KEN JACOBS NERVOUS SYSTEM

PROGRAMME NOTES

 

 

BERTH MARKS
The original Laurel & Hardy source film used in ONTIC ANTICS STARRING LAUREL AND HARDY
(Lewis R. Foster, 1929, 18m, 16mm film, black and white, sound)

Oliver Hardy goes to meet his partner Stan Laurel at the train station. They have a vaudeville act, which involves a bass fiddle, and are on their way to their next performance. They just barely make the train and are led to their berth, wreaking havoc amongst the other passengers in their wake. With much difficulty, they undress in their berth. As soon as they're ready for bed, they arrive at Pottsville, their destination, and have to hurry off. Once the train has left the station, they discover that they have left their bass fiddle on board. But the situations aren't important, it's what the boys do with them - the way Ollie wanders around the station in search of Stan, just missing him several times, and the various contortions the pair try to get into their upper berth - that give the film its fun. Especially nice is the interchange between the boys and the conductor. When Ollie describes himself and Stan to the trainman as a "big-time vaudeville act", the old man dryly replies, "Well, I bet you're good !"

(Janiss Garza, All Movie Guide)

 

 

BITEMPORAL VISION: THE SEA
(Ken Jacobs, 1994, 70m, Pulfrich 3D Nervous System, black and white, sound)

Nervous System riff on 587 frames photographed by filmmaker Phil Solomon. This work was inspired, during a visit to Hamburg, by the photography of Daniel Maier-Reimer. The surface of water becomes a hugely 3D cosmic cataclysm; what's up, what's down, forward or back or solid or open becomes entirely unstable. The mind is soon at sea, Rorschaching like crazy in the effort to maintain equilibrium.

(Ken Jacobs)

Suggestions for use of the neutral-density (Pulfrich) filter for BITEMPORAL VISION: THE SEA

Only one filter to each viewer. Filter is held before one eye, both eyes remaining open. Viewer decides when to view the film through the filter, and which eye to place it in front of. Middle viewing positions are best (as with all stereo).

It takes time to appreciate the changes, and to familiarise with the process. Sail through any initial discomforts; the brain is a muscle that can be sluggish and grumpy when asked to learn new tricks.

The image is strongly 3D even without the filter but the filter will strongly enhance the depth. It can also radically change arrangement in depth. Choice of eye determines which parts of the scene are in front of or in back of other parts, and in which direction movement flows. The more abstract and non-representational the scene - releasing the mind from its knowledge of physical law and its expectations re. behaviour of objects in space - the more it is that changes can be seen; that is, acknowledged by the mind. So I suggest using the filter most intensively when this depiction of water is least recognisable as water. (Two straightforward camera-takes are the basis of BITEMPORAL VISION: THE SEA, but departure from the familiar will be unmistakable.) Try it, for instance, when the overall scene becomes lighter in tone following the first advancing wave. (A wave rumbling forward slightly below eye-level...that will transform to a massive cloud-form moving overhead...)

It may take a minute to adapt to the filter before seeing its effect. Hang in with it and more visual events will become apparent, all the drama and struggle and comings and goings of the details. Placing the filter left or right, to match the direction to which a form is moving, will advance that form towards the viewer. The filter can also convert a solid form into an open space, and (switch filter) vice-versa.

(Ken Jacobs)

 

 

COUPLING
(1996, 60m, Nervous System, black and white, sound)

Lumiere Brothers 1896 / Ken Jacobs 1996

A wide Paris street lined with small shops. Horse carriages and passersby move freely about (there seem to be no designated traffic lanes). A wedding procession mounts churchsteps, advancing towards the camera. Their ascent remains stately throughout, if also spatially delirious. In keeping with the mystery of the nuptial sacrament, the bride in white - creature of light, of white moviescreen - is allowed only a hint of facial features. Her older brother escorts her, the groom follows. The brother is Charles Molsson, the Lumiere machinist that built their first camera and handwound the projector at The Grand Café, place of their first public screening. It is more than likely that this is the first wedding movie.

(Ken Jacobs)

 

CRYSTAL PALACE
(1997, 25m, Magic Lantern Nervous System, black and white, sound)

Impossible movements impossible spaces issue forth from a single, somewhat unusual slide projector (of British manufacture) employed in an unexpected way. Cinema without film or electronics. And, as with The Nervous System (utilising pairs of projectors), depth phenomena is produced that can be seen as such without special viewing spectacles, and even by a single eye.

(Ken Jacobs)

 

DISORIENT EXPRESS
(Ken Jacobs, 1996, 30m, widescreen 35mm film, black and white, silent)

1906 - Original cinematographer unknown. 1996 - New arrangement by Ken Jacobs. Shots shown as found in "A Trip Down Mount Tamalpais", the Paper Print Collection, Library of Congress. Optically copied by Sam Bush, Western Cine Lab., Denver, from l6mm to 35mm letterbox format to allow double-image mirroring in 1:85 ratio projection.

The same string of shots, in their entirety, is repeated in various placement and directional permutations. But this film is not a lately arrived example of ''Structural Cinema", where methods of ordering film materials often came to take on paramount value. (The viewer at some point grasped the method and that could be pretty much it.) I'm for order only to the extent it provides possibilities of fresh experience. For instance, kaleidoscopic symmetry in DISORIENT EXPRESS is not an end in itself. The radiant patterning that affirms the screen plane serves also to provide visual events of an entirely other magnitude. Flat transmutes repeatedly to massive depth illusion; yet that which appears so forcefully, convincingly in depth is patently unreal - an irrational space. The obvious filmic flips and turns (method is always evident) of the scenic trip provide perceptual challenges to our understanding of reality, and we are often unable to sea things as we know they are.

With light-source shifted from heaven-sent to infernal, we see a landscape that. could never be, except via cinema. A very early recording of a train trip through mountainous terrain, enthusiasm of the adventurous passengers on boisterous display, lends itself to us for a ride into each our own Rorschach wilderness. This careening trip also demands some hanging on, some output of viewer energy. The rightness of the closure (as I see it) was made possible by copying the film, for the last pass, in reverse motion.

DISORIENT EXPRESS takes you someplace else. A spin lasting 30 minutes, you really need to tap into your own reserves of energy. Hang on, please, this is not formalist cinema; order interests me only to the extent that it can provide experience. Watch the flat screen give way to some kind of 3D thrust, look for impossible depth inversions, for jewelled splendour, for CATscans of the brain. I'm banking on this film reviving a yen for expanded consciousness.

(Ken Jacobs)

 

 

THE GEORGETOWN LOOP
(Ken Jacobs, 1996, 11m, widescreen 35mm film, black and white, silent)

Originally photographed in 1903, US Library of Congress collection. New arrangement in 1996 by Ken Jacobs, assisted by Florence Jacobs. 35mm optical rephotography by Sam Bush, Western Cine, Denver.

I've been raiding the Paper Print Collection of the Library Of Congress in Washington, DC, since the late 1960s with TOM, TOM, THE PIPER'S SON. It's a preserve of early cinema. Until 1912, in order to copyright film, one deposited with the library a positive from the negative printed on paper, unprojectable, but - unlike nitrate prints - capable of weathering the years without Crumbling into chemical volatility. And there the stacks rested, safely out of mind, hundreds and hundreds of silent rolls most less than 30 meters, many Edisons, American Mutoscope And Biograph, Gaumont, Lubin, Vitagraph ; cine-snatches of life as it was lived, vaudevillians, proto-dramas, and too many state parades. Until they were ripe for rediscovery and reevaluation, and rephotography back onto film. THE GEORGETOWN LOOP is my 11-minute riff on "The Scenic Wonder Of Colorado", a rail-line built in the 1870s through daunting mountain terrain to serve the silver mining industry. I've called it the first landscape film deserving of an X-rating, and that it is, yet its secret subtitle is - I must whisper - (Celestial Railway).

(Ken Jacobs)

"Elegantly reworking some 1906 footage of a train trip through the Colorado Rockies, the dean of radical filmmaking printed the original image and its mirror side by side to produce a stunning widescreen kaleidoscope effect. Did it really take 100 years of cinema for someone to execute this almost ridiculously simple idea ? "This landscape film deserves an X-rating", says Jacobs."

(Jim Hoberman, Village Voice, 1996)

 

 

KIRK AND KERRY
(Azazel Jacobs, 1996, 25m, 16mm film, colour, sound)

A clash of realities: should he stay or should he go ? An actual couple, Kirk Acevedo and Kerry Johnson perform (or perhaps manifest) the problems of being a couple. The story takes place between given lines and documented feelings, resulting in an oil and water mix of film and life.

(Azazel Jacobs)

"This film excited me with its genuine curiosity about fictional characters and what we think we're doing when we bring them to life. It's a formal experimental film, with a frank and open interest in human beings."

(Hal Hartley, director)

"(KIRK AND KERRY) incorporates the language of the American avant-garde into a film whose premises are in line with Cassavetes, Godard and Hal Hartley Its subject matter is exactly of the moment. I've never seen anything quite like it."

(Amy Taubin, The Village Voice)

"It's a movie within a movie, and others have tried a similar idea, but I think I prefer this to all the others."

(Jonas Mekas, filmmaker)

 

 

ONTIC ANTICS STARRING LAUREL AND HARDY
(Ken Jacobs, 1998, 60m, widescreen Nervous System, black and white, sound)

"With his Nervous System film performances, Jacobs wrings changes out of startled frames and makes the infinitesimal matter. ONTIC ANTICS STARRING LAUREL AND HARDY - the simple shift of a vowel or the advance of a film frame creates a world of definition and character. Basking in that shade of difference he plumbs the frame with surgical decisiveness and amatory delicacy. Welcome to microtonal cinema. Taking Laurel and Hardy's BERTHMARKS as point of departure, Jacobs supercedes slapstick, moving into the deeper dimensions of the human comedy. Psychological imbroglios, time-space predicaments, the unruliness of uncooperative gravity, the unlimited expressiveness of the limited body hallucinated into Rorschach-ing deliveries."

(Mark McElhatten)

Hardy walked a thin line between playing heavy and playing fatty. Laurel adopted a retarded squint, with suggestions of idiot savant. Their characters were at sea, clinging to each other as industrial capitalism was breaking up and sinking. Beautiful losers, they kept it funny, buoying our spirits. Laurel and Hardy... forever.

(Ken Jacobs)

 

 

OPENING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: 1896
(Ken Jacobs, 1990, 11m, Pulfrich 3D 16mm film, colour, sound)

Shafting the screen: the projector beam maintains its angle as it meets the screen and keeps on going, introducing volume as well as light, just as in Paris, Cairo and Venice of a century ago happen to pass. Passing through the tunnel mid-film, a red flash will signal you to switch your single Pulfrich filter before your right you to before your left (keep both eyes open). Centre seating is best: depth deepens viewing further from the screen. Handle filter by edges to preserve clarity. Either side of filter may face screen. Filter can be held at any angle, there's no "up" or "down" side. Also, two filters before an eye does not work better than one, and a filter in front of each only negates the effects.

(Ken Jacobs)

 

PHONOGRAPH
(1990, 15m, audiotape)

One-take unedited audio tape. 15 minutes of loud black surround-sound.

(Ken Jacobs)

"Most ferocious sound I've ever heard".

(John Zorn)

 

SLOWSCAN
(Ralph Hocking, 1981, 4m excerpt, videotape, black and white, silent)

This is an ingenuous and astonishing work made by s happily reclusive artist who has created many marvels in photography and video, often featuring his wife Sherry (often undressed), but who makes no effort to exhibit. A champion of the possibilities of "low res" video, he remains free of addiction to the technically latest and the most. For me, his brusque and unfussy video art remains the latest and the most. It's an honour to present even this small example.

(Ken Jacobs)

 

UN PETIT TRAIN DE PLAISIR
(1999, 25m, Nervous System, black and white, sound)

25 minutes to traverse, by train, (perpendicular view of) a single open Paris street. Remember the smooth rubber "spaldeen" (Spaulding), high bouncer that - sometimes in a stickball game on the once streets of Brooklyn - would split evenly along it's circling seam? And then as pink twin hemispheres made possible further fun. What had been the secret interior was revealed to be so much cleaner and fleshy smooth than the exterior. Suggestively libidinal before one knew what was what. There was no point attempting to fling a half-ball; irresistible was the impulse to invert it ! Pop, inside out. The optical implausibilities of UN PETIT TRAIN DE PLAISIR inverts mentalities like pink half-spaldeens.

(Ken Jacobs)

 

THE WINTER FOOTAGE
(1964 / 84, 421/2m, 16mm film, colour, silent)

With Flo Jacobs, Bob Fleischner, Murray Greenberg, Bill Carpenter, Arty Rosenblatt, Storm De Hirsch, Louis Brigante, Dave Levenson, Diana Bachus, Bob Cowan, Ken Jacobs

Camera Movement enabled me to feel out my place among people and things. Lateral movement especially - because close objects pass faster than distant - located things in a depth my newly acquired zoom lens could play into, expanding and contracting, playing depth against flat-screen imagery. We lived alongside the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, a ghost town nights and weekends. A big walker and looker, I became familiar with many objects comprising our neighbourhood, and invited them to the cine-dance I threw. Framing drew them together and split them in ways they could never understand but together we achieved some animation. Gravity held us all but when I moved and moved the camera it's the scene that convulses onscreen. There were things on my mind, too, and certain persons, I found, could lend a face to them. For instance: Flo and I were marrying, slowly, with difficulty, and I looked to Storm and Louis (their domestic scene on the traffic safety island) for assurance that it needn't mean personality extinction.

The impossible gathering about the fire of irreconcilable entities...I'd heard about a peace beyond understanding and I was trying for it (in real life I want no reconciling of Nazis and Jews as such). I needed a break from what I knew. I was interested in composing film only inasmuch as it served to compose me. It was my film, my necessary respite dream.

THE WINTER FOOTAGE comes between BAUD'LARIAN CAPERS 1963 (subtitled A MUSICAL WITH NAZIS AND JEWS) in which Flo starts to get to me, THE SKY SOCIALIST in which we form a strawberry swirl.

(Ken Jacobs)