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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 April 2006, 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK
Filming the end of the Wild West
Don't Come Knocking (Pic: Donatella Wenders)
The film uses Butte as a metaphor for the decline of the West
Director Wim Wenders has told the BBC he made his latest film, Don't Come Knocking, in part to record what he feels is the end of the old wild, frontier West of America.

The film centres on Howard, an alcoholic former Western movie star - played by Sam Shepard, who co-wrote the screenplay - who leaves the set to look for his former and children in rural Nevada.

But the German film-maker, who previously looked at the genre in his 1984 film Paris, Texas, said that beneath the story is the subtext of how the iconic, romantic ideal of the rural West - which has formed the basis for so many of Hollywood's most important films, right up to this year's Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain - is on the verge of being lost.

"The West is about to disappear," Wenders told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme.

"When we were looking for locations, many places we thought were there had become some sort of Marlboro country - a tourist attraction theme park.

"There is a great difference between what this landscape once represented, and what it might still mean to us romantically, and what it actually is today."

Key scenes are set in Butte, Montana - once the biggest city west of the Mississippi, but now "one big ghost town," Wenders added.

Lead role

Don't Come Knocking made its debut at the Cannes film festival last year, but it is only now receiving its UK release.

Wenders explained that the film came about after he met, by coincidence, Shepard - with whom he wrote Paris, Texas - at Lou Reed concert.

Sam Shepard in Don't Come Knocking
It became obvious Sam Shepard wanted to play Howard himself - but I made him feel like he had to twist my arm
Wim Wenders
The pair decided it was time to work together again, but had no plan for which project to do.

"A few months later I wrote a story, he read it and actually didn't like it, because my hero was a banker from New York, and Sam had no intention of writing about a banker," Wenders said.

"But he liked a little grain of my story, which was there was an unknown son, and this father-son relationship that had never been in the open.

"He liked that, and we started from scratch."

Shepard turned the character into a cowboy, but did what he refused to do with Paris, Texas, and took the lead role.

For Paris, Texas Wenders had "literally been on my knees" asking Shepard to play the lead role, eventually filled by Harry Dean Stanton. But this time around, he took a different approach.

"I leafed through half the script I had, and casually said, 'Once I'm finished with this, the first actor I'm going to give it to is going to be Jack Nicholson - what do you think?'" he said.

"Eventually, he said that he didn't think Jack Nicholson is up to riding a horse anymore. Of course, Sam is a great horseman and a great rider.

"It became obvious he wanted to play it himself - but I made him feel like he had to twist my arm."

Acclaimed performance

Shepard's performance as Howard, a character Wenders described as "hopeless", has been highly acclaimed.

Wim Wenders
Wenders debuted the film at the Cannes film festival
The film is the first time Shepard and his real-life wife, actress Jessica Lange - who plays Howard's old flame, Doreen - have worked on the same film since their marriage.

Wenders explained that the couple have never previously done so as they had an arrangement where, when one is filming, the other stays to look after the children.

"Luckily, it took us three years to finish the script, because when it was finally done, the kids were out of school," he said.

"So I probably caught the first moment that the two of them could be back together in front of the camera."

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