Home News The mystical and hippy Far West by Peter Fonda and Bruce Langhorne – Daniele Cassandro

The mystical and hippy Far West by Peter Fonda and Bruce Langhorne – Daniele Cassandro

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The mystical and hippy Far West by Peter Fonda and Bruce Langhorne – Daniele Cassandro

In 1969, after the success of Easy rider, a film that had become a countercultural phenomenon in both the United States and Europe, Peter Fonda, co-star and scriptwriter with director Dennis Hopper, has a free hand in Hollywood. It’s not hard for him to get full artistic control over his new work from Universal Studios: The hired hand (in Italian The return of Harry Collings).

The film, of which Fonda is the director and protagonist, is written with the Scottish writer Alan Sharp and is a strange intimate and bitter western, halfway between genre cinema and New American cinema. It is a story without heroes and without happy ending, with silent, rustic and desperate characters, immersed in a wonderful and merciless landscape. There is talk of friendship, of pride, of a taciturn couple who move away and find themselves, against the backdrop of a greedy and violent society. The first thing that strikes the film, even before the plot and the almost sculptural presence of the characters, is the light that when it hits the faces, the hair, the leaves gives life to sequences that could look like impressionist paintings on film or prolonged LSD trips. .

The director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond, saw precisely in this use of light the first reason for the film’s failure as a western: “It was too true, it looked like a European film,” he said years later. And it is, revised today, even too psychedelic and Arcadian with its dilated times and the spasmodic attention for every slightest sparkle among the leaves or lapping of water. It is to all intents and purposes a dazed, indecipherable “western hippy”. Obviously it is precisely these characteristics that make it such a memorable failure. Only in 2001 was it re-evaluated and properly rediscovered.

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Another memorable element of The hired hand is his soundtrack, entirely composed and created by the folk musician and guitarist Bruce Langhorne (1938-2017). The studios oppose Peter Fonda’s choice because they have never heard of Langhorne, but for Fonda it is enough to say that he had played with Bob Dylan in Bringing it all back home and that song Mr Tambourine man it was inspired by him beating a large Turkish frame drum remade in a shop in Greenwich village in the studio. Langhorne, who is missing two and a half fingers from an accident as a child, had played with the whole scene in the Village and is in effect one of the forgotten fathers of folk rock.

Peter Fonda calls Langhorne as hired hand (piecework worker) because of his ability to play, as a virtuoso, all the traditional North American instruments. Langhorne locks himself in the garage of his new home in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, with a two-track Revox recorder and, with the help of his partner Natalie Mucyn who acts as his sound technique, puts together this idyllic and minimal column. sound that lasts, in all, only 24 minutes. Langhorne combines the sounds of banjo, violin, guitar, harmonica, dulcimer and Farfisa organ which, despite being an Italian patent from the 1950s, had largely replaced the accordion in the United States. The disc is made up of eleven very short tracks that float in a suspended silence, which also looks like an instrument, just like in certain ambient pieces by Brian Eno. It is strange to think that The hired hand be the first solo album by this musician who, ironically, had been used as hired hand from a slew of superstars, from Bob Dylan to Odetta, to Buffy Sainte-Marie and South African jazz musician Hugh Masekela.

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The music of this forgotten album gathers around us like a subtle matter. It is elusive and phantasmatic, like “the substance of dreams” of which Shakespeare speaks in Storma matter that somehow is also very familiar to us: it is the subtle plot of which so many back records are made that we loved: from Dylan, of course, to Bruce Springsteen and Lucinda Williams in their most Arcadian moments, from Linda Perhacs to Emmylou Harris, from Iron and Wine to Fleet Foxes, passing through Bon Iver’s For Emma forever ago.

Bruce Langhorne
The hired hand original motion picture soundtrack
1971 (Scissot tail, 2012)

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