Image credit: Jem Cohen, year unknown. From: This Long Century
I watched a selection of films by Brooklyn-based film artist Jem Cohen on Monday night. As part of DIM Cinema curated by Amy Kazymerchyk, the films selected included Lost Book Found (1996), which evoked Walter Benjamin in spirit and in action and reminded me of a curiosity for the city landscape that I haven’t felt or seen in sometime.
Cohen’s imagery sparks off an insatiable appetite for the city he inhabits, absorbing the passing congregation of the gritty and the light. There is no difference between the sacred and the profane, not in a Cohen film, and his awe of the city’s tics and vibrations captured a city that wasn’t afraid of its own underbelly.
The city in Cohen’s films is a city that no longer exists. His portrait of Patti Smith, Long For The City (2008), could read as a self-portrait of Cohen. Public congregations are a rare sight today, seen mostly in my mind as part of sanctioned and quartered off outdoor festivals, or lately, through mass protests notably within Canada through the streets of Montreal. Cohen’s latest film is a series of observations taken during Occupy Wall Street’s stance in Liberty/Zuccotti Park. That work carried a different tone, one that was not fueled by curiosity, but of urgency.
Public filming has slid into a rare privilege as laws have taken away the rights (and footage) of many who are trying to engage with their surroundings. There is a decline in public space to gather; there is also a decline in the right to participate, let alone document, the experience of a public space. As a result, there will be a decline in voices such as Jem Cohen and the City as we know it will be a structure antagonistic to our freedom.