Flaming Creatures & Blonde Cobra

Date: 31 March 2007 | Season: London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival 2007 | Tags: ,

Saturday 31 March 2007, at 6.10pm
London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival at BFI Southbank

Jack Smith, Flaming Creatures, USA, 1963, 16mm, black and white, sound, 42 min
Ken Jacobs, Blonde Cobra, USA, 1959-63, 16mm, black and white & colour, sound, 33 min

Two gloriously primitive flicks which define and transcend the idea of “underground” film. Flaming Creatures, Smith’s impoverished, epic fantasy of Babylonian proportions, is a decadent celebration of the joy and torment of existence. This bleached-out orgiastic rite, all limp penises and shaking breasts, is populated by a blonde vampire, exotic Spanish dancers and androgynous bohemian poseurs. Blonde Cobra, as close to an authentic portrait of Smith that we have, is propelled by a delirious monologue (witness the scurrilous tale of Madame Nescience and Mother Superior) and was shot amongst the rubble of his apartment. The two films were premiered together in April 1963, and remain fresh, provocative and startlingly original over 40 years later. (Mark Webber)


Two Wrenching Departures

Date: 3 April 2007 | Season: London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival 2007 | Tags: , ,

Tuesday 3 April 2007, at 8pm
London Roxy Bar and Screen

Secret Cinema presents a free screening of a major new work by Ken Jacobs.

In his amazing live performances, Ken Jacobs breathed new life into archival film footage, teasing frozen frames into impossible depth and perpetual motion with two 16mm analytic projectors. Now aged 74, the artist explores new ways of documenting and developing his innovative Nervous System techniques in the digital realm.

Two Wrenching Departures, featuring the legendary Jack Smith (both clownish and devilishly handsome circa 1957), extends five minutes of material into a ninety-minute opus of eight movements. In and out of junk heap costume, Smith cavorts through the streets of New York (much consternation from the normals) and performs an impossible, traffic island ballet.

His improvised actions are transformed into perceptual games as Jacobs’ interrogates his footage, using repetition and pulsating flicker to open up new dimensions and temporal twists: The infinite ecstasy of little things.  In commemorating two dear departed friends, with whom he collaborated on Blonde Cobra and other works, he propels their image into everlasting motion. These mindbending visions are juxtaposed with the soundtrack of The Barbarian, a 1933 Arabian fantasy starring Ramon Navarro and Myrna Loy, and music by Carl Orff.

Ken Jacobs, USA, 2006, video, b/w, sound, 90 min
“In October 1989, estranged friends Bob Fleischner and Jack Smith died within a week of each other. Ken Jacobs met Smith through Fleischner in 1955 at CUNY night school, where the three were studying camera techniques. This feature-length work, first performed in 1989 as a live Nervous System piece is a ‘luminous threnody’ (Mark McElhatten) made in response to the loss of Jacobs’ friends.”

Ken Jacobs (born 1933) is one of the key figures of post-war cinema, whose films include Little Stabs at Happiness (1958-60), Blonde Cobra (1959-63), Tom Tom the Piper’s Son (1969-71), The Doctor’s Dream (1978), Perfect Film (1986) and Disorient Express (1995).  He has also presented live cine-theatre (2D and 3D shadow plays) and developed the Nervous System and Nervous Magic Lantern projection techniques.  Since 1999, Jacobs has primarily used electronic media, both in preserving his live performances and creating new digital works in a variety of styles. His 7-hour epic Star Spangled To Death (1957-2004) is now available on DVD from Big Commotion Pictures.

Free admission. No reservation necessary, but arrive early to avoid disappointment.Please note that this screening is not suitable for those susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy due to the extensive use of flickering and throbbing light.

Related Events

Ken Jacobs’ 1963 film Blonde Cobra will screen with Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures in the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival on Saturday 31st March 2007 at 6.10pm.

Mary Jordan’s documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis also shows in the festival in the same day.

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Return to the Scene of the Crime

Date: 19 September 2008 | Season: Ken Jacobs tank.tv | Tags: ,

Friday 19 September 2008, at 7pm
London Tate Modern

In a contemporary riff on one of his landmark works, Ken Jacobs uses new technology to both interrogate and arouse a theatrical tableau, shot in 1905, based on Hogarth’s Southwark Fair. The antique film print is probed, exploded and reconstituted in the digital domain with radical ingenuity and infectious wit. This extraordinary new work teaches us how to see.

Ken Jacobs, Return to the Scene of the Crime, USA, 2008, video, colour, sound 92 min

“The heartwarming story of a boy who didn’t know it’s wrong to steal. Running off with the pig seemed like a good idea at the time.”

More than theft of a pig is taking place at Southwark Fair. Why does God, right there amongst the crowd, allow this cheery riffraff such liberties? I haven’t been so shocked since 1969, when I first examined this primitive 1905 movie with my camera (Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son, added in 2007 to the Library of Congress National Film Registry). A better print of the original film, and the power of the computer, allows for deeper and more detailed inspection. Forensic cinema at its most obsessive, the dead rise … and prove quite entertaining.

Curated by Mark Webber for tank.tv and Tate Modern. An online exhibition at www.tank.tv from 1 October to 30 November 2008 includes a selection of 20 complete or excerpted works by Ken Jacobs, dating from 1956 to the present.

Ken Jacobs: Tank TV

Date: 1 October 2008 | Season: Ken Jacobs tank.tv | Tags: ,

1 October—30 November 2008

Ken Jacobs (b.1933) has been active as a filmmaker, performer and teacher for the past five decades. Rigorous and dedicated, his work is characterised by a keen eye for formal composition and a fierce political consciousness. The online exhibition at tank.tv presents a portfolio of 20 works covering 50 years of Ken Jacobs’ artistic production from 1957 to the present day.

The Whirled (1956-63), Star Spangled To Death (1957-59/2004), Little Stabs At Happiness (1958-63, Blonde Cobra (1959-63), The Sky Socialist (1964-65), Tom, Tom, The Piper’s Son (1969-71), The Doctor’s Dream (1978), Perfect Film (1985), Flo Rounds A Corner (1999), New York Street Trolleys 1900 (1999), Circling Zero: We See Absence (2002), Krypton Is Doomed (2005), Let There Be Whistleblowers (2005), Ontic Antics Starring Laurel And Hardy; Bye, Molly! (2005), The Surging Sea Of Humanity (2006), Capitalism: Child Labor (2006), New York Ghetto Fishmarket 1903 (2006), Two Wrenching Departures (2006), Razzle Dazzle: The Lost World (2006), Return To The Scene Of The Crime (2008).

As a central figure of the generation that defined independent filmmaking during the post-War era, Jacobs contributed to the liberation of cinema from technical and ideological conventions. Beginning in the 1950s, he developed an ‘urban guerrilla cinema’ out of poverty and desperation, shooting improvised routines on city streets. The early works Star Spangled to Death, Little Stabs at Happiness and Blonde Cobra feature a nascent Jack Smith, years before the renegade artist produced his own films.

Having lived in New York all his life, the changing character of the city has been a strong presence throughout Jacobs’ work, from his manipulation of vintage street scenes in New York Ghetto Fishmarket 1903, through to the diaristic video Circling Zero: We See Absence, which observes the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center, a few blocks away from Jacobs’ home. The Sky Socialist was shot in a deserted neighbourhood (long since decommissioned) below the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1960s, and Perfect Film uses raw television news reports on the assassination of Malcolm X.

Found or archival footage is a source for much of Jacobs’ work. In Star Spangled to Death, entire appropriated films contribute to an accumulative denunciation of American politics, religion, war and racism, whereas an analytical approach to reclaiming cinema’s past was originated in Tom, Tom the Pipers’ Son by re-filming selected details of a theatrical production dating from 1905. This same footage has lately been digitally excavated in Return to the Scene of the Crime.

The technique of unlocking aspects of film material that would otherwise pass unnoticed is the essence of the live Nervous System pieces that Jacobs has performed with two adapted projectors since the mid-1970s. Repetition and pulsing flicker teases frozen images into impossible depth and perpetual motion (demonstrated in New York Street Trolleys 1900), a process further developed by the Eternalism system of editing used in many recent videos. The previously ephemeral live performances Ontic Antics Starring Laurel And Hardy; By Molly! and Two Wrenching Departures are amongst the works that take on new life in their digital form.

A contemporary of Stan Brakhage, Bruce Conner and Jonas Mekas, Ken Jacobs is one of the true innovators of the moving image, who continues his radical practice in the present. Though his images frequently depict bygone eras, the works are resolutely contemporary, displaying a vitality and ingenuity that is rarely matched.

For the duration of the online show, tank.tv offered a unique opportunity for discussion with Ken Jacobs in an extended Q+A session. Questions sent by email were answered by the artist and a regularly updated transcript of the dialogue was posted online at www.tank.tv.

Curated by Mark Webber.

Star Spangled to Death

Date: 2 November 2008 | Season: Ken Jacobs tank.tv | Tags: ,

Sunday 2 November 2008, 2pm-10pm
London Chisenhale Gallery

A free screening of Star Spangled to Death, Ken Jacobs’ episodic indictment of American politics, religion, war, racism and stupidity, timed to coincide with the US election and the end of the Bush regime. Starring Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, Mickey Mouse, Al Jolson and a cast of thousands.

Ken Jacobs, Star Spangled to Death,1957-59/2004, USA, 400 min
Jacobs’ extraordinary epic combines whole found films, documentaries, newsreels, musicals and cartoons with improvised performances by the legendary Jack Smith and Jerry Sims. Together they picture a dangerously sold-out America where racial and religious prejudice, the monopolisation of wealth and an addiction to war are opposed by Beat generation irreverence.

Star Spangled to Death will be shown with several intermissions. Refreshments available, or bring a packed lunch and a cushion!

Presented by Whitechapel at the Chisenhale, in collaboration with Mark Webber, tank.tv and Firefly. An online exhibition at www.tank.tv from 1 October to 30 November 2008 includes a selection of 20 complete or excerpted works by Ken Jacobs, dating from 1956 to the present.