Playing Fri May 13 at 6:45 & 9:00, Sat May 14 at 2:30, 5:45 & 9:00, Sun May 15 at 4:00, 6:15 & 9:00, Mon May 16 & Tue May 17 at 7:30, Wed May 18 at 7:00 & 9, Thu May 19 at 7:00 at Anthology Film Archives [Program & Tix]
Alt Screen’s Jesse P Finnegan:
If you are even slightly more involved with movies than an occasional trip to the multiplex, chances are Ken Jacobs has had a hand in inventing, rediscovering, championing, inspiring, or revolutionizing something you’ve done in the dark. Brooklyn-born Jacobs emerged in the Sixties as a key figure of the American avant-garde–and 54 years after his first film, he seems more and more one of its key figures. Initially partnered with Jack Smith in ludic underground subversions, Jacobs would close out the decade as one of the medium’s chief conceptual stewards alongside Stan Brakhage, Michael Snow, and Andy Warhol. He was as potent a programmer and preacher as friend Jonas Mekas– it was Jacobs’s utopian film school, Millennium Film Workshop which first made use of the halls and holding cells of a certain courthouse on 2nd and 2nd that’s since become…the venue recommended here. Ken Jacobs’s half-century career has contained a dozen remarkably distinct legacies—underground provocateur, cine-activist, aesthetic path-breaker, film archeologist, political polemicist, technical innovator, and one of America’s first and most influential film professors– all impossibly subsumed within one life’s work.
A reckoning of what Jacobs has given to and taken from the bastard art of 3D, however, might hint at the truly common and unifying tendencies of his staggering body of filmmaking (3D or otherwise): experiences nearly irreconcilable to language, ideas too numerous and entwined to be encapsulated, and a furious and protean artistic output always (and now more than ever) outpacing retrospect.
Paul Arthur for Film Comment (Mar/Apr 1997):
Even before he began to make films in the late Fifties, Ken Jacobs was blessed, or cursed, with what he calls a “penchant for disanrray and confusion.” His incomparable cinematic career – embracing shadow plays, double-screen films, and projected performance pieces as well as (un)conventional movies – has been marked by, perhaps even consecrated to, a movement of fits and starts, breakdowns and resurrections, accidents blossoming into critical knowledge. Armed with a staunch aversion to “order and determination,” Jacobs has struggled to undermine every lure of aesthetic mastery. every potential “tyranny” exerted by film images on their viewers, while producing some of the most confoundingly gorgeous, soul-rattling experiences available to moving pictures. That they are also awkward or erratic in design, prone to unresolved lurches in mood or pacing, is just part of the bargain.
It is hard to imagine another filmmaker as willing to court disaster both in the making and presentation of his work. Surely no one has managed to so vividly blur the distinctions between production and exhibition. Lurking at the edges of Jacobs’s myriad improvised, rehearsed, or aleatory maneuvers is an impossible pursuit of presentness in the screened image, which is for him always ripe with time, with oscillating layers of past and present. His trashing of linearity summons a temporal realm that is often surprisingly historical in effect but can nonetheless yield an apocalyptic scent of something beyond time – a secular, machine-made version of eternity.
U.C. Berkley’s Harry Kreisler, creator and host of the weekly “Conversations with History” series, has an hour-long interview with Jacobs:
Unedited transcript of the interview has been published (in five-parts) here, here, here, here and here. Jacobs somehow maneuvered to turn the tables and conducted his own one-hour interview of Kreisler!
The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis and her former professor, Jim Hoberman, on his former professor, Ken Jacobs:
Mr. Jacobs went on to help start both the Millennium Film Workshop in New York and the film program at the State University at Binghamton, N.Y., where his students included the cartoonist Art Spiegelman.
“It was ecstatic,” another student, J. Hoberman, the senior film critic for The Village Voice, said of Mr. Jacobs’s teaching. “It was like a volcano.” Mr. Jacobs would show students movies as they had never seen them, slowing them down through a special projector — sometimes frame by frame — for intense close scrutiny, much as he was doing with Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son, a film he was working on around the time. “We’d crawl through these movies,” Mr. Hoberman said of this slow-cinema approach, as Mr. Jacobs held forth in sterile lecture halls, showing a range of movies and discoursing on his loves (The Bicycle Thief, They Live by Night) and hates (most of Godard, Hitchcock). “His powers of analysis were phenomenal.”
Jacobs, in an interview with Jim Knipfel of the Brooklyn Rail:
Someone told me a while ago that I was a crank. It seemed a deft summation. I am disappointed, not with my personal situation —I’ve been very fortunate—but with the obscenity, that is the state of the world. Having never been in existence before, I imagined when younger humans were on the brink of correcting the errors of their ways. Wrong brink.
The University of Michigan’s “Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Visitor Series” invited Jacobs to present a selection of his work during the 2007 Ann Arbor Film Festival. Opening remarks by director Christina Hamilton are followed by an alternating program of Jacobs’ own introductions and commentary and the films themselves.