Ken Jacobs Retrospective: 1

Date: 13 October 2000 | Season: Ken Jacobs Nervous System, Leeds Film Festival 2000

Leeds International Film Festival
Friday 13 October 2000, at 6:30pm

In order to experience the added depth of the Pulfrich 3D effect, the viewer should use the “Eye Opener” filter during GLOBE. “Flat image blossoms into 3D only when viewer places EYE OPENER © 1987 before right eye. (Keeping both eyes open, of course. As with all stereo experiences, centre seats are bet. Space will deepen as one views further from the screen.)”

Ken Jacobs, USA, 1964, 16mm, 18fps, colour, silent, 12 min

The moving camera shapes the screen image with great purposefulness, using the frame of a window as fulcrum upon which to wheel about the exterior scene. The zoom lens rips, pulling depth planes apart and slapping them together, contracting and expanding in concurrence with camera movements to impart a terrific apparent-motion to the complex of object-forms pictured on the horizontal-vertical screen, its axis steadied by the audience,s sense of gravity. The camera’s movements in being transferred to objects tend also to be greatly magnified (instead of the camera, the adjacent building turns). About four years of studying the window preceded the afternoon of actual shooting (a true instance of cinematic action-painting). The film is as it came out of the camera, excepting one mechanically necessary mid-reel splice.

(Ken Jacobs, statement in New York Film-Makers’ Cooperative Catalog #5, 1971)

“The careful relationships of planes, textures, and lighting would not lead one to expect such a spontaneous method were it not for the marvellously fluid, active “choreography for camera”. Jacobs continually manipulates focal distance, lighting, and lenses to endow one static space with hundreds of new aspects and directions and speeds of motion.

“Major contrasts, imperceptible in the flow of a continuous viewing, can be seen on closer scrutiny of the film on an analytic projector: contrasts between flat, screen-surface planes and a deeper, textured, more recognisable geography; between geometrically shaped areas of solid black and white and grainier, coloured, reflecting or textured surfaces; between objects which occupy space, such as a water-beaded horizontal sheet of tar paper, a man and woman, a hanging globe, and a statuette and again more abstract, graphic spaces from which shapes often seem cut out; between spaces on a firm, horizontal / vertical axis and those which rotate in and around that axis; and finally between movement and frozen stillness.

“Devices and materials which create the smooth, invisible transitions from shot to shot and space to space are fades done in the camera, changes in focus, backlighting modulating to frontal lighting, a window shutter which opens a slit of light in the shadow before it, and camera movement continuing over the cut. Nearer the end, superimpositions juxtapose in the space of one shot two spaces and times which overlap and define the distance between them. The film presents a few moments of visual beauty in the shifting network of a multitude of frames. Transforming the inert into the moving, Jacobs’ camera travels from form to form with delicacy and grace.”

(Lindley Page Hanlon, excerpt of essay published in “A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema”, American Federation of Arts, 1976)

Ken Jacobs, USA, 1967, 16mm, 18fps, silent, colour, 4 min

In memory of Judy Midler.

Single fixed-camera take looking out through fire-escape door into space between rears of downtown N.Y. loft buildings. A potted plant, fallen sheet of white paper, and a cat rest on the door-ledge. Cinematographer fingers intercept, deflect, and toy with the flow of light, the stuff of images, on their way to the lens. The flow in time of the image is interrupted, partially and then wholly dissolving into blackness; the picture re-emerges, the objects smear, somewhat double, edges break up. Focus shifts between foreground and background planes, an emphasis of the shaft-space in between. The fragile image shines forth one last time before dying out. Booed at open screening marathon of Vietnam War protest films, “For Life, Against the War.”

(Ken Jacobs, statement in “Films That Tell Time: A Ken Jacobs Retrospective”, American Museum of the Moving Image, 1989)

Ken Jacobs, USA, 1968, 16mm, 18fps, colour, silent, 12 min

View from above is of a partially snow-covered low flat rooftop receding between the brick walls of two much taller downtown N.Y. loft buildings. A slightly tilted rectangular shape left of the centre of the composition is the section of rain-wet Reade Street, visible to us over the low rooftop. Distant trucks, cars, persons carrying packages, umbrellas sluggishly pass across this little stage-like area. A fine rain-mist is confused, visually, with the colour emulsion grain.

A large black rectangle following up and filling to space above the stage area is seen as both an unlikely abyss extending in deep space behind the stage or more properly, as a two dimensional plane suspended far forward of the entire snow/rain scene. Though it clearly if slightly overlaps the two receding loft building walls the mind, while knowing better, insists on presuming it to be overlapped by them. (At one point the black plane even trembles.) So this mental tugging takes place throughout. The contradiction of 2D reality versus 3D implication is amusingly and mysteriously explicit.

Filmed at 24fps but projected at 16fps the street activity is perceptively slowed down. It’s become a somewhat heavy labouring. The loop repetition (the series hopefully will intrigue you to further run throughs) automatically imparts a steadily growing rhythmic sense of the street activities. Anticipation for familiar movement-complexes builds, and as all smaller complexities join up in our knowledge of the whole the purely accidental counter-passings of people and vehicles becomes satisfyingly cogent, seems rhythmically structured and of a piece. Becomes choreography.

(Ken Jacobs, statement in Film-makers’ Cooperative Catalogue #5, 1971)

Ken Jacobs, USA, 1975, 16mm, 18fps, b/w, sound on cassette, 50 min

My wife Flo’s family as recorded by her Aunt Stella Weiss. The title is no put down. Brooklyn was a place made up of many little villages; an East European shtetl is pictured here, all in the space of a storefront. Aunt Stella’s camera rolls are joined intact (not in chronological order). The silent footage is shown between two lessons in “Instant Yiddish”: “When You Go To A Hotel” and “When You Are In Trouble”.

(Ken Jacobs, statement in “Films That Tell Time: A Ken Jacobs Retrospective”, American Museum of the Moving Image, 1989)

“Even before the first image of Urban Peasants appears we have had a six minute lesson in Diaspora history called “Situation Three: Getting A Hotel”. (The assumption is mind-blowing: Where in the world, with the possible exception of Birobidzhan, would one ever need to call room service in Yiddish ?) A second excerpt, “Situation Eight: When You Are in Trouble”, provides the film’s double edged punch line: “I am an American … Everything is all right.” Jacobs’s deceptively simple juxtaposition makes it impossible to watch the homely clowning of his wife’s wartime, half-Americanised family without picturing the “situation” of their European counterparts.”

(Jim Hoberman, excerpt from “Jacob’s Ladder”, Village Voice, 1989)

Ken Jacobs, USA, 1969, 16mm, colour, sound on cassette, 22 min

Formerly titled Excerpt from the Russian Revolution

First film, to our knowledge, designed to appear in deep 3D via the Pulfrich Effect, a single dark plastic filter interfering with and absorbing most of the light going to the eye it’s held in front of (both eyes remaining open). For this film, because all foreground motion is to the right, and because we want depth to appear as it would in life, the filter (perhaps conveniently taped to an eyebrow) is to be held before the right eye. Film was shot with a standard movie-camera and is to be projected with no special devices or requirements. Depth-phenomena does depend on onscreen lateral motion, left / right shifting of pictured elements relative to each other. As with audio stereo, middle seating is best; depth will expand with distance from the screen.

Locale is the upper-middle-class Stair Development newly built to provide housing for the executive class of IBM in Binghampton, on northern New York State’s “snow belt”. A beautiful, hilly, forested area of the globe, ripe for ‘development’, though at present spared due to economic decline due to manufacturing having been moved offshore. Please note the absence of sidewalks, of corner stores, of neighbourhood schools and therefore of a neighbourhood. We see a near-absence of people. Garages are connected to homes; residents do not step out, they drive out, in order to shop (anonymously) at a choice of malls, to go to work or to school or to meet with friends, etc. (kids are driven out to “play-dates” at other kids’ homes or are taken to and picked up from organised after-school programmes; they never simply gather after-school with neighbourhood chums). Such are the prize lives of the area, the IBM winners. We Americans tend to be the first humans among the world’s groupings to be so experimented on. If we seem to adapt, willingly jettisoning prior social arrangements, the new life-style is deemed ready for export. Look for a Stair Development coming your way! But do remember, when Cultural Imperialism is discussed, that, because the wave rolls over us first, and we are the first to be sold on giving up our ways, it should not be thought of as American Cultural Imperialism. It’s the world’s Corporate Future, with America as test-site.

Audio is side A of the LP “The Sensuous Woman”, circa 1969. It illustrates the near-instant co-opting and commodifying of The Sexual Revolution.

(Ken Jacobs, 2000)

Also Screening:
Thursday 2 November 2000, at 7:30pm, Brighton Cinematheque
Tuesday 7 November 2000, at 6:30pm, Glasgow Film Theatre
Thursday 30 November 2000, at 7:30pm, Hull Screen
Monday 4 December 2000, at 6:10pm, Manchester Cornerhouse
Wednesday 6 December 2000, at 9pm, London Lux Centre
Tuesday 12 December 2000, at 6:30pm, Sheffield Showroom

Back to top