1986, Video Search of Miami,
79m 42s, $25 + p&h, VHS
Until recent years, when writing film scores has occupied more and more of his time, the music Stan Ridgway wrote and performed for motion pictures was perceived to be marginal to his essential work, the solo albums he released beginning with The Big Heat in 1986. Prior to the release of that album, however, his best known film song was the one he co-wrote and recorded with Stewart Copeland, "Don't Box Me In," for Francis Ford Coppola's RUMBLE FISH (1983). Prior to the release of The Big Heat, however, Ridgway wrote and recorded (at least) two songs for the byzantine science fiction/adventure film TERMINUS, a French-German 1985 co-production directed by distinguished French cinematographer Pierre William Glenn, released early in 1986. Because TERMINUS was a European release, it went relatively unseen in the United States, and has never (to my knowledge) received a domestic home video release. As a result, Ridgway's music for the film has not received, in my mind, sufficient discussion. (For that matter, the other 80s films for which Ridgway provided songs, SLAM DANCE (1987) and PUMP UP THE VOLUME (1990), haven't garnered much discussion either, although they are more easily available.)
The two tracks he provided for TERMINUS were the film's title and end credits song, "End of the Line," and an instrumental piece simply titled "Love Theme." A truncated version of "End of the Line" (4:22) and "Love Theme" became the two sides of a French and [West] German 7" single, available domestically in the late 80s only as an import. The long version of "End of the Line" (5:51) was also released on a [West] German 12" 45, backed with "Love Theme," and again was available domestically only as an import. Not surprisingly, these records remain rare. A music video (?) of "End of the Line" surfaced in 1992, on the compilation SHOW BUSINESS IS MY LIFE: THE VIDEO COLLECTION, at the time available only through Ridgway's S. R. Dis-Information. In 1993, the long, 5:51 version of "End of the Line" was included as one of six bonus tracks on I.R.S.'s re-issue of The Big Heat, somewhat misleadingly labelled in the liner notes as "previously unavailable" and with no context provided. In 1997, the 5:51 version of "End of the Line" was included in Ridgway's Film Songs, a 7-song EP issued by the Australian label TWA Records (now apparently defunct), finally associated with TERMINUS (but with Johnny Hallyday’s name misspelled "Holiday"). Unfortunately, the lovely Morricone-influenced instrumental, "Love Theme," has never been released domestically, and has never been re-released either. (Why wasn't it included on Film Songs, a wonderful opportunity for a re-release?)
So what, precisely, is TERMINUS about? For those who have seen the video included on the SHOW BUSINESS IS MY LIFE collection, it seems to be a rather strange combination of the SF films DAMNATION ALLEY (1977) and THE ROAD WARRIOR (1982), that is, a post-holocaust adventure story with a vehicle that looks like a high-tech, armored motor home in place of the road warrior's supercharged hot rod. Fortunately, a VHS video of TERMINUS is available domestically through Video Search of Miami, and Stan Ridgway aficionados now have a chance to see this obscure film for themselves. However, it's a mixed blessing, for reasons discussed below.
Having watched VSOM's edition of TERMINUS several times now, I found the plot to be unnecessarily convoluted, relationships among characters vague or confused, and the film's final payoff missing. Gus (Karen Allen) is the driver of a high-tech bus or van-like vehicle called a "Ferro-Glider." With the help of the Ferro-Glider's sophisticated computer, "Monster"--whose presence is marked on-screen by a set of lips that move with the help of a complicated set of wires--Gus strives to overcome various obstacles that seem deliberately planned to prevent her from reaching "End of the Line," a place somewhere far to the West, the reward for doing so her weight in gold. She is eventually captured by "Major" and his thugs, and placed in a jail cell with Stump (French star Johnny Hallyday), himself imprisoned because of a run-in with a group of soldiers who were torturing some civilians. As a consequence of Stump's interference, his left hand was smashed and broken by the soldiers, which has been subsequently replaced with a grotesque mechanical one. Stump and Gus begin a slight romance before Gus is taken off and tortured to death ("We have ways of making you talk," Major informs her). Before her death, Gus gives a small girl named Princess (Julie Glenn) the password to activating Monster, which the Princess in turn gives to Stump, who is chosen by Gus to take her place in the mysterious "game." Together, Stump and Princess escape from Major's stronghold in the Ferro-Glider. All the while, their activities are being monitored by the Doctor (German actor Jürgen Prochnow) and a small boy genius, Mati (Gabriel Damon), who apparently designed Monster. Stump and Princess overcome various obstacles, including a road block by the "Grays"--government soldiers--before reaching "End of the Line." They are also pursued by a sinister figure known as "Driver" (also Jürgen Prochnow), summoned by "Sir" (also Jürgen Prochnow), an evil man with long garish red hair plotting to overthrow the government. It is revealed that Monster--i.e., the Ferro-Glider--is involved in an elaborate game designed by Mati to demonstrate to "Sir" that he, Mati, can be ruthless. But in fact, Mati has really devised the game in order to locate Princess, in reality his test tube sibling, genetically engineered at the same time that Mati was.
If all of this seems confusing, it is. While there are some good action sequences, as SF the story (such as it is) is banal, with painfully dated computer graphics. To be fair, however, some of the confusion in the plot may be due to the fact that VSOM's edition is cut or censored, as will be discussed below. The source print used in the full-frame transfer shows some minor scratching and speckling, although these are minor problems compared to the poor quality of VSOM’s dupe, which is dark, full of visual noise and grain, as well as being very tightly framed, severely chopping off visual information from all four sides of the picture. In addition, the soundtrack fails to capture the detail and resonance of the original Dolby Stereo soundtrack of the film. The Internet Movie Data Base entry for TERMINUS indicates a running time of 81m for the German release. Since TERMINUS was never released on home video in the U.S., VSOM’s version probably has been duped from a PAL or SECAM video source (although dubbed in English). Since these European formats play back slightly faster than the NTSC format (25 frames/sec. as opposed to NTSC's 24 frames/sec.), the dupe would run slightly faster, making the PAL corrected run-time of TERMINUS 82m 59s--almost 2m longer than the German release (assuming the IMDB's information is correct).
In the improbable case that VSOM’s dupe was not taken from a PAL or SECAM source, it is an edited version of the film in any case, which can also be deduced from looking at the 3m 54s music video of "End of the Line" included on SHOW BUSINESS IS MY LIFE. (Incidentally, the music video on this collection may also have originated from a PAL or SECAM source, as the corrected time would be about 4m 15s—very close to the length of the shorter (4:22) version of "End of the Line" on the 7" French and [West] German singles.) The "End of the Line" music video includes clips from scenes not present in VSOM’s version, and in one case a sequence actually runs longer in the music video than in the film! To give an example, the video included in SHOW BUSINESS IS MY LIFE contains a 7s sequence in which a roach crawls down a side window of the Ferro-Glider, followed by a slight pull back of the camera to reveal Princess looking out of the glass from behind. In contrast, the same sequence in VSOM’s (edited) version runs only 5s, and cuts before the Princess is revealed! Comparing these two sequences side by side also reveals how severely framed the VSOM version actually is, as it is impossible, given that Princess is edited out, to establish the context of the shot--it's difficult to tell that the glass is on the Ferro-Glider. Many other cuts can be detailed, as well as omissions, but it is not necessary to detail them all here. Hopefully, a more complete and better mastered version of the film will surface one day.
The end credits indicate that the music was "composed and performed by" David Cunningham (for E.G. Music), while indicating that only the title song was composed and recorded by Stan Ridgway. While there is indeed a great deal of action music in the film, the end credits are obviously inaccurate, as Ridgway's "Love Theme" cues at the 52m 5s mark (of which only 2m are included) in VSOM’s edition.
At $25 plus postage and handling, VSOM’s price is a bit steep, but it is available for those who want to finally see the film.
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