Flirting with the objective nature of video, but with no narration or story, Jost's London Brief is much more of a document of London than a documentary. Jost simply captured images and events in and around London -- from commuters to shops to video games to art galleries -- and lets the ideas rise out of the juxtapositions, or out of the images themselves. Needless to say, this is not a movie for people who feel adventurous when they go to the latest Miramax release. Instead, it's for people interested in one possible future of this relatively new medium, as well as for those who like "art cinema."
Knowing it can be difficult to accurately describe a non-narrative movie like this, I e-mailed Jon Jost in Rome and asked him what he thought of my reading. He responded, "For me there's not much to 'read' in London Brief. It's more of an impressionist/expressionist look at the state of the civilization." For example, he went on to describe the sequence where the kid is battling dinosaurs in a video game, which cuts to a similar scene of mythological battles from ancient artworks, in a sequence he described as "a sort of fighting our own inner demons, one via 'high' art, the other via 'low.'" Personally, I cared less about these larger themes than about the texture and rhythm of the movie itself -- particularly in the shots of people slowly being rocked by a train, shots that were held for minutes at a time.
Jost made a name for himself (at least in film circles) for decades of work as an independent filmmaker. Then, in the spring of 1996, he experimented with digital video (DV) and never went back to film. With DV, he can be truly independent, never having to worry about other people mucking up his work in film labs, or collaborating with anyone he doesn't want to. I asked him what, if anything, he misses about film: "Nothing. I hope I never work in film again. For a few things I would, if it were hassle-free, but it never is, so...." At this point his sarcasm kicked in. "What I really miss is having to think about, talk to, deal with the innumerable assholes who surround the glamorously expensive world of film, whose sole interest -- despite all their 'creative' and 'art' talk -- is MONEY, and maybe the SEX and FAME that movie biz MONEY will perhaps buy."
I asked him what he liked about DV: "Its plasticity, beauty, manipulability, gorgeousness -- all available for virtually nada." He acknowledged that in the wrong hands, digital video could be a disaster, a means for people to make either boring crap or bad MTV advertisements, but the positive side is that it will end up in the hands of some people who actually want to try and create art.
As for London Brief, well, knowing that Jost has been in the business a long time, I assumed he got a grant to do the piece. I assumed wrong. "I didn't intend to make London Brief. I was basically screwing around, having fun. I don't make any money doing what I do. Nobody will hire me to make anything, producers avoid me like the plague. Everything I do is paid for by me. Nobody would ever pay to have London Brief made (I don't think), and so far nobody has bought it, though it's had plenty of festival play. Ironically, it is apparently way too 'arty' for ARTE -- the arty TV over here. Or Channel 4 in the U.K. Or anybody who buys for TV."
Instead of scrambling for work, he lives off the (dwindling) cash from previously sold films, and off his wife (a 33-year-old Portuguese filmmaker), while he helps raise their child, paints, and experiments with DV. Not a bad life for a 56-year-old expatriate.