Cut the slap

Wim Wenders has always walked out of any movie where he feels the use of violence is gratuitous. Now he's gone a step further, and banished it altogether from the cinema screen.

Hollywood is on the defensive: under ever-increasing attack for the habitual use of violence in movies, many film-makers are standing up for their right to make films for adult audiences without fear of being subject to censorship, whether explicit or implied. Not Wim Wenders, however. In calling his latest movie The End of Violence, the German director isn't simply being provocative. "Mostly we take violence in films for granted," he explains, "and nobody thinks, `What if it wasn't there?' This film just tries to create that little hesitation: what if actually we didn't have to face it?"

It's not the first time that Wenders has revealed his dislike of gratuitous violence in the cinema. In 1992, while president of the European Film Academy, he proposed a ban on all American films that contained certain levels of violence, a notion that failed to find much support from his fellow film-makers. Now Wenders has taken his objections a step further, which is why he's sitting in a disused warehouse in Van Nuys, a bleak outpost of the San Fernando Valley outside Los Angeles, intently watching Gabriel Byrne act out a scene in front of a bank of computer screens.

Byrne plays a systems designer who, along with the rest of the cast, is caught up in a chain of events that set out to illustrate the different ways in which LA residents react to violence. The twist is that Wenders will not be showing any actual mayhem on screen.

Just how many people will take note of Wenders' theories is another matter. The director's last two films - the sprawling epic Until the End of the World and Faraway So Close, 1994's limp follow-up to his most successful movie, Wings of Desire - were both critical and commercial failures and it is almost 13 years since Paris, Texas won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Wenders' peak period was in the mid-Seventies when, along with Werner Herzog and Rainer Fassbinder, he literally defined post-war German cinema with superb films like Kings of the Road and The American Friend.

Mention that era to Wenders, though, and it becomes clear that he isn't one to dwell on the past. "They are movies from a very different world of film-making that doesn't exist any more. Not just for myself, but for anybody else. Seen from today, it's almost like a lost paradise where one could make movies on a different basis. Audiences had a lot more patience and directors had even more patience," he says with a smile. "The whole visual language has changed enormously over the past 20 years. I said once that if I look at my early films now, I get impatient. And I would certainly cut quicker."

But if the 51-year-old Wenders is no longer the art-house darling he once was, he's still one of the most thoughtful and imaginative directors currently working and he's had no problem attracting a star cast for The End of Violence. Besides Byrne, it includes Bill Pullman, hot off Independence Day and the new David Lynch film Lost Highway, as well as Andie MacDowell.

Byrne jumped at the chance of working with Wenders. "He makes you read and re-evaluate what you see and what you think," he says in his thick Dublin accent. "He's just a great film-maker. Some people are in this industry not because they want to make millions of dollars, but because they want to work with somebody who's unique and original."

Byrne first encountered Wenders in the Viper Room, the LA nightclub owned by Johnny Depp, but the movie only got off the ground after Bono (of U2) introduced Wenders to the writer Nicholas Klein. "When Bono introduced us he said Wim and I had certain things in common," recalls Klein, "and one of them was the fact that I'd always said to Bono that I was so opposed to violence in movies that at some point I'd love to do something about it. Wim had said exactly the same thing to him." Wenders met Bono when he directed the video for U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" in 1988. He has been a fan of music from a young age. Growing up in the Fifties in Dusseldorf, his introduction to American popular culture came via Chuck Berry and Elvis, and he dedicated his first film, Summer in the City, to The Kinks.

While Wenders seems utterly sincere in his repudiation of the use of violence in some films - "I walk out of any movie where I feel violence is not explained, or not justified, or is used as a means of entertainment" - he also cites LA itself as a major inspiration for the film. "This whole idea started when we visited Los Angeles a couple of years ago and I hadn't been there for four or five years. I was shocked by how people's lives had changed. Some of my good friends, who I know as very peaceful and very friendly, actually had a gun under their pillow. And the neighbour's daughter had been raped and other neighbours had been shot at, or car- jacked. So everybody I met had a horror story to tell, everybody wanted to leave, and I was happy when I left because it felt like a paranoid city."

Wenders is undoubtedly swimming against the prevailing current in Hollywood with The End of Violence. The director of the day is Quentin Tarantino, a film-maker who seems incapable of making a movie that doesn't include murder and torture, and even Wenders admits that Tarantino's movies have merit. "He is such an interesting phenomenon because his films, especially Pulp Fiction, are made with a lot of intelligence and humour. But it's such a tightrope that the next guys to imitate his style have to fall off. And they are doing. But Tarantino certainly pushed the limits." Wenders himself sees violence in films as addictive. "I think that violence in movies is an addiction, like drinking or heroin - the more you have, the more you want."

It's an assertion that not all his cast agrees with. "In true story-telling, we allow all our good feelings and bad feelings to be fictionalised," says Byrne; "it's like a fairy-tale. I don't believe that violence in movies makes people go out and shoot people. I think violence comes from some other place and usually has to do with injustice and poverty. You don't get people from Beverly Hills rioting because they're discontented with their lot."

We'll have to wait until The End of Violence finally opens to see if Wenders has pulled off the trick of making a film about violence without actually showing anyn

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