What’s the Matter with Kansas? Documentary

Joe Winston and Laura Cohen. Photograph: Jim Newberry
Joe Winston and Laura Cohen. Photograph: Jim Newberry


Picturedujour.com exclusive! Filmmakers Joe Winston and Laura Cohen recently completed work on a documentary film called “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” a sequel of sorts to Thomas Frank’s bestselling book of the same name. I photographed the couple (they’re married) at my studio, and planned to interview both of them here as well. Due to logistics involving their one-year-old son Milo, I ended up interviewing Joe in person, and Laura via email.

Jim Newberry: Tell me a little about your backgrounds in filmmaking.

Laura Cohen: I have been working in film and television for over ten years. Recently, I wrapped up production on the TV series “American Greed” for CNBC and “9/11’s Deadly Dust” on A&E for Kurtis Productions. In 2005, I finished research for the PBS documentary “The Power of Choice: The Life and Ideas of Milton Friedman.”

Joe Winston: Sure, let’s see…I didn’t go to film school or anything like that but when I got out of college my first interesting project was a public access show called “This Week In Joe’s Basement” which lasted four years and sixty episodes on Chicago Public Access…it was a great forum to do all sorts of things…But the strongest material that came out of it was usually the documentary material…We did a show called Sledgehammer Diplomacy where we asked black people, what do you think of white people, and white people, what do you think of black people, and got answers that hold up 18 years later, they could have been shot yesterday. Which is kind of a sad commentary on the state of the world…But we got really interesting very truthful answers from total strangers. Every now and then there was gold to be mined that way. After I got done with the cable access series I wanted to do longer more substantial projects…I did a could of movies in the mid-90s on the Burning Man Festival…

JN: How did this project come about?

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Monks documentary

Monks–The Transatlantic Feedback,” will be showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center from Friday until Tuesday (12/26 to 12/30). Thirty years before alternative became a retarded marketing buzzword; decades before mopey indie rock became the anthem of Jetta commercials;  years ahead of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols and Sonic Youth;  there was the Monks: a gang of American GIs who shaved their heads like monks and devised their own abrasive, rhythmic, anti-pop sound, making ingenious use of banjo, electric organ, and unhinged vocals with lyrics like:

Well I hate you baby with a passion, yeah, you know I do
(But call me!)
Oh, you know my hate’s everlasting baby yeah, yeah, yeah
(But call me!)

Here’s a picture of front-Monk Gary Burger performing with the Goblins (yes, that masked longhair is none other than The Phantom Creeper) in 2006.

Gary Burger of the Monks performing with the Goblins
Gary Burger of the Monks performing with the Goblins (The Phantom Creeper in background)

Update: Do you know what GI stands for–as in GI Joe? Galvanized iron, according to many Internet sources. Anyone out there have a real source for that?