Someone recently recommended I revisit Jem Cohen’s documentary on FugaziInstrument. Released by Dischord Records on VHS in 1999, the film documents the band, its followers and also traces Cohen’s personal relationship with Ian MacKaye back to the 1970s DC, where the two met in high school. Shot between 1987 through 1998 on super 8, 16mm and video; the film is composed mainly of live concert footage, interviews with the band members, practices, tours and Fugazi’s studio sessions for the recording of their 1995 album, Red Medicine. The film also includes portraits of fans as well as interviews with them at various Fugazi shows around the United States throughout those years.
When asked what the goal was in making Instrument, Cohen responded:
I did feel that there were a lot of people that either didn’t have access to the band or had something of a misconception of what they were like. I wanted to address those issues to some degree, but what I really wanted to do was just capture music-making and try to make something that felt, visually, like music, and something where the music was inextricably tied in with the moving pictures.
Instrument’s Official Press Release:
“A collaboration between filmmaker Jem Cohen and the Washington DC band, the project covers the ten-year period from the band’s inception in 1987. Far from a traditional documentary, the project is a musical document: a portrait of musicians at work. Says Cohen: “With no desire on my part or the band’s to create a factual career survey or any kind of promotional vehicle, the project presented an opportunity to cut things loose. Mixing sync-sound 16mm, Super-8, video, and a wide range of archival formats, the piece includes concert footage, studio sessions, practice, touring, interviews and portraits of audience members from around the country. Piecing it together over the course of about 5 years, I thought of bringing “dub” to documentary — of a project where unadulterated real-time performances, abstract, rough-hewn Super 8 collages and archival artifacts would collide and conjoin in a way that honestly represented musical experience. The project was edited with band members and extensively uses soundtrack elements provided by Fugazi specifically for the film.”