Dokument Films // 2007 // 114 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // November 12th, 2008
"I asked myself if I could have done anything differently. And the answer was...no."
Directed by Achim Borhak, Eight Miles High (in Germany, Das Wilde Leben) tells the story of '70s supermodel, activist, groupie, and artist Uschi Obermaier. Sexy and stylish, the film works equally well as a biography and a historical recreation of the sexual revolution.
With the world changing around her, Uschi Obermaier left her suburban family home near Munich in 1968 to become a model, filled with dreams of freedom and fame. Her beauty, success, and lust for life thrust her into the center of a cultural revolution that stretched from Berlin art communes to the farthest reaches of India.
If you don't live in Germany, you might not know who Uschi Obermaier is, and while Eight Miles High doesn't necessarily explain the fascination, it paints a picture of a woman you're not likely to forget. Like many biopics, this film moves quickly, covering 16 years in less than two hours. Large parts of her life are rushed past or glossed over, including her short-lived film career, and, surprisingly, most of her modeling career -- which gets almost no screen time apart from a few magazine covers and news articles. The effect is jarring, but also true to her whirlwind lifestyle. The Uschi Obermaier of Eight Miles High is a confident beauty who gets the things, and the men, that she wants.
Her story is told through some of her highest-profile lovers, including activist co-founder of Berlin's Kommune 1 Rainer Langerhans (whose relationship with Uschi is said to have inspired a certain bespectacled Beatle and his controversial wife), hedonist adventurer Dieter Bockhorn, and her two most famous conquests: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. These relationships provide context for the events of Uschi's life. They mark the passage of time, and constantly reinforce the power she apparently wielded over all men. Her male domination may not have been so complete in real life, but if actress Natalia Avelon has even a tenth of the real Uschi's sexual power, it's not hard to believe she brought men like this to their knees.
Avelon's performance is flawless. Not only is she a dead ringer for the real Obermaier, she fills what could be a vacant role with real emotion, moving fluidly between wild child, seductress, and confident woman. She's a fine reason to watch the film, but the best thing about Eight Miles High is its unflinching look at the excesses of a tumultuous era. The high life of the '60s and '70s was a perfect storm of money, power, lust, and not giving a damn about anyone else. That energy is best illustrated at the London house party where Uschi first meets Jagger and Richards. Bornhak shows the Stones bash in all its Dionysian glory, complete with bonfires, footmen, writhing bodies, hard drugs, sumptuous food, and a free-roaming python (no, that's not a euphemism). "Don't dream your life, live your dream," says Uschi -- a mantra that for her includes passing trays of cocaine between fast-moving limousines and leaving her modeling career behind to travel the world.
The sets and costumes are exquisitely detailed, from lush Hamburg flats and the opulence of regal India to the fancy designer clothes Avelon wears -- when she's wearing anything at all. Eight Miles High takes full advantage of European permissiveness in its portrayal of the sexual revolution. It isn't pornographic but it is explicit, with plenty of male and female full-frontal nudity. None of it feels out of context, but sensitive viewers should consider themselves warned.
We've covered the sex and the drugs, now it's time for the rock 'n' roll. Uschi's love of music, and musicians, provides an undercurrent to the story -- from a teenage Uschi dancing in her bedroom over the objections of her conservative mother to the darkened hotel room she shares with a strung-out Keith Richards -- but my hands down favorite thing about this movie is its soundtrack. The acting is solid, the sets are exquisite, and Avelon is stunning, but the music is what holds the whole thing together. How better to reinforce the time period than a soundtrack packed with '60s and '70s-era garage and classic rock songs like "As Tears Go By," "Spirit in the Sky," "Kick Out the Jams," "We Will Fail," and (one of my all-time favorite song titles) "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night?"
I don't know if the decision to eschew surround sound for a stereo mix was an effort to reinforce the period in which the film is set. It doesn't suffer for the lack of 5.1, especially since most of the film is in German with subtitles. The cinematography has a '70s feel, too, with plenty of soft browns and intimate handheld camerawork, though with this film it's more about what is being filmed than how. As for extras, there aren't many. The still photo gallery is as interesting as it sounds, and the 12-minute making-of featurette provides some interesting commentary on the film, especially from the real Uschi Obermaier -- alive and well and living in California -- whose recollections provided the basis for much of the story.
Besides the elements of the story that were condensed or reshuffled to make a compelling movie, I wonder if basing so much of the film on Obermaier's memories made for the most honest assessment of her life. She's shown to engage in some bad behavior, sure, but she's shown in such complete control -- especially over the men in her life -- that it pushes credibility.
Like many biopics, Eight Miles High is more interesting if you already know something about its subject. Of course, most subjects don't present themselves as forcefully as Uschi Obermaier. The film is just as much about the world of freedom and fame as it is Obermaier herself, which means if you don't much care for the free love philosophy, you might enjoy the history.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dokument Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (German)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* "Eight Miles High: Behind the Scenes"
* Still Gallery
* Official Site