Jon Jost Movies
Maverick experimental filmmaker Jon Jost
was among the most innovative and influential independent directors in contemporary cinema; dubbed "the American Godard" by critics, his singular creative approach -- equal parts elliptical narrative sensibility, ravishing visual style, and potent socio-political commentary -- emerged as one of the most unique and provocative voices of its time. Born in Chicago, Jost was the product of a military upbringing, and was raised in areas of the globe ranging from Kansas to Japan to Germany. Expelled from college in 1963, he made his first 16mm short subjects a short time later; a self-taught filmmaker, he not only wrote and directed all of his subsequent feature work, but also served as his own photographer and editor.
In 1965, Jost was sentenced to serve over two years in prison for charges of dodging the draft; upon his release he immersed himself in political activism, co-founding the Chicago arm of the leftist film production and distribution group Newsreel. He made his first feature-length film, Speaking Directly: Some American Notes,
in 1974; shot on a budget of just 2,500 dollars, it was a fiercely political essay touching on points spanning from Jost's interpersonal relationships to the United States' relationship with the rest of the world, most specifically Vietnam. Equally intriguing was the picture's visual range, which varied from extended takes to baroque camera angles to even animated sequences. Long takes were again the hallmark of 1977's Last Chants for a Slow Dance, a portrait of a killer's drive through Montana starring Tom Blair, a familiar face in much of Jost's later work.
Jost's next effort, 1978's Chameleon,
offered an atypically conventional narrative concerning the exploits of a L.A. cocaine dealer; still, the film was a critical success, winning "best of the festival" honors at the U.S. Film Festival. In 1981, he returned with Stagefright,
a highly experimental work produced for West German television; two years later, Jost helmed Slow Moves,
an improvisational piece shot in just under four days starring actors who'd never met prior to filming. Angel City,
a surreal riff on the detective genre, followed in 1984; Jost then fell silent until 1987, resurfacing with Bell Diamond,
another improvisational drama filmed in Butte, MT, with local actors. A year later, he released the essay Uncommon Senses
(aka Plain Talk & Common Sense
), a kind of Reagan-era update to Speaking Directly
filmed during a cross-country journey.
Also in 1988, Jost delivered Rembrandt Laughing,
an abstract comedy/drama set in San Francisco exploring the day-to-day lives of a group of friends; 1990's sublime All the Vermeers in New York
is its companion piece, a study of similar themes and ideas set on the opposite side of the continent. Nestled between the two films was 1990's Sure Fire,
a disturbing and deeply personal work ironically dedicated to the director's own father. In 1991, Jost was the subject of a complete retrospective held at the Museum of Modern Art; other honors included being named the first recipient of the John Cassavetes Award for lifetime achievement handed out at the Independent Spirit Awards. After two more films -- The Bed You Sleep In
and the vicious road movie Frameup, both from 1993 -- Jost relocated to Europe to live and work. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
American filmmaker Jon Jost enjoys tweaking the noses of those who worship at the altar of conventionalism. He is extremely popular with the art-house crowd, thanks to his reliance upon improvised dialogue and fragmented continuities. Made for $35000, Chameleon dissects the world of drug trafficking; the central character, a Los Angeles dope pusher, is played by Bob Glaudini. Every so often, Glaudini pauses long enough to elucidate his thoughts for the benefit of the audience (the actor is given co-writing credit). Highly recommended for Jon Jost's admirers, Chameleon may leave others wondering what all the shouting's about. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
- Bob Glaudini, Ellen Blake, (more)
Jon Jost's first narrative feature is a psychological portrait of a jobless drifter named Tom (Tom Blair), wandering across Montana on a halfhearted search for work. A brief visit to his family early on in the film sketches in the details of his troubled marriage, and suggests that his travels are really nothing more than a self-justifying flight from responsibility. As his journey goes on, it becomes apparent that he's more interested in shooting the breeze with strangers in coffee shops and picking up women in bars than he is in actually finding a job to support his family. Tom's mixture of charm and obnoxiousness hints that he may be something other than a run-of-the-mill absentee husband, and the film's final moments provide shocking confirmation. ~ Tom Vick, Rovi
Independent filmmaker Jon Jost isn't about to make a film merely for "the masses". Rife with discordant narrative devices and bizarre improvisational dialogue, Jost's projects irritate as many viewers as they enthrall. Even when utilizing a "mainstream" genre, the director enjoys deviating from audience expectations. Angel City is a hallucinatory takeoff of old-time detective thrillers. The protagonist (Bob Glaudini) isn't looking for a missing husband or a murderer; instead, he's combing the Hollywood hills in search of visual truth. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Jon Jost's debut film is an autobiographical documentary made while he was living in self-imposed poverty in a one-room cabin in Montana without running water or electricity, and edited by hand on a set of rewinds. It covers subjects ranging from Jost's daily life, political convictions, and personal relationships, to the war in Vietnam and the process of filmmaking itself. In its emphasis on self-reliance, radical politics, and simple living, it resembles a Henry David Thoreau essay committed to film (Jost makes the comparison himself in his narration). Speaking Directly is a particularly apt title, because what comes across most strongly in the film is Jost's brutal frankness about himself and others. Early on he refers to his own father as a war criminal, and in several interviews with friends, neighbors, and even his live-in lover and her child, he creates uncomfortable moments by describing his mixed feelings about them with a bluntness that borders on cruelty. ~ Tom Vick, Rovi