Sour Grapes? Bitter Harvest?
Back in Butte, after a more or less unplanned jaunt to Berlin, where I spent two weeks seeing friends and enjoying that now most-civil city. The prompt for going was a very late invitation to personally attend a screening of the film at the Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid. They’d screened it in Paris, and then scheduled it for Berlin. (Madrid, being broke, has been dropped the last 2 years.) Very late in the game they secured the money – from US Embassy – to get me there to attend. Dangling a ticket in front of me is likely to bring out my travel junkie self, and so I bit. Largely to see friends.
The screening was in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, a sizable place, though the screening was in a smaller theater, and the audience was still smaller (sort of on the scale of, kinda, for the size of the room, the size of the screen.) I usually do a head count at screenings but failed to do so there, though I suspect it was 40-50, max. Not exactly thrilling in that respect… But the response was very positive to the film, and one of the spectators, a documentary filmmaker, Rainer Komers, familiar with Butte, came to talk afterwards and on his own set up a later screening for students at the DFFB, a new and very well endowed film school nestled outside Berlin in the famed old Babelsberg studio. Had a nice screening there, and again a very positive response to the film.
Back in Paris, Mark Rappaport had gone at my request to introduce the screening there for me, and took along his friend, critic Bernard Eisenschitz, whom, so Mark informed me, liked the film very much. Given the current state of the film world in which a theatrical release or a screening in a BIG festival is about the only way to get some ink, I (typically) broke etiquette, and wrote Bernard and asked him to write something on the film. This week came this:
Coming to Terms: a title that could apply to all of Jon Jost’s films. The symmetry of life stories revolving around one axis might be the condition for coming to terms with the chaos of life. Only film (“seul le cinéma”) could imbue us with such a feeling.
Starting with the very first, each shot is a surprise. Space and time: each has an energy of its own. As if a whole world would crowd into these images, beautifully framed but above all monumental.
When looking at those Montana houses, American documentary photography, from Walker Evans to Lewis Baltz, comes to mind. But Jon Jost’s film is an epic and not a documentary. An epic is created by very simple factors. We watch slow changes in a face, in the landscape, in the light.
Then it is an epic because it tells about secrets and lies, about family ties. To each his own – past, demons, revelations. Nature, empty spaces, could turn into scenes of crime or violence at any moment (as indeed they have in other films by Jost).
Everything, too, could turn out differently than expected, except the houses and the sounds and the mountains tell you that it couldn’t. It’s a matter of perception. Of suspense in perception. Produced by movement and sound, by the off space, by things unsaid or unseen.
How to account for the real? How to show that reality could have been different? What I’m seeing, did I actually see it? The perplexed spectator has to wonder: what does he see, what is the status of reality in these images. What I see, is it real? What do I see? Why is it so? He (that spectator) is lead to question reality itself.
With his invisible dissolves, is Jon Jost (Home is the hunter, home from the hill) exorcising America’s daymares or his own? If the question weren’t worth asking, there would be no movie.
So now still trying to secure a place in New York to screen the film, in a setting where it might secure (a) some spectators and (b) some printed comments. This narrows down to really a handful of places, most of which with whom I’ve already inquired: NYFF last year, “no;” Lincoln Center Film Society, “no;” BAM, “no;” and I don’t remember but I think I also tried MoMA. I guess I will try Anthology which sometimes does one-week runs and does get print. After that the Film Forum though they have never screened anything of mine before. Though, even if I do secure one of these remaining options the truth is it will matter little – Coming to Terms is a “dead serious” film, lacking stars, way off the acceptable “narrative” track, and despite being quite accessible, just ain’t gonna make a dime. Ergo, in our present day America, it is more or less deemed “worthless.”
However, come autumn, it appears I’ll once again saddle up the Subaru (or perhaps if it is running OK the 1995 or so Windstar parked about 100 yards from where I am writing this, with a big For Sale sign on it), and head out on the road to both shoot and show: lining up appear to be a visit to Arizona State U in Tempe, something at the Santa Fe Center for Contemporary Arts place, a week at the Ross Cinema in Lincoln NE, and then the Film Center in Chicago, at all of which I’ll screen Coming to Terms (and at some, also other work).
If you are somewhere in a very zig-zag route anywhere along this track, and can and would like to arrange a screening/workshop/lecture – whatever would suit your situation – kindly contact me at email@example.com. Zig-zag route could run from Salt Lake to ABQ to Denver to Omaha, Kansas City, St Louis, Iowa City and anywhere else vaguely along this route.
And of course, if you’re in New York and run a venue that gets reviewed and would like to, well….