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“I didn’t start out thinking about making a Fugazi movie; I started out just documenting the band, because that’s what I do,” says Jem Cohen, director of the new Fugazi documentary, Instrument.
The 117-minute film, which premiered last Friday at a benefit for the Washington Free Clinic at Sidwell Friends School, traces the first 10 years of the D.C. band’s career through a mix of live footage, interviews, and vérité# portraits of the band and its audience. (A soundtrack to the film is scheduled for release later this month.) “The nature of my filmmaking is based around documenting things without necessarily having a concrete plan for how the footage will be used. I just filmed Fugazi because they were friends of mine and it was a band that I had always loved. It would have been weird for me not to be documenting them.”
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The film depicts Fugazi’s tenuous relationship with the punk-rock masses, making the point through Heavy Metal Parking Lot-style interviews with fans. The band’s members candidly discuss what they believe are prevalent misunderstandings about its music and underlying politics, and then antagonize troublemakers in the crowd from onstage. In one highlight, guitarist Guy Picciotto singles out two “ice-cream-eating-motherfuckers” for causing trouble in the mosh pit.
For better or for worse, a lot of Instrument has the slipshod feel of a DIY bootleg, with none of the slick production trappings of an MTV-style video. The live segments capturerough edges and alla band weary of wondering how to present itself, punctuated by Cohen’s signature collage segments; it’s a film document for obsessive fans, made by an obsessive fan.
“Fugazi had never done a music videoit was something that they’d always completely avoided, from the get-go,” says Cohen, who has also worked in music video with bands like R.E.M. “Music has always been a big part of my life and my work in film. Much to my horror, the joining of the two in most people’s minds equals music video.” But it doesn’t have to be that way, he adds. Cohen and the band also were uncomfortable with a movie that purported to be the story of Fugazi.
“Is it any kind of definitive analysis or lasting monument?” Cohen asks himself. “The way to deal with that was just to say, ‘Well, I’ll just be there with my camera, and we’ll probably end up with something that by default is a pretty good record of what these guys are like and how they work.’”Colin Bane