ENO (2024)

Written by:
David e. Moreno
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Sound & Vision

Visionary musician and artist Brian Eno—who produced Talking Heads, Roxy Music, David Bowie, U2, and Cold Play, among others, pioneered the genre of ambient music and released over 40 solo and collaborative albums—shares his creative processes in the unique generative documentary ENO.

This groundbreaking film, a collaboration between filmmaker Gary Hustwit (“Helvetica,” “Objectified”) and digital artist Brendan Dawes, is a one-of-a-kind generative software system. It melds recent interviews with Brian Eno, archival footage from hundreds of hours of previously unseen material, and unreleased music. The editing process, led by Maya Tippet and Marley McDonald, was a unique challenge, as they had to craft scenes without knowing their final placement. How do you create a compelling film that can take any form? How do you shape a narrative like that?

The outcome is a dynamic film with endless possibilities that reinvents itself with each viewing. Every unique experience offers different scenes, order, and music, all designed to be enjoyed live. Only a few sequences appear in each version, giving the documentary its fluid structure and overarching narrative. “Some scenes only appear in 10% of the screening,” Hustwit revealed at the Q&A. “The system draws from a vast pool of potential scenes, but it also generates its own scenes, like those mosaic images being created live (not AI-generated.) We are still discovering things about Brian, despite our extensive time with him, because of how scenes are presented and juxtaposed.”

Hustwit got here from a music background and became frustrated with how film is always the same. In contrast, live music can always be different in nuance and phrasing, even changing lyrics or bringing in guest musicians for a unique performance of the same material.

ENO perfectly mirrors the musical, artistic, and philosophical perspective of Brian Eno, who has always been a trendsetter and visionary. It’s as if he had to wait for technology to catch up with him before he would agree to have his career documented cinematically. Eno is not an artist who has ever spent much time thinking about the past, but only the future, and previously shunned the idea of a documentary. However, ENO’s innovative approach to storytelling and its use of generative software changed his mind and could potentially revolutionize how we create and experience films, inspiring a new era of filmmaking.

ENO handsomely presents the subject’s creative journey and 50-year career in a holographic, sometimes mosaic fashion with cameos by the great musical artists—John Cale, Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Bryan Ferry, David Bowie… These casual, often intimate star-studded appearances give shape to Eno, the philosopher, composer, artist, musician…guru, shining a light on his genius, ageless curiosity, and engagement with life without excessive flattery. Canadian record producer and musician Daniel Lanois, who was briefly on the screen, was among the audience Friday evening.

A studio session with U2 was particularly jaw-dropping and took place as they lay down tracks over a sound composite made by Eno. The band jams as Eno mixes before they slow it down and ask a very young Bono to add some vocals. He steps to the microphone and belts out, “In the name of love…” Experiencing this pivotal creative moment sent shivers down my spine, knowing the future success that awaited the band and song, just as witnessing the birth of this technological marvel did. Thanks to ENO, viewers will forever see the future of cinema in a new light, much like how Eno’s ambient music revolutionized our perception of music. ENO is pure inspiration; the future is here magic—a film that beckons to be revisited, version after version. Luckily for the Bay Area, it will be back for a week-long run at the Roxy Theater on July 26th.

David e. Moreno

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