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Jon Jost Talks: Why Oregon?

December 30th, 2012 by Anne Richardson · 1 Comment · Interviews

I remember him being very laid back, wearing a straw hat, almost disappointed that so few of us chose to challenge his work on any meaningful level. Edward Bivens, after hearing Jon Jost speak at Facets in Chicago in 2008

When MOMA gave Jon Jost a complete retrospective in 1991, screening 20 years worth of his films, they had little way of knowing that the distinguished independent filmmaker was only mid-career. Jost had one Oregon film, Speaking Directly, in that retrospective. Now he has five.

The Clinton Street Theater’s Jon Jost Retrospective, which includes three of those Oregon films, runs Jan. 14-18.

Full schedule here.

Anne Richardson: You started your first film in Oregon in the early 1970’s – I’m wondering if you experienced it as a gulag of isolation, or a community of like minded souls. Did you know other filmmakers?
Jon Jost: I did meet a few Oregon filmmakers. Ron Finne was an acquaintance who became over time a good friend; and there was someone, name forgotten, who loaned me use of his Aaton for some sync sound shots there.  Otherwise I was 40 expensive miles from Eugene and 12 from Cottage Grove, so I didn’t meet people, film world or otherwise.
Anne Richardson: Was there a place for you to see new work/independent film/art house films?
Jon Jost: There was a cinema on a 2nd floor in Eugene (Katherine Wilson tells us this was Cinema 7) where I did a screening or two of shorts, and where I returned some years later to show a few long films.  There was also a university film society. In 1971-2 or so, I booked some screenings and accompanied Godard/Gorin on a tour of their screenings of Tout Va Bien in Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and Eugene.  ( Ed. note: this was an email interview, which is how this conversation escaped getting instantly derailed onto the “Tell me about driving around Oregon and Washington with Jean Luc Godard!” line of questioning. When I have a chance to speak with Jost in person, I’ll ask just that.) Elayne and I drove them around.  So I guess I knew of the people who ran those those places. NWFC had started, and I knew Bill Foster.
Anne Richardson:  Its a big country – why Oregon? What keeps you coming back?
Jon Jost: I guess I like it here.  If I were going to settle down (!) in an American city, Portland would be my choice, though I am inclined soon to want to be in the country. Something in my soul wants the countryside. Part of the reason for coming back is friends, of course.
Anne Richardson:  It seems to me your filmmaking maintains an angry dialogue with Hollywood filmmaking.
Jon Jost: Perhaps I once had a angry relationship with our film industry.  I no longer do – I simply have almost no relationship with it.  It has one sole purpose – Hollywood I mean – and that is to make money.  This constraint mangles everything it does, forcing the filmmakers (for most of whom it is no problem since it is their “taste” anyway) into a narrow, largely literary/theatrical mode which is utterly predictable even when it imagines itself not to be . An example of supposed artiness would be Cloud Atlas which I found utterly dreadful.  I haven’t seen any of the other supposedly adventurous quasi-Hollywood makers, like Paul Thomas Andersen, or the most recent Terrence Malick.  I am just not interested in that kind of cinema.
Anne Richardson: What is your own taste when you go to the movies?
Jon Jost: Basically I want to see something I have never seen before, not a re-run of something I have seen.  In the avant garde world, having gone to a number of fests in the last, say, 10 years, what I see mostly is academic regurgitations of old 60’s-70’s avant garde (or earlier) done for the 100th time as taught by teachers.  They can teach it, but it should be called derriere garde. Once in a rare while I see something that is original and a genuine use of the media (film or electronic).  In general, I very seldom go to movies, I never watch television,  and I don’t look at things on my computer either, with rare exceptions when I feel a moral obligation to look at something someone sent me. If it is anywhere near conventional format, it gets turned off in a few minutes.  One over-the-shoulder shot and I am finished.
Anne Richardson: What are you working on now?
Jon Jost: I just finished a new film, Coming to Terms, in Butte Montana (2nd one for me there) and I’m in process of shooting a final essay film about America, to be titled Plain Songs, which will probably be 10 or more hours long, a string of separate associated films.
Anne Richardson: Thank you, Jon!
More Jost info can be found at:

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Katherine Wilson // Jan 3, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    I love it that Jon remembered our “Art House” on the 2nd floor of the Atrium, even if he didn’t remember it’s name (Cinema 7) because I remember his films, but not his name. Thanks again Anne for an amazing website that never fails to surprize me in it’s depth and width and wonder. And you are an Oregon Treasure for creating it and keeping it’s momentum going in ever evolving style.

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