Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mr Cohen

Some years back, I was working for the inestimable Mr Ross Gibson at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. At the time, I was obsessed with Instrument, a feature length film directed by Mr Jem Cohen about Washington band Fugazi (about who, to this day, I am still an obsessive nutjob). To me, it is one of the great music documentaries if not one of the best films about creativity, resistance, independence and defiance. One day, Mr Ross Gibson asked me to track down and acquire all of Mr Jem Cohen's films for the ACMI collection. I knew at that point that Cohen had directed a whole bunch of other flicks as well as Instrument but I had not, at that point, seen any of these flicks. Over the following weeks I would receive little boxes of VHS goodness from Video Data Bank, one of the unsung heroes of truly independent film and video. During those days, my mind was blown wide open by films like Buried in Light (Eastern Europe in Passing), Blood Orange Sky and the enigmatic and brilliant Lost Book Found.

(Below is a dodgy 10 minute excerpt from the film that some connoisseur has posted on Youtube. If you dig, please hit up VDB and get a DVD or VHS of it. You won't regret it.)

In addition, one of the more beautiful things I discovered during that time was his compendium film 'Just Hold Still' featured on VDB's 'Early Works'. 'Just Hold Still' includes a collection of ephemeral but precise works like 4:44 (From Her House Home), Drink Deep and this one, Never Change.

(As above re: dodginess and digging.)

His other short works around this time include numerous musical collaborations with folks like Chan Marshall, Butthole Surfers and Jonathon Richman. Among these is the performance/portrait/film Lucky Three with the late, great Elliott Smith which, to me, as a film about the wonder of distilled songs in their entirety, is only matched by Wim Wenders' incredible early short, Three American LPs.

(Again, apologies for low resolution youtube shittiness and, as above, re: dodginess etc) -

I would be lying if I said that all of these films, as well as The Hundred Videos by Steve Reinke and the work of other filmmakers like Sadie Benning and Matthias Muller didn't influence me in wanting to make smaller, personal film and video works (hence, The Buoy Archives). Suffice, to say, when Jem Cohen finally arrived in Melbourne for a screening of Benjamin Smoke and to preview some of his work installed in the ACMI gallery, I descended on him like a rabid, sycophantic maniac. The good side of it was that I ended up driving him around in my old 1982 Blue Urvan* (expansive wide windows for excellent camera coverage) while he filmed some local material for the film Chain and I also got to do this essay and interview for Senses of Cinema:

Just Hold Still: A Conversation with Jem Cohen

Anyway, the point of all this is not that I am a complete fanboy, which I am, but that, if you've seen the film Instrument, you'll recall some of Fugazi's killer onstage banter ("we smashed that damn monkey", "ice cream eating motherfuckers" et al.) Over at Chunklet, there is a great little blog and a link to a 45 minute recording of onstage banter from Mackaye & Picciotto.

Having Fun with Fugazi on Stage

*This beautiful piece of auto-machinery has since been stolen by someone with a clear interest in rust, baby blue duco or bald tyres. I dream of it every day and wish it back. Muthafucka.

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