Thursday, October 7, 2010

Jon Jost, Bell Diamond, again

I found a review of Bell Diamond on the New York Times website.

From the review by Vincent Canby:

...''Bell Diamond,'' the newest film by Jon Jost, described by the New Directors/New Films festival program notes as ''probably this country's most unseen film maker,'' which is possible, though even that sounds like hyperbole. The notes also praise the film's ''democratic respect for the extraordinariness of the ordinary'' and calls it ''the most public and touching work of a profoundly political film maker.''

I report these appraisals as if I had a gun pointed at my head. Movies as earnestly unconventional and aggressively boring as Jon Jost's ''Bell Diamond'' put the members of the audience on the defensive. It's supposed to be boring, and we're supposed to see beyond the boredom to the truth beyond. I can't, possibly because it's all too accessible.

I'm---well, I'm not glad, but I feel like less of a jerk knowing that Vincent Canby was bored, too.

I have liked Jost's other movies, especially Sure Fire. I suspect that if I saw Bell Diamond again, my expectations and my reaction would be different.

The thing I've never understood is film students. I've tried to discuss Jost's work with some of them. This was back in the days before digital video. Making a movie for very little money was more of a novelty back then.

But none of them were interested. I don't know how many I talked to, and maybe I shouldn't extrapolate, but they all seemed to want to be directors, but only if they could do it in Hollywood.

It made me wonder what they really wanted.

The young fellows of the French New Wave baffled Americans with their admiration for Hollywood B movies. I assumed, as others have, that they wanted to make movies themselves and realized that, to do so, they were going to have to work on very small budgets. They looked to low budget movies for inspiration.

But these film students didn't have the slightest interest. Or at least no interest in talking to me about it. For them it was all or nothing. They would be Steven Spielberg or nothing. And I don't mean an early, younger, less successful Steven Spielberg. They wanted to be full-blown, middle-aged Steven Spielbergs.

It seems like a good idea. You go to the university, you study to be a director and you presumably do some stuff after that in hopes of being a director. It would be nice to have something to show for it even if it's a very, very low budget feature. Just something more than a student film.

At that time, there was a wave of very creative film students at the University of Oregon. It was one of them who arranged for Jon Jost's movies to be shown there.

They also started weekly showings of student films which was interesting. In those days, they were working mainly in Super 8. The films were transferred to video and shown on a video projector.

There were a few that were pretty good. One was about a young fellow who carried a battery powered portable TV with him everywhere. He's completely consumed with television. I just remember one line from it:

"I met a woman. A good, television woman."

The kid who starred in it used a Super 8 sound camera and made a long short film, a narrative film, about the alcoholism and drug addiction. It was pretty good. It was sponsored in part by the drug and alcoholism treatment center where I worked. I can't remember the kid's name. I know he moved to San Francisco after that, but I don't know what became of him.

He called for people to help work on that movie. I was going to volunteer, but I chickened out. I wouldn't have been much help to him anyway.


jon jost said...

Ah, good old Vincent Canby. He also hated All the Vermeers in New York and anything else of mine he saw. On the other hand, like any other film of mine or anyone else's, there were some who loved it, and thought it a work of genius, etc. etc. It cost $25,000 back in 1987, the lab totally raped the negative (processor went down while the whole film was in it, so some, even on the same roll of film, was over developed, some under; then on 2nd print they ran the 3rd reel misaligned on printer machine and poked little sprocket nubs through the entire reel. Thanks...).
So maybe you will not find it boring if you should see it again. But instead see, say, Homecoming (cost under $500, in DV) or Over Here (ditto) or La Lunga Ombra ($50 - the modest name Italian actresses paid for my food).
jon jost

Waldo Scott said...

I'll watch those. But I've still got to see Bell Diamond again. It's haunted me for twenty years.

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