On Jandek: Jandek on Corwood

On Jandek: Jandek on Corwood

Documentaries focusing on figures in music usually fall into one of two categories: awe inspiring or a drain to watch. The pacing in a film largely comprised of people talking about a musician while sitting in an office, on a couch or standing around at a record store doesn’t always translate into good viewing. Of course, there still might be some interesting knowledge dispensed, but that info can very easily be glazed over if it’s all rendered in boring terms.

Jandek on Corwood, though, didn’t really ever have a fighting chance to come off as all the interesting a view – as opposed to being filled with insights. Jandek, a reclusive musician who releases albums by running a record label out of a PO Box, doesn’t really grant interviews or make public appearances, rendering his assistance in the completion of the film null.

Since there’s no archival footage to work from – or even photos of Jandek apart from what appears on the covers of his albums – the filmmaker behind Jandek on Corwood, Chad Freidrichs, was necessitated to figure out a way to fill up time so that the film didn’t come off as a news snippet. He does that in a few ways, none of which make the film all that interesting to watch.

Since it’s film, a medium that lends itself to artsy indulgences, Freidrichs includes some passages where Jandek’s music is accompanied by floating album covers or shots of sparse landscapes and other odd scenes. It’s all spooky and bizarre, but that’s thanks to the music, not the schlock that gets tossed in front of the camera lens.

The preponderance of talking heads, however, can’t really be blamed on the film’s creator. That’s just how movies like these are made. Including everyone from Calvin Johnson to some deejay no one’s every heard of as well as rock critic Richie Unterberger makes the film feel erratic, though. There’s such a huge number of people all saying roughly the same thing – and in some cases repeating ideas at the behest of the filmmaker – as to render the entire thing akin to a day long, academic seminar on some artist.

Discussing Jandek as an art project is probably the most useful thing to come out of the entirety of the film. Understanding each album and its cover as a single piece of the musician’s disparate periods works towards a general understanding of subject. That point of view is debated a bit with the out come being something like, ‘It might all be an infinite jest on the part of some normal business man.’ And it might very well be. But who knows?

Regardless, the examination of a general, physical aesthetic as well as musical proclivities are able to bolster the 88 minute run time. But towards the second half of the feature, it begins to drag. And even with the inclusion of portions of Jandek’s lone taped interview coming at the end, the final minutes of Jandek on Corwood couldn’t have come soon enough.