It is often said that a city can have many faces. And that it all depends on where one is at the time, downtown or on the periphery, caught in heavy traffic or visiting a park, high above the rooftops or perhaps below the ground. The image of any city is composed of countless individual images, of accidental snapshots, preconceived perspectives and unwelcome irritations.
In A Tale of Two Cities, Jem Cohen, who for more than twenty years has been building a steadily growing archive of various city views, street scenes and portraits, has connected images from his hometown of New York and of Vienna: these pictures of the two cities, which at first glance do not construct a context, create a literally new perspective. Increasingly, the obvious and well-known differences in the architecture and streets are neutralized; the locations – an empty stairwell here, a busy street there – exchange shape and quality.
The more similar the mostly nocturnal images become – for a moment the long history of the two cities becomes one that they share in common – the more urgently the white, lifeless faces irritate us. Filmed at Vienna University’s Anatomical Institute, the dead eyes of Vienna stare back, as silent witnesses, at the viewer. —viennale.at
Jem Alan Cohen (born 1962) is an award-winning New York City-based filmmaker known for his observational portraits of urban landscapes, blending of media formats (16mm, Super 8, video) and collaborations with music artists.
Cohen was born in Kabul, Afghanistan where his father was working for the U.S. Agency for Information and Development. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1984, with a concentration on painting and photography. Jem never attended a film school.
Cohen found the mainstream Hollywood film industry incompatible with his sociopolitical and artistic views. By applying the DIY ethos of Punk Rock into his filmmaking approach, he crafted a distinct style in his films through various cheap formats of Super 8mm, 16mm, and video. In an interview with The Lamp, Cohen said, “…it’s very inspiring to me, to see people kind of take something outside of the industry, outside of the music industry, and it gave me something of a template to work in film outside of… read more