Posted: 08/14/2008


Eight Miles High [Das Wilde Leben]


by Jef Burnham

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Eight Miles High is not just a biopic about German model and revolution poster girl, Uschi Obermaier, but an attempt by the filmmakers to recreate that intangible essence of the 1960s and ’70s. The film appears to have succeeded magnificently in both respects, and not only garnered substantial success in Germany, its country of origin, but is one of the best films to be released in the U.S. so far this year.

Uschi Obermaier, subtly portrayed by the beautiful Natalia Avelon, grew up in a small, conservative town. Stifled by parents and seeking her freedom, she fled the town and joined Berlin’s Kommune 1. She later became involved with members of The Rolling Stones, sustaining a particularly intense relationship with Keith Richards, even through her relationship with bar owner/adventurer Dieter Bockhorn.

Immersed in director Achim Bornhak’s portrayal of the ’60s, one cannot help but recall the speech from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas—the crashing wave Thompson wrote so wistfully about. From the “free love” and the drug culture to the riots in the streets, the film retains an incredible level of authenticity and accuracy (with no performance more excitingly accurate than Alexander Scheer as the iconic, Stones guitarist Keith Richards). For those of us who did not live through those decades, films with the attention to detail employed in Eight Miles High are as close as we are likely to get to the experience. An impressive, if unnecessary step taken by the filmmakers entailed obtaining the original bus in which Uschi and Bockhorn traveled across India and restored it to the condition it had been in on their travels (the bus was supplied by the Obermaier herself, who now lives in California).

Gorgeous and pouty-lipped, Avelon’s performance is as intriguing in its subtlety as the real Obermaier is said to have been. Avelon’s Uschi is outspoken but introverted—powerful yet weak for the men she loved. Avelon is such an incredible performer, portraying Obermaier’s strength even in the nude, a state which she is in for a large portion of the film. The most striking example of this is when she is doing a topless photo shoot and the photographer asks her to look as if she is embarrassed about something. Uschi, seemingly not knowing embarrassment, delivers a pose so confrontational that the intimidated photographer says nothing of her unwillingness to cooperate and shrinks back to takes the shots.

Jef Burnham is a writer and a film critic in Chicago.

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