Michael Wenzer

Listening In: Spoon Jackson

Three Poems by Spoon Jackson is a fourteen minute missive by Swedish director Michael Wenzer. We begin by listening in, the voices on the soundtrack have already been recorded, not by the filmmaker, he comes later, but by the California State Correctional Facility where Spoon Jackson is incarcerated. The caller is already implicated, somehow guilty (“Do you accept the call…”) told and told again that the call will be recorded, listed and filed. Jackson has been serving a life sentence since 1977, and speaks in the timed calls permitted to him, his language personal and compressed. It’s poetry he’s after, some way to conjure the why of those long years ago, the world he can’t see anymore, the bodiless voices he returns to on the phone.

He names himself a political prisoner, part of California’s second largest business, the incarceration industry, which has become a key part of globalization’s job outsourcing. To the extent that the US has embraced globalization, the hollowed-out manufacturing sector has produced an impoverished underclass which can be found in the ghettos of dozens of American cities. They are invisible, like Spoon, whose image is never married to his sound, his body part of an offscreen space. It is only his voice, temporarily free to shoot through the wires, that can find its way outside.

He is not the father I hated when I saw him
out with girls my age
leaving mother at home

The pictures have a beat feel, wandering through lonely Americas with a super-8 camera searching empty highways and deserts. Nothing, there’s nothing here. Lo-fi dreams in a world that hasn’t started yet. This country is a blank, waiting to be written, or spoken over, imprisoned by its own best intentions but unable to find the off ramp, the switch, that will turn all this around. The desert, the wandering and years of exile, all this is familiar from Exodus, but where is the other place, the promised destination? Or is hope another luxury Spoon can’t keep up the payments on?

Director Michael Wenzer puts it this way: “After corresponding with Spoon for some time, in spring 2000 I set some of his poems to music. Since then our relationship has deepened and the project now includes a planned documentary on Spoon’s poetry, life, trial and tribulations. I hope this project can in some way publicize Spoon’s case so that he will be able to gain a retrial. I also want to give Spoon’s poetry the wider audience it justly deserves. Since this project has become a very rich process, there are several works going on. Apart from the documentary film, a book and a soundtrack are on the way.”

The final title is the punchline, the closer, the interactive part of the movie: www.spoonjackson.com

Originally published in: Dok Revue, a newspaper published by Jihlava International Documentary Festival, 2004.