Deconstructing Cinema in Order to Reveal It

“ONE Sunday last month, I visited the avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs and his wife, Flo, in the top-floor loft they rent on Chambers Street in Manhattan. The plan was for Mr. Jacobs to show some work he will present during a weeklong series of programs in Los Angeles that starts Monday. As I neared the top of my four-flight climb, the walls became more cluttered and lived in, as if announcing the residency of the last bohemians in TriBeCa. That evening, after some conversation and homemade sorbet, 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’ — he 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. …”
NY Times
Ken Jacobs: A Pioneer of Avant-Garde Film (Video)
W – Ken Jacobs
Ken Jacobs Gallery
Cinema and Critical Reflection: A Conversation with Ken Jacobs and Family
vimeo: Ken Jacobs
YouTube: Window (1964), Perfect Film (1986), Blonde Cobra (1963), Little Stabs at Happiness (1959-63)

Among films by Ken Jacobs, a longtime standard bearer for the avant-garde, are “Star Spangled to Death.”

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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