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New "Vistas"

April 12, 1998|Steve Hochman and Don Heckman

Put Santa Monica-based guitarist Ry Cooder in a Havana studio with an all-star ensemble of veteran Cuban musicians and the result is an acclaimed, Grammy-winning album. Last year's "Buena Vista Social Club," recorded during sessions in 1996, was an international "world music" chart-topper and was awarded the Grammy for best tropical Latin performance in February.

But what happens when you add German filmmaker Wim Wenders and Amsterdam locales to the blend?

Wenders, after recently shooting footage of Cooder working with the Cubans on a sequel album in Havana, is now with the musical team in Amsterdam filming two concerts--the first performances of the "Buena Vista" team--as the centerpiece for a documentary he plans to release this year.

"I gave Wim the 'Buena Vista' record about a year ago while we were working on the score music for [Wenders' movie] 'The End of Violence,' " says Cooder, who first worked with the director in 1985 with the landmark, atmospheric score for "Paris, Texas." "I knew he was interested in Cuba and would respond to this. I didn't have any clear idea about [his making a film], but I just figured Wim's my guy, I like working with him and I'm certainly a fan of his."

After finishing promoting "The End of Violence" last year, Wenders agreed to document the second "Buena Vista" project and last month joined Cooder in Havana to shoot studio sessions and location segments exploring the culture and history around the music.

"He's already got footage of stuff people never have seen--not as a travelogue kind of thing, but privy to the way of life that is very esoteric," says Cooder, who also scored the current film "Primary Colors." "This will be a great thing for people to see whether they're interested in the record or not."

The tentative plan is to release several versions of the film--including one for PBS or other U.S. television airing, a longer one for European TV and a version for showing at film festivals and in theaters.

For Cooder, whose musical explorations have teamed him with musicians from places as far-flung as Timbuktu and Tuva, the Cuban project has proved to be the culmination of a life's work.

"I have a feeling this will be my job for a while," he says. "This has really got me going. You wait a lifetime for something like this, and naturally I'm even more encouraged because people seem to like it."

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