The first feature length film from the documentary film team of Director Chad Friedrich and Paul Fehler, `Jandek on Corwood', drives itself on the principle laid out by one of its star commentators Dr. Demento; the mystery of this elusive recording artist is `more interesting than the music itself'. Following the musical legacy of the prolific and legendary (if non-commercial) recording artist calling himself Jandek, releasing his own records in short supply on the ambivalent sounding Corwood Industries imprint, the film seeks to trace a story out of his 33 albums recorded over the last quarter century. Featuring record reviewer and obscure recording fanatics alike giving their arm chair psychoanalysis of an artist that only a select few of them have ever even had correspondence with, the film captivatingly pulls us into the history of an artist that very few of us would ever have been exposed to in any other way. `Jandek on Corwood' is a touching tribute to the unaccredited and misunderstood artist that can never appear in his own film. None the less, Jandek (a name amalgamated from others by the artist) is the unseen star of this film. His music is the natural soundtrack that the film circles around. Jandek's music has been called childish, trance-like, detuned, 5-string blues, which becomes `frightening.because it's honest'. At first the atonal harmonies and free associated crooning of a alienating quality leave the audience disillusioned to the talent of the prolific musician. However, as the film progresses and differing sounds are experimented with, Jandek becomes an inspiring (if depressing) talent whose unappreciated gift becomes known only to us through his mysterious avoidance of publicity (itself a seemingly artistic choice or principal that the film is careful to take note of). Our only guides on the screen outside of the artists' music become the few who appreciate his work. Music reviewers, radio hosts (such as Dr. Demento), art professors, intrigued journalists, and the isolated fans of Jandek's work become sources of scattered information, appreciation, and speculation. When it comes to Jandek, we are told, you `have to talk about other people's interpretations' in the lieu of an absent artist. Many of these devoted fans initially projected an iconography upon Jandek that transitioned from `anti-social to social, even on a minimal scale' as his releases progressed. `There's art here that's not representational' one critic contends, while still others suggest that `The appeal.is that it's unappealing'. Indeed, our unseen star becomes the object of intrigue and speculation on our own parts after seeing and hearing the commentaries of those on screen. To help aid the viewer imagine Jandek's world speculated on by others and projected by his music, director Chad Friedrich goes out of his way to film beautiful and sometimes frightening imagery to match the music playing on the screen. His gorgeous photography of rural Texan property set to sunset and moonlight paint portrait ready pictures matching the isolation heard in some of Jandek's songs described as a `33 volume suicide note'. Other times we watch seat stiffening camera truck across a maddening green lit hotel room littered with rolls of 4-track tape and bloody sheets as we hear his maddest works. Some of the best shots make use of the only photographs of the artist that exist on the album covers, using the usual camera pan across photos and advertisements. Even still shots of old town America take a turn for the strange creepiness, now projected not only in Jandek's music but on film as well. While `Jandek on Corwood' itself follows many of the conventions of documentary filmmaking down to the traditional subject chapter organization, Friedrich and Fehler must have spent many late nights planning the sequence on the film. Following a basic introduction of Jandek's history (Reviews, the recluse, albums and covers, advertisements and the label), the team moves us heavily into the draw of the film found in the artist's mystery. We move forward with personal accounts, uncovering the mystery that many of the fans would rather to never know, and developing periods of Jandek's recordings. The climax is built towards the dark reenactment of the only recorded interview with Jandek, which answers so many of the questions the personalities speculate about earlier in the film. Fittingly the film ends with a legacy to carry on, with an in depth discussion of his iconography and the so-called `last songs' they anticipated, only to find Jandek release yet another recording with a `last song'. `Jandek on Corwood' is an enjoyable operetta to an artist we will never know or truly understand. Its stars on screen do their best to explain their treasured enigma that many of the viewers could have been made aware of if not for the film. Chad Friedrich and Paul Fehler make what every documentary film ought to be like in `Jandek on Corwood'; they capture our attention with something we would never have learned about elsewhere. Whether the reclusive artist is conceived by accident or design, `Jandek on Corwood' sheds light on a previously scarcely known artist, that many of us can't help but proudly hide after we add it to our record collections, and makes the movie as much of a must see as the records are a new must find for the audience.
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