ABOUT THE FILM
Despite being the forefather psychedelic music, Eden Ahbez (aka “ahbe”) had few acolytes or disciples in his lifetime. When he died, in March of 1995, his only hit song, “Nature Boy,” had become an American standard. The long hair and beard he wore (as well the peace and love message he espoused) were also part of the counter-culture mainstream; yet Ahbez himself remained obscure.
Around this time, an obsessed teenage record collector named Brian Chidester found a photograph of Ahbez, from 1967, in the studio with Beach Boy Brian Wilson. From that one image Chidester embarked on a journey to recover Ahbez's story that has lasted more than twenty years. As the Wind: The Enchanted Life of Eden Ahbez is the culmination.
This feature-length documentary is co-directed by Chidester and his filmmaking partner John Winer. The two first met in 2016, in New York City, and outlined the basic thrust of the film, launching officially in 2017. Since that time they have traveled around the country, retracing Ahbez's steps and interviewing his last remaining friends and collaborators. They've also followed the trail of the songwriter's lost music, footage, and other archival materials. The resultant film will finally tell the story of one of pop culture's most enigmatic figures in full.
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As a documentary subject, Eden Ahbez posed a unique set of challenges: the absence of an immediate family, descendants, or even an estate; the advancing age of his few remaining contemporaries; a publishing catalog in some degree of legal limbo; and a subject himself who shunned publicity for most of his later years.
Building on co-director Brian Chidester’s twenty-plus years of research, he and co-director John Winer first sought to retrace Ahbez’s footsteps by interviewing his last-surviving friends and collaborators as a means of gaining a clearer picture of his working methods as an artist.
Ahbez’s journey spanned the most of the 20th century and was touched by major events like the Great Depression, two World Wars (and a Cold War), the Sixties Revolution, and much more. He personally experienced the tenement lifestyle of early immigrants in New York City, the orphan trains of the 1910s and '20s, the hobo and boxcar-hopping of the Depression-era, and the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1940s, where he himself experienced his moment of celebrity with his smash hit of 1948, “Nature Boy,” which rode the top of the Billboard charts for eight weeks straight.
Bringing Ahbez’s world into focus required the filmmakers to unearth rare clips from early radio and television appearances, news clippings and press materials, as well as Ahbez’s own letters, photos, poems and music—much of it unreleased and scattered among his various collaborators. Chidester and Winer captured not only personal recollections from these contemporaries, but also filmed them performing some of Ahbez's unrecorded work for the very first time. In that way, the film plays like a travelogue, guided entirely by those who knew Ahbez in his life roles as composer, singer, practitioner of healthful living, loner, husband, father, friend, eccentric, and “sound asleep, wide awake man of Zen”.
As is typical of independent documentaries, the production crews were skeleton. Over a six-month period, Winer shot most of the interviews in 2K, on a Lumix GH4 DSLR, with additional field production employing DJI’s Osmo handheld stabilizer cam and a Mavic drone. The production of As the Wind feels intimate and contemporary, yet its focus is on the personalities, places, and music that defined Ahbez’s life and extraordinary worldview.
Ultimately, As the Wind paints a colorful portrait of this unique 20th Century man and thereby casts the times in a completely new light. One which seems more timely now than ever.