Star Spangled to Death

Date: 26 October 2003 | Season: London Film Festival 2003 | Tags:

Sunday 26 October 2003, at 2pm
London National Film Theatre NFT3

‘Despair is collaboration with the enemy.’ (Ken Jacobs)

Ken Jacobs, Star Spangled To Death, USA, 1957-2003, 375 min`

The Spirit Not Of Life But Of Living (Jack Smith) floats and stumbles through the world, delighting in action for its own sake. Suffering (Jerry Sims) upsets the cosmic balance by finding happiness in the consolation of his dolls. To restore order, the dolls are seized by The Two Evils, only to be returned by Misplaced Charity, plunging screen and viewers into Limbo.

The realisation of Star Spangled To Death as a 6-hour long video concludes a work begun by filmmaker Ken Jacobs almost a half century ago. In this final version, which closely follows the original plans, long passages from public information films, cartoons, documentaries and musicals (often shown in their entirety) are interspersed by (and in tension with) Jacobs’ own footage, which was shot mostly in late-50s New York and testifies to the birth of a new cinema: liberated and spontaneous, absurd yet real, with zest and meaning. Those were different times and the participants then young and innocent (many have since died). But change a few names and faces, and the subject matter becomes remarkably Present. Touching upon politics, war, race, religion and science, it is not a curio or period piece, but an ongoing commentary on the country that made it possible. An indictment, or at the least a parable, of the USA in the modern world: a juggernaut careening to certain destruction.

Richard Nixon’s incredible 1952 tv disclosure butts up against a documentary on the emotional responses of mother-deprived lab monkeys, song and dance routines and ‘educational’ dramas for young black adults. Star Spangled To Death is a Saturday morning picture show of a movie, its length ‘a perverse reach for the intolerable’. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry. ‘Are ya havin’ any fun?’ —Mark Webber

Star Spangled to Death will be shown in two parts with 60-minute intermission.

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