Music Works

2005 | 00:56:47 | United States | English | B&W and Color | Stereo | 4:3 | Film

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: Body, City, Experimental Film, Landscape, Music, Music Video, Performance, Sound

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This compilation features 11 of Jem Cohen's collaborations with musicians. Made on 16mm, Super 8 and Video, the works include the music of R.E.M., Gil Shaham and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Void, Elliot Smith, Jonathan Richman, Miracle Legion and Olivier Messiaen.

Nightswimming

R.E.M. long-form video, "Full Moon Version", 1995, 8:15, 16mm/Super 8 After seeing my film, Drink Deep, which revolved around rural swimming holes, R.E.M. asked me to make the video for "Nightswimming." We wanted to make something erotic that broke away from the crass formulas of MTV--to offer different kinds of bodies, male and female, and to extend the liberating possibilities of "skinnydipping" to people altogether outside of the predictable demographic. Later, when the band was collecting pieces for a home video release, I asked if I could expand the project into more of an independent film, and to include a section that would retain the spirit of the piece, but without music. (It was always my intention to pull "music videos" as far away from being commercial promos as possible).

Country Feedback

R.E.M., 1991, 4:40, Super 8 One of R.E.M.’s most personal songs, and my favorite, which made the project particularly interesting and difficult. I saw it as a reflection on regret. I learned a lot about editing here: holding shots back, stripping things down, waiting...

E-Bow, The Letter

R.E.M. Director’s Cut, 1996, 5:22, 16mm/Video The song, written in the form of a letter, invokes travel and memory, apprehension and hope. The video was shot in L.A., New York, and Prague, but I wanted to blur the distinctions between the cities because regional distinctions are rapidly disappearing as corporate presence becomes increasingly dominant. Because of the nature of the job, I was unfortunately unable to entirely avoid lip-sync, but I made sure that all of the instruments were plugged in and I encouraged the band to play, read, and hang out as if they were in a normal practice room. Patti Smith's presence is critical in the video, as it has been in R.E.M.'s approach to music. We got on a tram with her in Prague and shot without permission. It occurred to me later that the reason I loved the shot of the two girls (who just happened to be in the Prague train station) was that they reminded me of her, as a New Jersey teenager en route to the big city, "following her star."

Winter Movement (Four Seasons)

Gil Shaham/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, 1996, 6:40, 16mm/Super 8 Classical music video for Deutsche Grammophon I was interested in showing classical musicians as human beings: intense and passionate. The Orpheus Orchestra, which functions as a leaderless collective, were a great subject. We filmed guest violinist Gil Shaham talking about Vivaldi’s work, and went out on the New York’s wintry streets asking random passersby to read Vivaldi’s poetic footnotes describing the music’s progression.

What Does Away Mean?

Public Service Announcement, 1989, 0:30, Super 8 Done as part of C-Hundred Film Corp’s "Direct Effect" PSA series. Music by D.C. punk/metal band, Void. Lucky Three Elliott Smith, 1997, 11:30, 16mm An independent film portrait of singer/songwriter Elliott Smith in Portland, Oregon in 1996, wherein he plays three songs. The songs were done live acoustic--in his old studio, a living room, and a bathroom (it was quiet in there). It's also a small portrait of Portland, Oregon. The songs are "Between the Bars", "Angeles", and a cover of "Thirteen" by Big Star. This is Elliott as I remember him, at his simple finest as musician.

I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar

Jonathan Richman, 1996, 3:00, 16mm Shot live at New York’s Knitting Factory. Jonathan Richman needed his first video. I didn’t want to do any lip-sync, and neither did he, so we shot a live performance in New York and I also stopped people on the street and had them dance to the song on a boombox. You're the One, Lee Miracle Legion, 1989, 4:00, Super 8/Video An early effort for a friend’s band that never quite got their due. Small town/Big town Super 8 and moments from a show at the old CBGBs.

Talk About the Passion

R.E.M., 1988, 3:40, Super 8/Video) My first (non) music video, with some images borrowed from This Is a History of New York. (I was asked to make it from that work, but chose to shoot some additional material specifically for the video). Shooting on an abandoned elevated rail structure above the city, I encountered a man who had set up his home in the shadow of a docked battleship. It concerns homelessness and military expenditure, counting and accountability. Knowing it would be broadcast, I made an attempt (perhaps naïve) to foreground the political.

Belong

R.E.M., 1992, 5:00, Super 8/Video The simplest convergence of landscape (the train trip out of New York through the Jersey Meadowlands) with live, non-sync concert footage; plus fragments of Super 8 aerials I shot from a small plane in Florida. The intro refers to events in Eastern Europe and China’s Tiananmen Square. In 2005, shooting on the same train line through the same windows, I would have my film confiscated and turned over to the FBI. The once innocent bridges, parking lots, and abandoned fields were now “infrastructure” and a supposed national security concern.

Vocalise

Olivier Messiaen, 1995, 5:20, 16mm/Super 8 Chung/Bastille Opera Orchestra I was invited by Deutsche Grammophon to make another classical video. Impressions of Messiaen’s bird and color obsessions, in another bid to bring classical music into the everyday world PLEASE NOTE: Lucky Three featuring Elliot Smith, is available as a separate title.