Magazine article The Nation

Speaking Directly: Some American Notes

Magazine article The Nation

Speaking Directly: Some American Notes

Article excerpt

Speaking Directly.- Some American Notes (1973) was Jost's first feature-length

film and still excites debate. Made on a shoestring budget-Jost tells you the exact cost during one sequence, and also shows you all the equipment used the film is a two-hour attempt to discover links between the artist's quasiThoreauvian life in Montana and the war in Vietnam. For the record: Jost, the son of a career Army officer, spent two years in jail for draft resistance.) Continually poised between self-questioning and self-justification, the film is bound to raise questions about bad faith-especially given Jost's choice of a words-of-one-syllable approach.

Like many artworks from that era-from Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions to Sol LeWitt's sculptures-Speaking Directly tried to re-imagine everything from the ground up. An unkind critic could call it faux naif; a more sympathetic viewer, like me, might say the film was so zealous to make the world new again that it was willing to risk looking banal, stupid, embarrassing. Certainly the most riveting moments are those in which Jost, having shown pictures of faraway people who affect his life (Nixon, Kissinger), interviews the people he actually knows. One by one, they reveal uneasiness, perplexity, doubt and anger with the democratic tyrant behind the camera. These scenes are about as close to the bone as a man can slice himself, and I can't help but admire Jost for having filmed them.

In recent years, Jost has moved away from essays to narratives, the best of which so far is probably Rembrandt Laughing (1988). …

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