Montana, many years ago. Paging through his mom’s photo albums and scrapbooks, Howard comes to realize what a confused, manic life he’s led in Hollywood. Money, fame, babes, drugs, assaults, accidents; his has been the perfect life for tabloid fodder.
From there, Howard heads north to Butte to finally clear the air and hone in on his responsibilities.
"Don’t Come Knocking," which refers to a sign in Howard’s on-set trailer, finds Wenders in fine form, once again exploring the rugged, vast, empty terrain of the American West.
In addition to his reunion with Shepard, Wenders once again got the opportunity to work with Bono. Theirs is a collaboration that includes Wenders directing Bono’s screenplay for "The Million Dollar Hotel," as well as U2 supplying musical contributions on Wenders’ movies "Until the End of the World," "Far Away, So Close," and "The End of Violence." Wenders also directed U2′s music video for "Night and Day" from the "Red Hot and Blue" AIDS benefit CD.
Wenders likes to leave room for serendipity and spontaneity while making his movies. This time around, Bono contributed to both of those elements as Wenders related the following story to me about U2′s front man coming through with a song for his friendâ€”a duet with Andrea Corrâ€”at the 11th hour:
"Bono had seen the film in a rough cut, had liked it a lot andâ€”I had not asked him, I knew how busy the man wasâ€”had sort of volunteered on his own, ‘Maybe I could write a title song’ because he loved the movie.
So there was this vague hope that maybe eventually we’d have a title song. We finished editing the movie and T-Bone [Burnett] recorded the entire score and soundtrack and everything. We put some other music at the back to just hold the place of our title song, but we never got a title song.
The film was finished, we went to Cannes, we didn’t have a title song. We showed it in Cannes without the U2 song, we had one of T-Bone’s songs at the end and not a title song, so it was just holding the place.
U2 were doing the Vertigo Tour, Bono was involved with Live 8, The One Campaign; if you wanted to reach him he was either talking to Bush in Washington, to Blair in London, to Chirac. I mean, it seemed ridiculous to believe he was going to write a song, let alone record it.
So finally, it came to making the first printsâ€”and they were for Germany and France because the film came out in late August, early September. The producer finally said, ‘Come on, this is a pipe dream. We’re never going to get a U2 song. We have to make prints, we have to make press screenings, we have to start being serious and working.’
So we told the lab, from next Monday on we’re going to make prints. The Friday before, Friday night I got an e-mail with a very long attachmentâ€”from Bono. I open it and it was the song, but it was just Bono’s voice and Andrea’s voice and there was a temp track underneath it Edge had done on the computer because they just didn’t have time to record all of it, to polish it.
(Photo credit: Matt Anderson)
So there I was, I had the title song but it was incomplete. So I passed the whole thing on to T-Bone, I was in Berlin, I sent that long attachment to T-Bone with a mail saying, ‘By Monday we need it finished.’ And T-Bone called me, said, ‘Are you nuts? This is Saturday morning here. How do you want me to arrange it, get the musicians, record the music, mix it, and have it back by Monday?’
I said, ‘It’s our only choice.’ Either by Monday we’re going to have the U2 song inâ€”the Bono song, it’s not a U2 song, it’s a Bono songâ€”or not, because it’s our deadline, we have to strike prints."
That Saturday night, T-Bone got his band back together, recreated Edge’s arrangement, recorded the musicians, mixed their track on Sunday, and Monday morning, when Wenders got back in the studio, he had the complete song.
As Wenders summed it up, "It was as narrow as it can get."
The end result of that nail-biting finish is an immaculate little number, a subtle, seductive song more along the lines of "Slow Dancing" or "Falling at Your Feet" than the band’s rockers like "Mysterious Ways." It’s also reminiscent of another Bono/Corr duet, their cover of Ryan Adams’ "When the Stars Go Blue."
It’s a remarkable accomplishment made all the more so by the torrent of activity during which the song was created.