Dir: Ken Jacobs
Sun 16.02. 17:00 Akademie der Künste
Muybridge on Wheels (1996) Animated slides. "Muybridge ,eternalized' his models fixed in constant forward motion (as if being sliced onto photographic plates wasn't enough for a fix.)"
The Georgetown Loop (1995), 35mm. "This landscape film deserves an X-rating!"
Disorient Express (1995) 35 mm. "Mountains move, and - on their flip side - optically transform."
Loco Motion (1996) Nervous System. "The classic perspective train tracks gone berserk. We hurtle along going nowhere fast, or with the land we're racing from impossibly gaining on us, overtaking us."
Three Little Pigs Times Square. Short audio piece.
On the Bridge (1996) Nervous System. "In 1900, from a fixed position of Brooklyn Bridge, a movie camera recorded trains passing. People are caught in passing, between Brooklyn and Manhattan and between 1900 and forever."
Stern's Duplex Railway (1905). Shown without intervention.
Ken Jacobs has, for the past thirty-five years, invented a remarkable variety of approaches to explore the fundamental nature of the moving image. Whether working with found footage, shooting spontaneous comic narratives, meditative visual studies and diaristic epic allegories, or creating projector performances with the NERVOUS SYSTEM - his innovative 3-D apparatus - Jacob's art has derived its fascination from a simple fact: All film, despite its ability to create the illusion of reality unfolding before our eyes, is a record of the past, of life that has passed in front of the camera.
The still images in Jacob's art awaken, creating a tantalizing semblance of life. Yet Jacobs demonstrates that despite the allure of the medium's ability to control time and space, it is impossible to exist anywhere but in the present. Studying painting with Hans Hoffman in the 1950s, Jacobs learned that the vitality in artistic form comes from surface tensions. Everything that can be gleaned from a Jacobs film is right there, on the surface, in the play between 2-D and 3-D, stillness and motion, past and present, illusion and reality. (...)
Jacob's art involves a rapturous engagement with the material at hand - which, with film, means images of reality. Nowhere is this rapture more alive than in his remarkable Nervous System performances, in which analytic projectors housed in wonderfully archaic contraptions are employed to create exquisitely choreographed manipulations of space and time.
Jacobs creates these amazing performances from small, discarded strands of film. Talking about his fascination with found footage, Jacobs has stated that there are enough images in the world; our task should be to take them out for a good look, and probe them in depth. He has said, "These aren't mere images on a screen. Life took place in front of a camera."
(David Schwartz, Chief Curator of Film & Video, The American Museum of the Moving Image, New York)
(...) Jacobs' most systematic and challenging transformation of our relation to the film images comes in the series of performances he calls THE NERVOUS SYSTEM. In the past decade, this ever-expanding group of works has absorbed most of his filmmaking energy. These are as vital and challenging as anything done in the history of avant-garde film. Their relative neglect comes partly from the exigencies of their presentation (they are literally performances - Jacobs must be present and operate the apparatus; therefore, unlike most films, they have no existence as canned goods), and partly from the intense offensive they mount against our viewing habits.
Jacobs' apparatus here is not the film camera, but the projector. The projection apparatus Jacobs has devised is complex and is basically his own invention. Simply stated, it consists of two analytical projectors which can show the film frame by frame, or freeze it immobile on the screen. Each projector shows an identical print. Jacobs then controls the film's advance (or retreat) frame by frame, the two images getting slightly (usually no more than one frame) out of synch. A specially devised adjustable shutter in front of the projectors controls the relation between the images, at points keeping them separate, at other points overlapping them in a variety of durations. The shutter also creates a range of flicker effects and can even shape the projector light. Additional effects come from a platform which allows the projector to move slightly side to side, up and down, and even tilt a bit. Operating the projectors himself at each performance, Jacobs plays on his apparatus like a musician. We watch the film unfold in retarded time, and process the slightly different images. By breaking the automatic whir of twenty-four frames per second, Jacobs returns cinema to its prehistory in Marey and Muybridge's analysis of motion. But besides breaking down the illusion of motion, Jacobs also uncovers how dependent our sense of space in film is on this constant mechanical speed.
The slightly different film frames, diverted from an illusion of motion by the analytical projectors, begin to produce spatial illusions. It has long been known that film could produce an illusion of three dimensions by projecting two images whose deviation matches that of human binocular vision. The use commercial cinema has made of this is the gimmick of 3-D movies with lions leaping from the screen. In mainstream movies 3-D has remained a fad that has never found a permanent place, but whose occasional resurfacing indicates some primal fascination on the part of film viewers. The projection arrangement of the NERVOUS SYSTEM paradoxically produces an effect similar to 3-D movies, the deviation produced by motion between two film frames substituting for the binocular parallax (Jacobs uses Polaroid lenses for some of his performances, and in others relies simply on the mind's power to process the images by itself). Jacobs is the only major filmmaker to consistently mine the untapped potential of 3-D illusion on the screen.
But if THE NERVOUS SYSTEM undermines the common twenty-four frames per second seamless illusion of motion on which almost all cinema depends, it never becomes a series of static images. The possibility of motion haunts these trembling images, and Jacobs uncovers a range of illusions of motion in the interstices of film frames. Not only is the moment of transition in human gestures or the sweep of nature agonizingly prolonged and probed, the miracle of transformation from still to motion takes place before our eyes. THE NERVOUS SYSTEM overcomes Zeno's paradox as motion is built up out of infinitely small increments. Further, manipulations of shutter and projector position often create truly paradoxical experiences of motion as the screen itself seems to rotate slightly before us, inviting us into their depths or looming out from the screen to meet us. The trajectory of motion pauses, reverses itself, breaks down and reconstitutes itself. Here, after nearly a century, are true ,motion pictures' in which motion is never taken for granted but continually encountered in a flux and reflux of perception.
Jacobs' 3-D movies rarely aim at a lifelike illusion (although a few films, such as Globe, do invoke it in an ironic fashion). The NERVOUS SYSTEM performances don't even use films originally shot in 3-D. Instead Jacobs creates a strange vacillating illusion of three dimensions through his projection process. Rather than being subjected to an illusion, we watch the perceptual process itself evolve. A strange, trembling image takes shape before us, seeming always on the verge of breaking into motion, or transforming into a steady, three-dimensional illusion. But it hesitates, shivering before us, and seems to break down into the basic units of time and motion, space and objects.
THE NERVOUS SYSTEM plays on our nervous system. Jacobs not only operates his analytic projectors, he also hooks into our most primal processes of perception. Our basic ability to perceive figure and ground, movement out of stillness, to synthesize space and time are played with, as though we were hot-wired to the screen. Space, motion, time, and imagery dance before us, eternally breaking apart and coming together. THE NERVOUS SYSTEM makes great demands on its audience. It focuses our awareness on processes that are usually unconscious, on our own mental contribution to the images on the screen, synthesizing frames into motion and patterns of light and shadow into space. Never has the position of the film spectator been so perilous, the sutures holding the subject/viewer to the screen so radically unstitched.
Jacobs opens a window onto perception and calls into question the coherence of our position as viewers and masters of vision. The effect is both exhiliating and frightening. In becoming aware of our role in making the moving image we also realize the power the apparatus has over us. I have never watched a NERVOUS SYSTEM performance without the vertiginous sensation that I was teetering out of control on the brink on some primal threshold. One begins to synthesize spaces that make no sense (the moments in all the films when foreground and background seem to change places), and to envision images that aren't truly there. (...)
(Tom Gunning: ,Films that Tell Time': The Paradoxes of the Cinema of Ken Jacobs; an essay written as a part of the 1989 Ken Jacobs retrospective at The American Museum of the Moving Image, New York.)
Ken Jacobs was born May 25th, 1933 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He attended the High School of Industrial Arts and often visited the film screenings of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Acquaintance with George Grosz. Served at the US Coast Guard. In 1955 he continued to study painting in New York, from 1956 he studied with Hans Hoffmann. In 1956 he befriended the filmmaker Jack Smith. First films and first attempts in silhouette theater. Founded the Millenium Film Workshop in New York. Taught film studies at the St. Johns University. In 1969 he founded the film department at the State University of New York in Binghamton together with Larry Gottheim. From 1971 to the present he has been professor of film in Binghamton. In 1986 he was a guest of the DAAD (Berlin Artist's Program). In 1996 his work was shown in a comprehensive film retrospective in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
1956: Orchard Street. 1957: Saturday Afternoon Blood Sacrifice; T.V. Plug; Little Cobra Dance. 1958-60: Little Stabs at Happiness; Star Spangled to Death (unvollendet). 1960-63: Blonde Cobra. 1963: Baud'larian Capers. 1964: Window. 1964/85: The Winter Footage (8mm/16mm). 1965: Lisa and Joey in Connecticut, January '65; ,You've Come Back' ,You're Still Here'. 1964-66/88: The Sky Socialist (8mm/16mm). 1967: Air Shaft. 1968: Soft Rain. 1969: Tom, Tom the Piper's Son; Nissan Ariana Window; Globe. 1975: Urban Peasants. 1978: The Doctor's Dream. 1985: Perfect Film. 1986: The Alps and the Jews (work-in-progress). 1987: Jerry Takes a Back Seat, Then Passes Out of the Picture. 1989: Opening the Nineteenth Century: 1896. 1991: Keaton's Cops. 1995: The Georgetown Loop; Disorient Express
Theaterarbeiten mit Schattentheater oder Filmen/Theater Works, all involving shadowplay or film)
1965: The Big Blackout of '65: Chapter One "Thirties Man" . 1970: Restful Moments (2- and 3-dimensional shadowplay). 1972: A Good Night for the Movies: 4th of July by Charles Ives by Ken Jacobs. 1974: A Man's Home is His Castle Film: The European Theater of Operations; "Slow is Beauty"-Rodin (2- and 3-dimensional shadowplay). 1975: The Boxer Rebellion (2- and 3-dimensional shadowplay). 1976: Flop: 4th of July. 1977: Air of Inconsequence (3-dimensional shadowplay). 1979: Ken Jacobs at the console performing Stick to your Carpentry and You Won't Get Nailed. 1994: Audio-Visual Vaudeville (2- and 3-dimensional shadowplay, Univ. of Colorado at Boulder); Audio-Visual Vaudeville (2- and 3-dimensional shadowplay, Cleveland Institute for the Arts, Ohio)
(The Nervous System, a unique double-analysis projector set-up, deriving 3-D from standard 2-D film, most often archival and other found footage)
1975: The Impossible: Chapter One "Southwark Fair" . 1979: The Impossible: Chapter Two "1896". 1980: The Impossible: Chapter Three "Hell Breaks Loose"; The Impossible: Chapter Four "Schilling"; The Impossible: Chapter Five "The Wrong Laurel"; XCXHXEXRXRXIXEXS. 1981: Ken Jacobs Theater of Unconscionable Stupidity Presents Camera Thrills of the War. 1982: The Whole Shebang. 1983: Making Light of History: The Philippines Adventure. 1989: Two Wrenching Departures. 1990: The Subcinema. 1993: New York Ghetto Fish Market 1903. 1994: Bitemporal Vision: The Sea. 1995: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (A Flicker of Life). 1996: Loco Motion; From Muybridge to Brooklyn Bridge
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.