Full Frame 2K7 Jem Cohen

Friday at Full Frame I had the chance to catch several great films, including three films by Jem Cohen, whose work often focuses on musicians, including Benjamin Smoke and the Fugazi doc, Instrument. Because the Cohen films were a major highlight of the festival, I want to cover them in some detail. One of Cohen’s films this year, Building a Broken Mousetrap focused on the Dutch punk band, The Ex, who played a show in New York City on September 11, 2004, just days after the Republican Convention. Cohen crosscut between some of the more compelling and intimate concert footage I’ve seen, much of it filmed on a 16mm Bolex in black-and-white, and footage filmed on the streets of New York, including shots of several of the anti-war protests at the Republican Convention. One of the highlights is a brief interlude in which Cohen was filming in front of an electronic store and a destitute, probably homeless, man remarks on the expensive prices of radios, noting that he would never pay $200 for a radio. The brief scene only adds to some of the marked contrasts between rich and poor (among other polarities) in a city such as New York.

Cohen’s other films were two shorts, Blessed are the Dreams of Men and NYC Weights and Measures. The former is a contemplative short feature filmed from the window of a bus traveling across Europe at 5 AM, its windows blurred by morning dew and its passengers sleeping awkwardly as rural and industrial landscapes rapidly replace each other. Dreams, like much of Cohen’s work, reminded me a bit of the opening sequence of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil in its contemplative, almost meditative, tone. NYC is a “short elegiac comment” on prohibitions against street photography in New York after 9/11. Cohen has an eye for interesting, unexpected images, and NYC beautifully illustrates that. The film concludes with a brief note telling us that at some point after 9/11, Cohen was stopped on the street while was filming and had the footage he had taken confiscated. Now, over a year later, that footage has yet to be returned.

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