Roland Barthes once said that all photographs are records of “what has ceased to be,” a phrase that ricochets through your head as you watch Ken Jacobs’s hypnotic ode to cinema’s inherent documentary-like properties. Time has always been key in the artist’s work, specifically his employment of duration (his 2004 marathon magnum opus, Star Spangled to Death, is the greatest experimental epic that doesn’t have the name Warhol attached to it) and single-frame elongation as a way of discovering what lurks in between celluloid spaces.
This spiritual brethren to Jacobs’s Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son (1969) is all about the latter; like the earlier film’s painstaking examination of a 1905 crowd scene, Razzle Dazzle turns roughly 25 seconds of a Thomas Edison one-reeler into a looped meditation on captured moments. An amusement-park sequence is replayed with red tints, pixelated close-ups and digital-software manipulations. The soundtrack veers from old-timey ditties to analog pops to silence. Stereopticon photos of war scenarios and skulls occasionally strobe into view—epileptics, beware—while Edison’s original subjects repeat their phantom movements ad infinitum. There’s a limit to how much meaning can be mined from such interim-length memento moris, however; you sense that Jacobs’s exhumation requires either the punch of a short or the contemplative scope of a 14-hour video installation to properly work its avant-magick.