It is the future, and the apocalypse has struck, with the survivors wandering the wastelands in search of succour. The leader of one party is concerned about the spread of a new disease that they are protecting themselves against with visors and masks, but when a little girl shows signs of it, he orders his companions to leave her behind, stressing that it is too late for her. Onward, then, until they reach the sea that they have been aiming for this length of time, and as they arrive at an abandoned beach resort, they pause to take in the sight before them; then the director (Patrick Bauchau) calls "Cut!".
When director Wim Wenders got the chance to make his first American movie, it's safe to say the experience did not turn out as well as he might have hoped. In fact, when he was making Hammett, so badly did it go that he was able to shoot a completely different film during a break in its creation, and the mixed feelings he had about the passion for cinema he had contrasted with the deep dissatisfaction he was suffering informed The State of Things. The plot has it that a German director, not unlike Mr Wenders, is in the middle of remaking the old Roger Corman sci-fi quickie The Day the World Ended (Corman appears as a lawyer, as if giving his blessing) when the cash runs out.
This means the cast and crew have to wait around in a Portuguese resort while Bauchau's Friedrich tries to get hold of the producer to get the money to ensure the film is finished. Actually the film might well be finished in another way, as about five minutes from after the last scene is shot, a sense of urgency is notably lacking, and the characters begin to meander around not doing anything very much, as if now the film has stopped being made they have no meaning to their existence. When they do converse, it's usually about movies (or at least television), and cult director Samuel Fuller appears as the cameraman, firing off anecdotes as if they were going out of fashion.
Despite appearances to the contrary, there is a plot here, but it's far closer to the road movies of Wenders' previous works than the more contrived, movie-movie Hammett, as if he was going back to what he was accustomed to as less an angry reaction than a search for comfort after what big bad Hollywood had put him through. There are journeys in this, but if you want to be pretentious you'll observe they are more journeys of the mind as the people involved in this thwarted effort go off into their own personal trips, whether they're fondly recalling old films or their own pasts, with the destination hard to see and harder to grasp.
Friedrich does manage to track down the producer, but he has to leave behind his cast and crew, who without the benefit of cinema to help them through life are beginning to break down in various ways, often losing themselves in drink. As the plot grows more introspective, the problems of the real world hamper the characters, as if to say that art is all very well, but you have to pay the bills too. All this leads up to a memorable sequence where Friedrich returns to Los Angeles, a place that seems almost as desolate as the wastelands of the sci-fi movie through Wenders' lens, and eventually finds the producer (Allen Garfield) on the run from the Mafia in a motor home. The connections between living in real life and living through film are explicitly stated in the finale, which is either very profound or a little silly, but there's no denying Wenders' sincerity. Music by Jim Jarmusch (who made use of the left over film stock from this) and Jurgen Kniepier.
German director and writer and one of modern cinema's most important European filmmakers. Wenders films tend to blend social commentary with genre material - thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy. It was his acclaimed "road movies" of the mid-seventies - Alice in the Cities, Wrong Move and the epic Kings of the Road that first brought him international attention. 1977's The American Friend was a post-modern thriller starring Bruno Ganz, and although the making of Hammett was a difficult experience, he won his greatest acclaim for the moving drama Paris, Texas, written by Sam Shepherd.
1987's Wings of Desire was another triumph, and if he's yet to equal those classics, subsequent work has at least been a series of fascinating failures. Until the End of the World was an ambitious sci-fi piece, Faraway, So Close sequalised Wings of Desire, while The End of Violence, Million Dollar Hotel and Land of Plenty were dark, offbeat dramas. Wenders' latest film is Don't Come Knocking, written by and starring Sam Shepherd. His best recent work have in fact been documentaries, including the The Soul of a Man for Martin Scorsese's Blues series and the Oscar-nominated Buena Vista Social Club.