Jim Jennings

Prague Winter (2006) 16mm, b/w, 8 min

Genre: Experimental

Jennings is best known for his portraits of New York City street life, and with good reason; his patient eye and deft camera-stylo approach represent one of the key contributions to the "city symphony" genre since its heyday in the 1940s. Jennings, along with Ernie Gehr and Ken Jacobs, is one of the preeminent urban film-poets. He does regularly stray beyond this mien, sometimes exploring the domestic interior (as in his 2004 masterpiece Close Quarters) but also packing up the Bolex and filming urban doings abroad. These films are inevitably compared to the Manhattan works, and it's often difficult not to register them as films of overwhelming discovery or even dislocation. Jennings' intimate knowledge of New York is precisely what allows him to continually renew his vision, staking out unconventional ways of looking at the deeply familiar. On the other hand, his Venice film, 2001's Impossible Love, struck me as customarily lovely but a tad awkward, as though Jennings is using the film to organize unexpected sensations but without the templates that can provide order and shape to such immediacy. (Think of it as jazz improv, with vs. without a chart.) So part of what's so surprising about Prague Winter is that it feels so lived in, so thoroughly grounded. It's not so much that Jennings makes Prague look like Manhattan (although there are commonalities in terms of architecture and the gaps of light between it). But the film restricts itself to sights on and around the tram, which provides an uncharacteristic linearity to the film. What's more, Jennings' status as a guest observer seems to bring out a humanism in his work, as he fixates on the elderly and, implicitly, the history to which they've been subjected. The post-Communist malaise hardens into grim acceptance, and this, along with the physical traces of Prague's history as manifested in the built environment, is what fascinates Jennings here. His camera is tender and unobtrusive, as you would expect from a filmmaker of his sensitivity. But I did come away feeling like this was the first of Jennings' films that kind of explained itself very clearly on first pass, rather like an impressionistic documentary.

16mm Rental: $30.00

back to homepage