"Eisenstein said the power of film was to be found between shots. Peter Kubelka seeks it between film frames. I want to get between the eyes, contest the separate halves of the brain. A whole new play of appearances is possible here." – K.J.
One of the founders of the American avant-garde cinema, Ken Jacobs (b. 1933) has been working ceaselessly and boundlessly in film, video and moving image performance for over fifty years. Jacobs began working in a mode of guerilla cinema, shooting anarchic and exuberant – yet also politically astute – theatrics in the streets of his native New York in the early 1950s, including a number of prescient and Beat infused works – Little Stabs at Happiness, the shorts included in The Whirled – made with a very young Jack Smith.
Fascinated with early cinema and experimental film from a young age, Jacobs gradually turned to found footage as a dominant inspiration, a breakthrough marked by his seminal deconstruction of cinematic narrative and illusionism Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son (1969), which famously manipulates and expands a 1905 film of the same name to create a breathless and revelatory work of pure cinema. Early “primitive” cinema, and increasingly, nineteenth century photography, has remained a touchstone in Jacobs’ work and a principal tool to launch an extended critique of the aesthetic, ideological and technological limits defining film and the cinematic apparatus itself. In the 1970s Jacobs took this critique to another level, defining what he termed “paracinema,” a radical mode of moving image performance that included his Nervous System Performances, transformative film experiences that use two simultaneous 16mm projectors and a variety of live sound and music to explore those audio-visual dimensions hidden within the film strip. Endlessly curious about technology, Jacobs embraced the possibilities of video in a meeting of the digital, early film/photography and 3-D imagery that magically bridges the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries and has given way to such powerful and sublimely beautiful works as Krypton is Doomed, and, most recently, Razzle Dazzle: The Lost World. Among Jacobs’ most important inventions is his Nervous Magic Lantern, a mysterious and mesmerizing performance of light and shadow that returns to cinema’s most essential roots, and which he evocatively describes as “cinema without film or electronics.”
The Harvard Film Archive is deeply honored to welcome Ken and Flo Jacobs, his marital and creative partner, for two evenings of film and video work and a rare live Nervous Magic Lantern Performance.
Special thanks: Mark McElhatten. Special support provided by the Provostial Funds Committee.
All films directed by Ken Jacobs.
US 1956-63, video, b/w & color, 19 min.
The Whirled comprises four short films: SaturdayAfternoon Blood Sacrifice (1956), Little Cobra Dance (1956), Hunch Your Back (1963) and Death of P’Town (1961).
US 1958-60, 16mm, color, 18 min.
US 1964, 16mm, color, silent, 12 min.
US 1990, 16mm and video, b/w, 11 min.
US 2005, video, color, 34 min.
Approximately 60 min.
Abstraction can offer the opportunity to meet and grapple directly with risky situations, taking real chances instead of identifying with some actor-proxy on a movie-set. My self-constructed "lantern" utilizes neither film nor video. The viewer of Nervous Magic Lantern phenomena plunges, hovers, sinks and rises into illusionary deep space. The question of what we are looking at, tantalizingly suggestive as appearances might be, becomes of less urgency than from where in space we are viewing and where and of what consistency and shape and size is the mass confronting us at any one moment and when and how did it become what a moment ago it was not. It might be best to think of what you and others see as a group hallucination. – K.J.
US 2006, video, color, 14 min.
US 2006-07, video, color, 93 min.
Avant-garde master Ken Jacobs' dizzying digital reinvention of a 1903 Edison "actuality" stretches and bends the one-minute film to an incredible, almost hallucinogenic ninety-three, combining period stereoscopic slides to create a fascinating play of depth and 2- and 3-dimensionality, narrative and scintillating spectacle.
“An early Edison shot cut off at its head and tail and along its four sides from the continuity of events like any camera-shot from a bygone day; no, like any camera-shot, immediately producing an abstraction. This abstraction pictures a great spinning maypole-like device mostly lined with young passengers dipping and lifting as it circles through space. They look out – from their place at the start of the 20th century – with a remarkable variety of expressions, giddy to pensive. We observe them but of course they see nothing of this, our America, hopelessly gone to rot, its mountaintops leveled for extraction of coal, rivers and air polluted, crisscrossed everywhere with property-lines; they don’t see its prisons or the corporations leaning in from their off-shore tax-bases to see what more they can take. Early stereopticon images also appear, digitally manipulated to reveal their depths… A digital shadow falls upon the scene and yet, grim as things get, as our crimes and failures commingle, then and now, the movie proceeds with a cubist/abstractexpressionist zest. Impulse is like that, it’s fun to make movies.” – K.J.