I was able to take in some Jandek On Corwood last Wednesday night and felt it would be appropriate to share my thoughts, feelings, and reactions. I will try to keep this post shorter than my Napoleon Conquers The Zeotrope novella, but to truly give the reader the experience that I went through I must go beyond the film and delve into the theater itself. The theater and the audience seemed to tie in nicely with Jandek On Corwood. They were even more appropriate than if the film had come to the Zeotrope.
Let us begin with the venue, the Coolidge Corner Theater located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America. I'm not sure who designed this place, but apparently they decided that there was no need to actually face the street. That made it somewhat hard to find. It was a relief to finally get inside and pay for my ticket.
My limp paper ticket stub directed me to "Theater 3," and my ticketing agent instructed me to go upstairs. How this room could be called "Theater 3" perplexes me. In fact, I could only see one other theater and this room that I had entered was properly named the "Video Screening Room."
Video indeed. I had read about this room online so I the room was not a complete shock, but it definitely went beyond what I had expected. There 45 seats arranged into 6 rows with one aisle down the middle. The screen was probably 8', though I'm not good at estimating these things. You were really on top of it, though.
The speaker system? Just a Bose surround sound setup like you would expect to find in someone's living room. The tiniest little speakers that seemed like they could fit in the palm of your hand. I say surround sound, but in fact I could only see the two small speakers in the rear of the room attached to the ceiling. I'm only assuming that there were more. The subwoofer just sat randomly at the front of the room, beneath the screen. It was almost calling out ... "Have you plugged me in yet?"
At least there was air conditioning. I can be sure of this fact because the air conditioner sat right before our eyes. It was dangling out of the window on the left wall like it would dangle out of anyone's bedroom window in their house. Now, if only someone had turned it on.
I looked towards the rear of the room to try to determine the location of the projection room. But there was none. Looking up I could see projectionist for our film was an InFocus ScreenPlay projector (forgive, I forget the model number). On their Web site they list this as perfect for home theater. Well ... good thing I was at home.
But all of this made perfect sense in the context of the movie that I was about to see. Jandek, a musical artist from the Houston, Texas area is all about minimalism. Absorbing his music is all about taking in something a little off-kilter and perhaps enduring something painful, but at the same time worthwhile. Jandek is (for the most part) a loner, generally recording a single instrument accompanied by voice, all by himself in what everyone assumes is an empty room. His anonymity is his heaviest attraction.
As I looked over the crowd I saw the types of people who could very well be Jandek, if I didn't know any better. Nearly everyone in the room was disconnected. Loners abounded. Hey, I was a loner myself for this experience. Maybe I am Jandek. You know its going to be a special movie when the seating arrangement from side to side always seemed to be occupied, empty, occupied, empty, occupied, empty. There were buffer seats as far as the eye could see.
And the feel of the room just added to that experience. We weren't going to viewing this movie in a conventional way or with the regular comforts.
Of course, the one thing that was somewhat shocking in context of all that was the stadium seating that we were treated to. In fact, the chairs and seating setup probably was the most expensive part of the entire theater.
When 9:30 p.m. rolled around an employee entered the room and opened a closet (a CLOSET!) near the front. Inside was the technical setup. The receiver, projector remote control, and the Sony DVD player (yes, we were just watching the DVD, sans special features). She struggled with the remote and finally got the thing to start.
The movie begins with rocks crashing against waves. There's silence. The employee is still fidgeting with the remote, trying to figure out how to get some sound out of those Bose speakers.
Meanwhile, a group of three women, who had been sitting across the aisle from me since I had entered, got up and began to leave. Apparently they were hold-overs from the movie that had just ended. Two of them quickly and quietly exited, not wanting to disturb the viewing audience. If only the third had the same respect for the people in the room. Instead she loudly starts talking as she moseys on down the aisle.
"Our movie didn't have crashing waves! What's this? We didn't get this?" All said in a sarcastic tone, as if anyone present cared. Then she stops at the closet and begins talking with the employee. "What's this movie called?! (interrobang omitted) What is this movie all about?" The employee is trying to quiet her and lead her out as she can see the disturbance that is beginning. I swear if this had continued any longer they may have had a riot on their hands. The tension of the audience was palpable.
Finally, once the woman has left someone from the back row shouts out "Can you just start the movie over?" The employee was very obliging and did just that, allowing us to experience the waves and crashing rocks once again, this time accompanied by the grating voice of one January D.
The story of Jandek has been told many a time, and in much better fashion then I could possibly recount here. So I won't even attempt it. In short, Jandek is a man in a room somewhere in Texas making what some would call music on a creaky recorder. He has released more than 35 albums in about 25 years. No one knows who he is and it seems that not many people care. Jandek On Corwood is his story, told through interviews with music critics, fans, and record store owners.
The film is excellent, plain and simple, but its definitely not for everyone. For one thing, Jandek provides the constant soundtrack, and as was mentioned earlier, some will find that this alone makes it unpalatable. If they could just grin and bear it they would be in for quite a treat. The story is too good to be ignored. There is so much mystery wrapped up in this solitary creature that you can't help but be sucked in.
It helps us examine some of his lyrics, his songs, his story. It takes us through the cover art of his records and the existence of his company, Corwood Industries (bonus link for those in the Houston area). In the end, we are left with no more true picture of who this man is than before we entered the theater, but we get the feeling that that's the way it should be. If we knew who Jandek was, we probably wouldn't care.
The film ends with an excellent audio-only 10 minute interview with the man himself, recorded in 1985. This was probably my favorite part, because it finally lets us connect with Jandek, at least as much as we probably ever will.
One thing that impressed me with this film was the humor that the director was able to interject. It just wasn't something that I expected from a documentary on a subject such as this. Yet it was present throughout. I actually laughed out loud more times watching this than I have watching many of Hollywood's purported "comedies."
As I told the director of this film in an e-mail conversation, "The kids'll love it."