Jon Hassell

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simplicity and dignity
something different in the air?





Intersections: Fascinoma, U2, Brian Eno, "Dogme", David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Ry Cooder.


I

Brian Eno on Fascinoma

(to Jon Hassell, 18 May 1999)


"I've really gotten into your Fascinoma. There's real clarity and honesty about it which is extremely welcome, and very timely. The music is fantastic, and its undefendedness inspires instant confidence. This is very much the mood of the times..."

"Working with U2 now, we've been doing a similar thing—working the songs out with every trick in the book, but then learning them and just playing them live with very little overdubbery...The results have some of the same crispness and integrity as yours. Interesting process—to finally have to reduce everything to whatever can be played by a group of people, live."

"Anyway, I've been playing Fascinoma a lot at my studio, enjoying its spaciousness. The other night I wet to see the film Festen (The Celebration) which was made by one of those Dogme people (Thomas Vinterberg; Dogme also includes Lars von Trier director of Breaking the Waves). It has a similar doctrinaire quality—hand-held, no artificial light, no music other than that produced as part of the action (eg someone playing piano in a room where the action is happening). Very refreshing—and a deeply disturbing film."



II

"At Cannes, a New Faith, Simplicity and Dignity"

Janet Maslin • The New York Times • 22 May, 1999


"David (Blue Velvet) Lynch floored audiences at the Cannes International Film Festival today with an eloquently simple, deeply emotional G-rated movie, The Straight Story...

"I think it may be my most experimental film," said Mr. Lynch. This was not an implausible thought. "Tenderness can be just as abstract as insanity." He mentioned David Mamet (The Winslow Boy) and Pedro Almodovar (All About My Mother) among filmmakers whose Cannes entries are uncharacteristically gentle. Some of that, he said, may be because violence and obscene language on screen "have been pushed to an absurd extreme, to the point where you don't feel it any more"

"I can't really explain it, but I feel a change," he added. "I feel something different in the air."



III

The Million Dollar Hotel


To resonate with the concept of simplicity and dignity is nothing new within the film poetry of Wim Wenders. In his newest film—shot in 35 days entirely in a decaying hotel amidst the urban blight of downtown Los Angeles among the casualties of life who are its residents—the Wings of Desire director creates a post-millennial,  Edward Hopper-like visual and psychological atmosphere around the story (all told in flashback during a suicide leap) of two young misfits benumbed by all else around them but their improbable discovery of love. The cast includes Mel Gibson, Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element), Jeremy Davies (Saving Private Ryan), and Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction).

The ghost of Chet Baker (who also ended his life in a hotel leap in Amsterdam) seems to hover over the scene in Wenders' casting of avant-garde trumpeter Jon Hassell as "Hollow", whose soulful horn drifts out of his candlelit window and into the windows and intertwined souls of the two lovers. The haunting score (by Hassell, Bono, and Daniel Lanois) contains a long section of a live concert by Hassell in Amsterdam and some new songs by Bono—who also originated the storyline and is one of the film's co-producers.



IV

The Buena Vista Social Club: The Record, The Movie

 

Ry Cooder, one of the most important American record producers, noted for his discovery of non-mainstream "authentica", has created a worldwide hit recording by going to Havana and reconnecting few old masters of Cuban music who had all played in a dance hall called "The Buena Vista Social Club". It was during the scoring of Wim Wender's movie The End of Violence that Wenders decided to go to Havana with Cooder to document the extraordinary dignity of the lives and feelings of the aging musicians who had, for the most part, given up playing and were working in menial jobs. The movie, The Buena Vista Social Club has become a worldwide hit of its own.

It was also during work on The End of Violence that Wim Wenders met the trumpeter-composer Jon Hassell (who is featured in Ry Cooder's score) and who Wenders later asked to play a role in his next film, The Million Dollar Hotel. While working on The Buena Vista Social Club record, Ry Cooder was also producing Jon Hassell with jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson and classical Indian flutist, Ronu Majumdar, in a church in Santa Barbara using a single stereo microphone and analog tape recorder. This is the recording called Fascinoma (with cover photo by Donata Wenders) whose "clarity and honesty" Brian Eno has compared with the "Dogme" group of filmmakers.



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