After a half century of being ahead of the game, is Ken Jacobs finally a man of his time? Anticipating remix and gaming culture, the rise of the channel changers and the return of 3-D, Jacobs’s legendary experiments of the ’50s, ’60s and ’80s now seem bracingly of the moment. And thanks to a switch to digital editing in the late 1990s, the 78-year-old Brooklyn native has lately produced some of the most playful, politically impassioned and downright mind-blowing acts of cinema you’ll ever see. This weekend, the Museum of the Moving Image presents “Ken Jacobs: Recent Works,” a can’t-miss survey of his latest endeavors. Over coffee near his downtown studio, Jacobs offered some classically cryptic insights into the series.
Return to the Scene of the Crime (2008)
Jacobs revisits the same 1905 silent short that yielded his landmark of “forensic cinema,” 1969’s Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son, isolating, tinting and toggling with a full arsenal of digital weaponry. “I never left Tom; I kept playing with it. In film, the glancing moments stick, and the confusion of the movie enchanted me…I’m wired to go into the minutiae, the crevices.” (Fri 30, 7:30pm)
Seeking the Monkey King (2011)
Playing alongside Return is Jacobs’s newest work, in which title cards belching blunt political furor alternate with flashing footage of an abstract, terrifyingly beautiful tinfoil landscape—all punctuated by a doomsday score. Welcome to the apocalypse, avant-garde–style. “Speaking as an utter amateur about the world situation: We’re fucked. Capitalism is breaking down, and anyone with half a mind agrees with the kids [in Occupy Wall Street]. It’s very painful. I don’t know what the fuck happened.” (Fri 30, 7:30pm)
“Nervous Magic Lantern Performance: Time Squared”
Equipped with the most basic elements of cinema—a lamp, a lens and a propeller shutter—Jacobs marries the magic of early film to mind-altering live spectacle. “For years, I was doing mostly unheralded kinds of obscure, freaky performances using two projectors and two frames of film. [But] when I did it with one projector, going out of focus, something [else] happened. Placing things between the light and the lens, I’m making 3-D worlds—with no glasses.” (Sat 31, 2pm)
Razzle Dazzle: The Lost World (2006)
Jacobs manipulates a Thomas Edison silent short of young people circulating on a primitive Tilt-a-Whirl, turning it into nothing less than a looping rumination on time, modernity and death. “The kids are on a high; they’re literally being lifted, being taken for a ride. But all those kids have since parted, and what was us is now lost. I see the long section at the beginning as something that’s perversely kind of exhausting the audience. You’ve got to go past the expectations [of movies]. Okay, now that we’ve passed it, we’re going to have variation. We’re going to do things.” (Sat 31, 7:30pm)
Star Spangled to Death (2004)
Jacobs’s seven-hour-plus magnum opus is, oddly, his most accessible work. Star Spangled mixes Beat-era street shenanigans (featuring Flaming Creatures director Jack Smith) with freewheeling archival footage of obscure TV shows, Depression-era propaganda and grim American politicking from Nixon to the Iraq War. “I learned that if I planned too well, I wouldn’t shoot it. With a big enough canvas I could find a place for everything. I was aware that these pellets of entertainment enter our minds and become our minds—and this [film] was a portrait of a mind.” (Sun 1, 1:30pm)
“Ken Jacobs: Recent Works” screens Fri 30–Sun 1 at the Museum of the Moving Image.
Follow Eric Hynes on Twitter: @eshynes