These two rather strange works by Jem Cohen, shot on film and shown on video, focus on normally neglected aspects of cities. We see some monuments but more often the side of a curb, some graffiti on a wall, or a tilted view of a seemingly random street. Cohen dedicates Lost Book Found (1996) to Walter Benjamin, who wrote on the anonymous fabric of large cities, and Ben Katchor, whose Julius Knipl comic strip's surreal explorations of New York's underside are echoed in Cohen's story. The video begins when the narrator finds an abandoned journal full of enigmatic ledger entries. We hear descriptions of the book on the sound track ("Potential versus kinetic energy was written with lists of...liquor stores") and see related images (such as a montage of liquor stores) that make it clear that the book is a tour guide, providing the narrator with a bizarre taxonomy of New York's less-celebrated sights. In Buried in Light (1994) Cohen travels with a hand-held camera through newly liberated Eastern Europe, discovering in the ready embrace of commercialism--there's a passage on a huge cigarette factory under construction--the irony he expresses in his title. Though his Holocaust references and use of archival footage are a bit trite--finding the Nazi past in scenes of present-day Europe is by now a familiar move--many other sections have some of the poetry of the random that makes Lost Book Found so striking. Shots of wall graffiti are followed by shots of children, all introduced by the title "Secret Society," and one feels that these cities have secret, indecipherable subtexts lurking in the shadows of buildings or the markings on a wall. Kino-Eye Cinema at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division, Friday, October 4, 8:00, 384-5533.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Buried in Light film still.