Playing Sat Jan 7 at 5:15 at Anthology Film Archives [Program & Tix]
Anthology hosts Occupy Cinema for a weekend celebration of the movement’s ethos. Later in the evening, collective members will present YouTube clips and footage of Occupy Wall Street movements around the globe, but here’s your chance to catch Alt Screen fave Ken Jacobs’ latest opus, Seeking the Monkey King. It will screen with some of his latest video work – you can read more about the rest of the program here.
Anthology boasts that the fim’s “mind-blowing Dolby 5.1 soundtrack will triumphantly show off our newly upgraded Courthouse Theater sound system.”
MOMI curator David Schwartz recently proclaimed Monkey King:
My favorite film of the year — a poetic, political film experience both intimate and epic, and great on the big screen.
Jesse Finnegan, in his Alt Screen feature on Jacobs’ 3-D work:
Last month at MoMA, Jacobs screened unedited materials for a new piece called Seeking The Monkey King. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before (not from him, not on a screen, not anything).
The Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective advises:
Be prepared for a cinema experience that takes a place between two and three dimensions, pushing time to take on substance and enveloping you into the a world beyond the surreal. This has been an epic undertaking, incomparable with any other avant-garde film you’ve ever seen.
Jacobs himself in the program notes for Views from the Avant-Garde:
The film could have well been called KICKING AND SCREAMING but that only describes me in the process of making it, questioning its taste. Once the message kicked in it overrode all objection. The piece demanded J.G.Thirlwell’s music, normally way too overtly expressive for me as most of my stuff comes out of painting and is also to be absorbed in silence. Who will even notice visual innovation now, or what’s happening with time? Determining a place between two and three dimensions, pushing time to take on substance, is what I do.SEEKING THE MONKEY KING is a reversion to my mid-twenties and that sense of horror that drove the making of STAR SPANGLED TO DEATH.
J. Hoberman placed the film #5 on his Top Films of 2011, for the Village Voice, noting “Jacobs’ incantatory, hallucinated, apocalyptic screed is a deeply troubling combination of stunning abstract imagery and enraged political analysis.”
Manohla Dargis, who also included the film in her top of 2011, in the New York Times:
The titular monarch of Mr. Jacobs’s contribution, “Seeking the Monkey King,” appears to be the American greed and corruption that have sent the director into an agony of despair, if happily not a paralyzing one. Set to the music of J. G. Thirlwell, this digital video largely consists of valleys and hills of what look like crumpled foil that Mr. Jacobs, through his manipulations, has turned into landscapes that shift, undulate and seem to pop off the screen as if in 3D. Often tinted golden yellow and blue (colors used in the silent era usually to denote day and night), the images sometimes freeze and are amended by on-screen history lessons, political commentary, moments of sentiment and words of advice: “Read Marx. See René Clair’s ‘À Nous la Liberté.’ ” To which I will add: See this movie.
“Seeking the Monkey King” is a reminder that, in a world of continuously streaming images, an artist like Mr. Jacobs challenges the tyranny of visual uniformity, and not simply with angry words. His work opens your ears and mind, and, simply put, has no like in the multiplex, the art house or even most festivals.
Eric Kohn for Indiewire:
The 40-minute “Seeking the Monkey King” finds Jacobs furious about the state of the world. Primarily composed of shifting gold and blue foil-like objects, this seething creation makes his sprawling opus “Star Spangled to Death” look comparatively measured, even tame. As the imagery flashes erratically onscreen, Jacobs provides a series of intertitles outlining his anguish. He’s mad at centuries of capitalism, Bush and Obama alike, fearful of global warming and Wall Street corruption – and unites these unseemly forces under the ominous metaphor of the Monkey King. “The beast is jerking off,” he asserts, using JG Thurwell’s hectic score to underline the point.
Jacobs’ observations are all over the place, but they flow together into a collage of indictments. “American is a fiction,” he explains, arguing that its official history hides a darker past. As an example, his free-wheeling essay notes recent DVDs for “Poltergeist” that no longer include the Indian burial ground beneath the haunted house. There’s a different kind of haunting at work here: “Seeking the Monkey King” plays like a horror film on Jacobs’ terms. Mechanical grunts imply the monkey king’s present beneath a glistening ocean of chaos. Jacobs only finds solace in a handful of artistry, citing everyone from Maya Deren to Fats Waller as antidotes to his pervasive misery.
Andrea Picard, also for Indiewire:
Ken Jacobs’ explosive marriage of metallic beauty and fierce, political statement in “Seeking the Monkey King” shattered illusions–not just optical ones, but ones too often assuming dictatorial reign upon the history of image-making itself, and society writ large (well, 99% of us, anyway).
Jacobs is the least complacent of artists, as radical today as he’s always been, here seducing us with gold foil (medieval reliquaries and icons come quickly to mind) and crystalline blues, frenetically shaking, giggling, taunting us with brilliance, as a 2D/3D cosmos pulses in and out of focus, stirring our perceptive senses as the fell of history casts its diabolical shadow.
Responding to the turbulent, tragic times in which we live, Jacobs delivers a trenchant, doozy of a text in embedded intertitles as an intense psycho-acoustical soundtrack from J.G. Thirlwell (of Foetus fame) enhances the seething “Monkey King.” Indeed, “America is a fiction” and it’s up to us to interpret the Rorschach images of its recycled past. “Monkey King” would make a fine double bill with fellow dissenter Jean-Luc Godard’s “Film Socialisme,” which traces looted gold to Hollywood and employs cryptic, gnomic subtitles as a dirge for humanity, a casualty of cyclical imperialism.
David Phelps for MUBI:
The stereoscopic, Byzantine gold foil that’s the ostensible subject/object ofSeeking the Monkey King seems to shift interpretively at each of Jacobs’ mock-3D jigglings between negative and positive, left and right: is it just foil, a digital animation, a crumbling Babel, or a descent into Peter Jackson/James Cameron/Jerry Goldsmith hell? Like almost all of Jacobs’ recent movies,Monkey King prompts a kind of triple consciousness in which the viewer can see all at once 1) Jacobs wriggling the image in and out, side to side, light to dark, and back, 2) the image itself constantly regenerating, not skipping back-and-forth but opening concentrically outwards, a series of abstracted vectors, 3) insistent, mental projections that figure the image spatially as a landscape, no longer an image the filmmaker plays with, but a physical place recovered and entered into. It’s less the illusion of a figurative image, or the movie’s forward movement, which are mysterious, than the fact that these illusions still hold when Jacobs shows his seams; it’s possible to have no idea what the image represents, but to see clearly how the artist is representing it, handling his frames frame-to-frame.
As younger, American avant-garde masters—Dorsky, Klahr—pursue the veil of illusion, a sublime presence blind to history, Jacobs makes movies that work to break through the patina of beauty, only to reveal the ultimate illusions of movie-making, the third dimension of a figurative space and movement out of single, still images. From a festival full of movies of characters trapped in closed spaces, mumbling about their routines as an apocalypse approaches outside, Jacobs’ movie shows its world not even as the trace but the ruin of a place where, per the final intertitles, “illusion reigns”; in a way it’s of a time with the “primitive” drones and industrial clangor of Apichatpong and Lynch movies that seem to take place in the bowels of a dream world. All the talk of speculative and fictional capital can miss the way these speculations and fictions have, as imaginary quantities, been very real to people who have projected illusions of a gilded future on the other side of debt. In what’s probably his most openly beautiful work, and open refutation of that beauty, Jacobs works to break through the image and the screen, but can only do so by affirming it: a world made from dreams, not vice-versa, becomes a screen with nothing underneath.