published in 1994 for the Ken Jacobs retrospective at the American Center in Paris and in the Oberhausen catalogue (42ème international – short film festival, 1996) for the Ken Jacobs presentation : « Das Kino Als Geisterbild ».
Ken Jacobs is one of the most important figures in American experimental film. For more than 35 years, he has questioned the nature of moving pictures in a variety of approaches. Whatever the genre – film diary, analytical film, « personals film », picaresque film, 3D performance – he is always interested in film as a process of recording and reconstituting (in the projection) an event or a more or less open narrative. The narrative structure is never absent on Ken Jacobs’s films, although some of his works break up the classic form of representation and its narrative traditions. Film replays in the present a time long gone, another life. Cinema as an enterprise producing phantoms and ghosts whose visual performances constitutes its magnificent outcome. A work on the ephemeral and the fragility of the filmic illusion, revealed by Jacob’s installations.
Since his early films, which celebrates a way of living, long gone since, as with Orchard Street or Little Stabs at happiness, 50’s bohemian life in New York city, to the latest performances of electrical shadows, Ken Jacobs has always been the outsider within the experimental film scene. H has always claimed and promoted a free cinema, a cinema close to home movies as those made about Flo’s family for Urban Peasants, and which share the same feeling as some of Ron Rice and Jack Smith. Many of his early works have been done with Jack Smith (even if some times they were done with some disagreement). Ken Jacob’s film mixes styles which until then dispersed, the use of found footage, authorize him to question the narrative in Doctor’s Dream, investigate the notion of authenticity with Perfect Film, out-takes from a film dealing with Malcolm X assassination. With Tom, Tom The Piper ’s Son, themes and variations transformed the narratives codes from a recycle so called primitive film. This recycling of footage is also very active within the performance, a French porno film of the 20’s is used withXCXHXEXRXRXIXEXSX, while Making Light of History : The Philippines Adventureused newsreel. Within the 3D film the history of cinema is present ; as a reference or as a quotation, Lumière’s film within Opening the Nineteenth Century : 1896, Buster Keaton with Keaton’s Cops.
He works by approaching sounds and music as well as recycled and redirected images. This recycling does not stop at his own films which are never completely finish, always work in progress. The soundtrack of Blonde Cobra uses a radio transmission which punctures the stretches of the black silence, is inserted between the sequences in order to oppose the present and the vision of scenes that took elsewhere, long ago. The invasion of parasites into the ghosts of a story that is still to come for the audience of the presence. The characters of the picaresque films are put into question, opened for discussion by the scenes that interrupt the plot, as in Star Spangled to death and The Sky Socialist. His work his always on the periphery, marginal. In With Tom, Tom The Piper ’s Son, it is the rereading of the story, its abstraction, that makes us aware of the details of the images we have missed. Likewise in Perfect Film, where none of the found footage film was modified. By this process of appropriation and naming, Ken Jacobs forces us to exercise a critical view. Ken Jacob always tries to break our seeing habits to make us aware of all that can be contained by in the filmed image. The representation is haunted by a multitude of events we don’t know how to perceive. Only the filmmaker’s insistence – as well as the spectator’s- makes them visible. The ghost images recover shape for all who knows how to take time to look at them.