Movie Diary: Jandek On Corwood.
The movie was quite interesting and good, though I couldn't help but feel, as I felt with the recent Roky Erickson documentary, that the makers would have had a far more interesting story if they'd waited a few years. After all, within two years of "Jandek On Corwood"'s release, Jandek began performing live, and has since played something like 40 concerts. Really, though, the move to start performing live, while remaining completely uncommunicative about any personal details, is such a startling development that, if anything, it probably merits there being a sequel to this documentary. To have "Jandek On Corwood" encompass such a development would have completely disrupted the film's narrative, so I guess it's for the best that it covers the time period that it covers. That said, someone, either filmmakers Chad Freidrichs and Paul Fehler or someone else, should really make a sequel.
I found that "Jandek On Corwood" did an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere I associate with Jandek's music--sparse, foreboding, vaguely downbeat, and most of all, alien. The film used interviews rather than narration to tell what is known of Jandek's musical history, with the filmmakers talking to a variety of journalists, musicians, radio DJs, and record store owners who've had contact with the music, and even, sometimes, the man himself. It creates an incomplete yet fascinating portrait, aided greatly by the prominent use of Jandek's music throughout. The interview shots are alternated with extended sequences from the songs and albums being discussed, the music generally set to enigmatic imagery that heightens the atmosphere the music creates. Different interview subjects discuss various elements of Jandek's career, including various attempts by journalists to get in contact with Jandek himself. The entire film culminates with the playing of the only known recording of a Jandek interview, conducted by John Trubee for Spin magazine in 1985. This interview takes up the last 10 minutes or so, and it is shocking enough to finally hear the voice of this person that has been discussed in terms of his absence for more than an hour at this point in the film. What I found to be the emotional climax of the film, though, came at the very end of this interview tape, when Trubee asked Jandek about the meaning of his songs, and Jandek began talking about the song "I Knew You Would Leave," from his album "Six And Six." Accompanied by footage of waves crashing onto a desolate, rock-strewn beach under an overcast sky, Jandek explains the complex metaphor in the song's lyrics, about how rocks are ultimately worn down into sand by time and the crashing of the waves, and then how eventually even the sand disappears, and how comparable this is to the decay of relationships between humans. This, as the song plays in the background. At this point in the film, at least for me, the emotional center of Jandek's music ceased to be something that was intellectually discussed. The film suddenly became an extension of that emotion, and I found myself overwhelmed by it. It was a powerful moment, the payoff of the entire film; a moment when what had previously been a sort of text that was being analyzed instead became the thing that I, the viewer, was experiencing. It blew me away.
I know that, for a lot of people, Jandek's music seems bizarre and off-putting, and they can't understand how those of us who are fans can find anything to enjoy in it. As someone who is a fan, I find my own experience of his music hard to put into words. I can't really be sure, since I came to "Jandek On Corwood" already converted, but based on my own emotional experience with the end of the film, I find myself thinking that it might work to bridge that gap, between the uninitiated who don't understand the appeal, and those of us who experience the appeal already but struggle to explain exactly what it is. In the future, I will definitely point those who wish to understand towards this film. It's the best explanation of the appeal of Jandek's music that I've encountered thus far, and if people see "Jandek On Corwood" and still don't understand it, I can't imagine that they ever will.