Jandek on Corwood
by Hazel Dawn Dumpert

Originally Published February 12, 2004

Since 1978, the insistently obscure Houston musician Jandek has been self-releasing albums at a steady clip through a shadowy P.O.-box entity called Corwood Industries. Familiarity with, and worship of, the mysterious figure's melancholy vocals set to spare, deceptively crude instrumentation has become a point of pride among music geeks of a brainier stripe, but filmmaker Chad Friedrichs' portrait of the musician and his cult of personality, Jandek on Corwood, is no mere ode. There are elements of that, certainly, as outstandingly nerdy - and, admittedly, thoughtful - journalists, DJs and collectors hold forth on Jandek's distinctive sound, and/or speculate rampantly about his life and mental health. But as Friedrichs deftly blends these talking heads with pointed, atmospheric imagery (an amusement-park ride set against a huge full moon or a misty winter creek), with album covers, reviews and photos and, of course, excerpts from Jandek records, a smart, cohesive film emerges. In the end, Friedrichs proves less interested in the more mundane question of who Jandek really is than in how the artist has managed to maintain his singular mystique. As one expert notes, and as Jandek on Corwood cleverly confirms, by withholding his own persona from fans, Jandek has created a far more intriguing, far more compelling image.

Hazel Dawn Dumpert