Show Report: Jem Cohen's "Chain" at the Hirshhorn Nov. 10, 2005

Went to see "Chain" at the Hirshhorn, it was, all in all, a lovely experience. The real world, the world outside of television and the internet, can be very fascinating under the right conditions. I took the metro to the Hirshorn, an excellent looking museum. The place was packed. Lots of people waiting patiently at the door to the screening room, hundreds of people, some talking with each other. Can't get that with renting a DVD at home by yourself (a note to all you kids out there trying to eliminate the theatrical experience). Got in to the theater, the 500 seat auditorium (at least I heard that it was 500 seats) filled up fast, people had to be turned away. A second show was announced, immediately following the first show. The programmer (whose name I did not catch) introduced executive producer Guy Picciotto (of DC bands Fugazi & Rites Of Spring fame, according to some rock writers the inventor of the Emo genre of punk/rock music). Guy said that they were having technical difficulties and that we would have to watch the movie from a VHS tape, not the digital tape as Jem had intended. No one protested too loudly. Guy also said he would come up to answer questions about the movie, after the show (Jem was traveling in Europe). And the movie began. The Hirshhorn screen is huge (I was in the front row, an excellently designed theater by the way, the screen size sure beats the "large TV" size screen at the Goethe). The movie unfolded in its hand made charm. Indie film stars Miho Nikaido and Mira Billotte played two transient women, propelled by vastly different causes, who spend a lot of time in the American mainstream/suburban landscape. I won't give too much away, there are a lot of neat and small elements to each woman's story. Since I see the world mostly as a comedy I liked Mira's character a lot, her approach to the world is laid back and perhaps unintentionally humorous. Miho's character is a very dedicated employee and thus we were not privy to her own personal experience outside of work, she talked a lot about her company's goals and the role she plays within those ambitions. Even through VHS Jem's images have an accessible charm, maybe all it is just seeing familiar locations projected large on a movie screen, malls and parking lots have rarely looked that poetic before. Maybe it's just the arresting magic of cinema, removing us from our environment and allowing us to observe and reflect on it. Maybe it is the fact that this movie was shot on 16 MM, and that I have been on a steady diet of digital images for some time now. Anyway, it took about an hour for me to fully realize that the movie that I am watching is a work of fiction, not a documentary. This, my friends, is a new and more accomplished model for a mockumentary or an intentionally fake documentary. Even though and perhaps because of the minimalism (compared to all the sensory overload that comes with even an Indiewood talking heads picture) of this movie, it was very easy to start caring about the characters on the screen. Some mildly shocking statements were made by the characters. Statements that revealed that even though the US and Japan may have cities and suburbs that look identical, the mainstream view of how the world operates, held by the populations of each country, are still very different. Perhaps the insides of nations, or world views, change at a different rate than the outside of nations, or business and retail complexes and housing developments. The movie came to an end with some relatively unique images. People clapped. Guy announced that the second show would be done using the digital copy of the movie, technical problem fixed. Some people left, some people stayed behind to ask Guy questions. Questions asked covered the following topics and more: production (Jem shot this movie over a 7-8 year period), budget(unknown), how the film was cast (Jem had seen Miho in a movie, met her in NYC, Mira was recommended by Guy & Ian "Fugazi, The Evens" MacKaye). I asked a complex question linking the movie with French architecture and the recent French riots, Guy agreed that the question was complex, but an audience member from Germany informed me that the French cities w/ the African & Muslim immigration population in the center suffered little or no damage, compared to those areas where the immigrant populations were less centralized or were on the margins of the city (or something like that, was not able to focus fully on the explation in that environment & moment). Can't get that kind of an exchange watching a DVD at home. Guy said several more interesting things about the project, which I will not elaborate on here because I do not want to ruin your live "Chain" experience ('cause I am sure all of you will go check this movie out when it plays near you). The next show was about to begin, we said goodbye and left. On the way back to the metro I talked with another person from the audience, a stranger, about the movie and related topics, and he told me about Kirkegard's theories about the effect of the environment on the aesthete and what it means.

Like Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise" or like experiencing a church basement Positive Force DC indie/punk rock show, "Chain" offers a technically simple (seemingly), accessible, but totally inspiring and dare I say positively transformative experience that made me want to go home and work on editing my movie and made me notice the ordinary surroundings that I walked through daily in a more romantic light (at least for three hours or so at full effect). Can't get that from your average recent Hollywood or Indiewood movie or DVD (I know 'cause I tried all last week to recharge my creative batteries with the help of those movies and failed). Those movies, like malls, allow you to escape but at the same time alienates with glitz and slickness. "Chain" uplifts by bringing you closer to the beauty and sadness of ordinary existence and the ordinary man-made environment but at the same time neutralizes the psychological threats brought on by that same existence/environment by showing you its mortality and humanness. Good job Jem, Miho and Mira. !Thanksalot! Guy & Hirshhorn for a lovely evening of art/entertainment.



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