Monday Editor’s Pick: “An Evening with Ken Jacobs”

by on April 10, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

7:00 at the Museum of Modern Art [Program & Tix]


Paul Arthur for The Village Voice:

“Ken Jacobs was not born yesterday. For over 40 years he has been jump-starting rebellious energies at the cinematic fringes as a filmmaker, teacher, administrator, programmer, and, since 1975, the inventor and jazzlike soloist of spectacular ‘Nervous System’ performances. Working the controls of a two-headed analytical projection device, Jacobs executes stuttering frame-by-frame excavations-cum-reanimations of short pieces of ‘forgotten’ movies, often dredged up from the era of cinema’s birth. Believing that our culture already has far too many extant images, he leisurely revisits an assortment of ‘primal’ scenes in order to unleash little shards of beauty, terror, sexuality, and other desiderata concealed by the full-speed tyrannies of movie camera, commercial projection, and generic convention. Although the range of imagery and subjective experiences available in this para-cinema is incredibly varied, the films share a common fascination with the metaphysics of fusion and eternity. Or to put it less grandly, Jacobs is a master of visionary mindfuck, a combination of Dr. Frankenstein (‘It’s alive, it’s alive!’) and Dr. Freud (‘Yes, and what else do you see?’) in the guise of a Jewish immigrant dealer in dusty remnants.”

Julie Hampton for Millenium Film Journal (interview with Jacobs):

“Ken Jacobs is best understood following his lineage back from film, not to theater or literature, but instead to his studies of art in New York in the 1950’s with the German painter Hans Hoffman and the powerful influence and personal identification with abstract expressionism. At times while viewing Bi-temporal Visions:   The Sea, I felt that I was inside a living Jackson Pollock painting, at one with the very liberating  continual motion of energy particles and self expression.   In reference to the specious category of experimental film, Jacobs says that the difference between art and film is that in art all artists are expected to be experimenting so therefore there is no such category in art, as there is in film, as experimental.

In the hands of Ken Jacobs our concept of the cinematic image is transformed and as with the discovery of quantum physics, the foundation of our perceptions is put into question. Thankfully and with great liberation the physical world is proven once again not to exist as we ordinarily perceive it.

Something comes alive during a Ken Jacobs performance and it’s not just the magic of cinema, it’s you.”


Manohla Dargis for The New York Times:

“I watched a world of wonders unfold on a screen hanging from the ceiling. As the recorded sounds of city traffic and a distant voice filled the air, sharply etched black-and-white geometric shapes of undecipherable provenance begin to rotate on screen first right, then left and back, creating what looked like shifting whirlpools. Parts of the image pulsed and eased in and out of focus. I thought I was looking at oil on water, flowing lava, lichen, dying embers or a reference to 9/11, which had happened five blocks away. My eyes searched for something familiar. I tried to grasp the story. My eyes started watering, less from emotion than strain.

‘I have no idea what I’m watching,’ I scribbled into my notebook. I was more right than I knew.

What I watched was beautiful, hypnotic, mysterious and as close to a representation of three-dimensional imagery as I’ve ever seen without wearing funny glasses. It was pure cinema. As it happens, it was so pure that no celluloid had threaded its way through a projector. I hadn’t been watching a film, after all, or digital images, only light and shadow. Using an illusion machine of his own invention that he calls the Nervous Magic Lantern — an apparatus containing a spinning shutter, a light and lenses that he hides behind a black curtain when he isn’t performing what he calls “live cinema” — Jacobs had taken the experience of watching moving images back to its origins. We weren’t watching shadows on the cave wall, but we were close.

… Most movies just make the time pass. Mr. Jacobs suspends time. He holds it up to the light so you can see it, letting it flicker for us a little longer. Finally, you see everything you have been missing.


Jim Knipfel for The Brooklyn Rail (interview with Jacobs):

“Jacobs is one of the most lauded experimental filmmakers America has ever produced, which is quite something for a blue-collar kid from Brooklyn. Over the past 50 years, he’s crafted a body of work that focuses less on storytelling than on the mechanics of film itself—’mining,’ he says, the way images on the frames interact in the hopes of revealing a hidden truth. Hoping to alter, too, the way people look at the world.

…’I come out of a time, a way of thinking, that imagines art as very important. Picasso’s Guernica counts for something. We see what’s left of [Erich von Stroheim’s] Greed and it’s such a monument to feeling and thinking. These things do save us as a human race.’ And perhaps that lingering belief is part of the reason why Jacobs continues making films.”


Ken Jacobs:

Ghosts! Cine-recordings of the vivacious doings of persons long dead. … I wanted to “bring to the surface” that multi-rhythmic collision-contesting of dark and light two-dimensional force-areas struggling edge to edge for identity of shape … to get into the amoebic grain pattern itself … stirred to life by a successive 16-24 fps pattering on our retinas, the teeming energies … collaborating, unknowingly and ironically, to form the always-poignant because-always-past illusion.


And here’s a 2001 Interview with Jacobs, part of UC Berkeley’s “Conversations with History” series:

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