Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy New Years! (TFR Top Ten of 2011)

Instead of the typical Top Ten, each entry is organized through thematic categories: (1) the presentation of the unconscious mind through cinema by the world's best Québécois directors, (2) Hitchcockian French thrillers starring the great Guillaume Canet, (3) late works by masters of American cinema, (4) these short films are precursors of what is to come out of Canadian cinema, (5) hybrid films that take the luster of mainstream movies, inflicting them with a singular and vibrant sensability, (6) horror, action and the supernatural reigns supreme, (7) some might call these middle-brow but they are undeniably well crafted and complex, (8) funny, smart, personal and full of feeling, (9) formally invigorating world cinema, (10) social activism, political documentary and anarchist films has been pushed to the margins of experimental cinema - these have been the most challenging.
Following the Top Ten there are a few other lists: best new film books, favorite local film critics, upcoming series etc...
I hope you've enjoyed reading Toronto Film Review and that you keep checking it out in 2012 - there is a lot more film coverage and book reviews to come. A special thanks goes out to everyone who contributed and helped. And make sure to check out the twitter account, TOFilmReview. - D.D.

"You know what, my films resemble more and more what children make in their rooms, when they make little expositions with rocks and seashells: I see more and more clearly my films, and more so the next one, like expositions of little things that I want to share." - Lars von Trier

Top Ten of 2011
 1.       Café de Flore (Jean-Marc Vallée)
          Curling (Denis Côté)
 2.       Espion(s) (Nicolas Saada)
          Une vie meilleure (Cédric Kahn)
 3.       Road to Nowhere (Monte Hellman)
          Twixt (Francis Ford Coppola)
          The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
 4.       The Fuse: Or How I Burned Simon Bolivar (Igor Drljača) 
          Coorow-Latham Road (Blake Williams)
          Up In Cottage Country (Simon Ennis)
          La Ronde (Sophie Goyette)
          Three Mothers (Rafal Sokolowski)
 5.       Melancholia (Lars von Trier)
          Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
          You Are Here (Daniel Cockburn)
          Hors Satan (Bruno Dumont) 
          Un été brûlant (Philippe Garrel)
 6.       Super 8 (J.J. Abrams)
          Scream 4 (Wes Craven)
          Le Gamin au vélo (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
          The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 1 (Bill Condon)
          Attack the Block (Joe Cornish)
          Kill List (Ben Wheatley)
          Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
 7.       Restless (Gus Van Sant)
          The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar)
          Pina (Wim Wenders)
          Contagion (Steven Soderbergh)
          Shame (Steve McQueen)
          The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg)
 8.       Hall Pass (Bobby and Peter Farrelly)
          How Do You Know (James L. Brooks)
          Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
          Bridesmaids (Paul Feig)
          We Bought a Zoo (Cameron Crowe)
          The Descendants (Alexander Payne)
 9.       Ne change rien (Pedro Costa)
          To Die Like a Man (João Pedro Rodrigues)
          The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira)
          Mysteries of Lisbon (Raoul Ruiz)
          The Future (Miranda July)
          Le quattro volte (Michelangelo Frammartino)
          The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (Andrei Ujica)
 10.      Seeking the Monkey King (Ken Jacobs)
          The Forgotten Space (Allan Sekula and Noël Burch)
          Vapor Trail (Clark) (John Gianvito)
          This is not a Film (Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Jafar Panahi)
          Slow Action (Ben Rivers)
          We Can't Go Home Again (Nicholas Ray)
          Too Many Things (Donigan Cumming)
Best new and discovered film books and writing:
  • Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy by Saul Austerlitz (Chicago Review Press, 2010).
  • The Film Comedy Reader edited by Gregg Rickman (Limelight Editions, 2004).
  • Comment Woody Allen peut change votre vie by Éric Vartzbed (Éditions du Seuil, 2011).
  • Apichatpong Weerasethakul edited by James Quandt (Austrian Film Museum, 2009).
  • Splitting the Choir – The Moving Images of Donigan Cumming edited by Scott Birdwise (Canadian Film Institute, 2011).
  • Pencil, Ashes, Matches & Dust by Donigan Cumming (Editions J’ai VU, 2009).
  • Trammel up the Consequences by Robin Wood (Lightstruck Film & Media Book, 2011).
  • Monte Hellman - Sympathy for the devil by Emmanuel Burdeau (Capricci, 2011).
  • Monte Hellman: His Life and Films by Brad Stevens (McFarland & Company, 2003).
  • Masters of Cinema: Francis Ford Coppola by Stéphane Delorme (Phaidon, 2010); as well as his writing and direction of Cahiers du cinéma.
  • When Movies Mattered: Reviews from a Transformative Decade by Dave Kehr (University Of Chicago Press, 2011); as well as Kehr's weekly DVD review column in The New York Times.
  • The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 by Andrew Sarris (Da Capo Press, 1968).
  • Films And Feelings by Raymond Durgnat (MIT Press, 1971).
  • BFI Modern Classics - WR: Mysteries of the Organism by Raymond Durgnat (BFI, 2008).
  • Joseph L. Mankiewicz et son double by Vincent Amiel (Presses Universitaires de France, 2010).
  • World Film Locations: Tokyo edited by Chris MaGee (Intellect Ltd, 2011).
  • Optic Antics: The Cinema of Ken Jacobs edited by Michele Pierson, David E. James and Paul Arthur (Oxford University Press, 2011)
Best North American Repertory:
  • Anthology Film Archives.
Favorite local film critics:
  • Adam Nayman:
who writes for the Toronto alternative paper The Grid as well the more worthwhile Cineaste and Cinema Scope. His polemical pieces alongside his vocal position on certain kinds of filmmaking definitively elevates film criticism and the film critic to a higher plane. But more so then his writing, Adam's extracurricular activities like his classes at the Miles Nadal JCC have been one of the highlights of 2011. Who can forget the janitor cleaning the alleyway while the stragglers finished watching Goodbye, Dragon Inn or the ridiculously popular class on Woody Allen. More so then reading film criticism, the classes seemed like the next logical progression of it - the living incarnation. The classes are great as Adam's tone blends the informal and the academic and he illustrates the comments with film clips from a ripped DVD - everything seems to be light years ahead of the curriculum at the University of Ottawa. And going to The Pump and Shoeless Joe's after for pints with a group of people and friends is always a lot of fun. Adam's classes included New Wave Foreign Cinema Lectures In Nayman’s Terms and the two part series Love Em or Hate Em: Controversial Directors and MORE Controversial Directors. And Adam has a new class scheduled for the spring of 2012 at the JCC on Stanley Kubrick, with each class dedicated to a specific film. I know that I am speaking for more then myself when I say, we can't wait!

  • Andrew Parker:
  • for his writing at Criticize This! and Dork Shelf as well as his programming series Defending the Indefensible at the Toronto Underground Cinema. If you were to have told me a year ago that the state of Toronto's weekly film criticism is in good shape and that the best writing could be found on website's with silly names like Criticize This! and Dork Shelf, I would have probably laughed at you. But lo and behold, I was wrong. Andrew is the kind of guy that still writes his reviews longhand with an old pen and notepad. And Andrew's weekly reviews, which run around the one-thousand word mark, of the majority of new releases provides the most thorough readings of what is playing on Toronto's screens. With a special attention to the films that can gain from this critical support like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Beauty Day. As well he seems to be ahead of most trends as he can tell you why movies like Like Crazy and Margaret are terrific and his opinions stand out as he can also say why most commercial drivel is bad.

  • Along with Andrew's series Defending the Indefensible, there is also John Semley's (A.V. Club Toronto) new series Remake/Remodel, both of which I recommend and that I look forward to starting up again in the new year. As well there is a new class that seems interesting as part of the Media Mondays at the JCC, Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors: American Movies and the Politics of Idealism presented by Kevin Courrier which will be running from January 16th to March 26th each Mondays starting at 7:00PM - except for February 20th and March 12th. As well, like always, there is Early Monthly Segments and Pleasure Dome for your experimental film fix, and the monthly film-blogger pub nights for some camaraderie. And while I am shouting people out, might as well bring up the Cinema Scope Twitter account CinemaScopeMag, which is a lot of fun too.
  • Most anticipated films of 2012:
    • Abel Ferrara's 4:44 Last Day on Earth and Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. As well Kazik Radwanski and Antoine Bourges from Medium Density Fibreboard Films (MDFF) should hopefully have their current projects finished in the new year - I look forward to catching these two on the festival circuit.

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    La Ronde and some recent Québécois films

    Congratulations to Igor Drljača and Sophie Goyette for their respective short-films The Fuse: Or How I Burned Simon Bolivar and La Ronde for making it onto Canada’s Top Ten short film selection for 2011. They will be screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of Programme B on Sunday, January 8 at 8:30PM, which I highly recommend going to.
    I am also still writing a third review of a few other Canadian short-films: Simon Ennis' Up in Cottage Country, Rafal Sokolowski's Three Mothers and Blake Williams' Coorow-Latham Road. - D. D.

    "More than a nouvelle vague, their cinema is perhaps foremost, and more importantly, a new cry. It is our job to know how to listen."  - Helen Faradji
    In her article Les cinéastes cinéphiles from the dossier on the Renouveau du cinéma Québécois in 24 images (N.152), Helen Faradji discuses Gilles Deleuze's concept of maniérisme to describe a group of feature-filmmakers that are revitalizing the Québécois cinematographic landscape. The filmmakers highlighted are Denis Côté, Maxime Giroux, Rafaël Ouellet, Myriam Verreault, Henry Bernadet, Xavier Dolan, and Stéphane Lafleur. Though I would also include Guy Édoin, Philippe Falardeau and, especially, Jean-Marc Vallée.
    Faradji uses the term maniérisme to speak about a third state of the image, “when the root of the image is always still an image.” The term maniérisme, which is derived from the Italian expression bella maniera, is appropriate to label these filmmakers. Like Baroque painters, they reject the rule that art should be an imitation of nature. Deleuze further expands on this style in his book The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque proposing that mannerism is about altering, twisting and folding visions of reality. This is something that these filmmakers also do as they meticulously set their scenes and place their camera - twisting and distorting reality for it to conform to their vision. The distinct character of this group of contemporary Québécois filmmakers can be traced to three attributes: mannerism as an operative function to capture reality while at the same time changing it, a keen awareness of contemporary cinema - what is good, and what they like - and unique funding opportunities (SODEC, NFB etc).
    Though the films of these diverse filmmakers are different, Faradji highlights reoccurring commonalities:
    “No sunny roads or alleyways with bystanders, but instead new locations (countrysides, suburbs, dumps, etc.) usually in dead mid-season. No idle chatter, stories that lead the viewer by the hand or didactic montages, but instead there is silences, contemplation, and narrative “holes” that force the viewer to focus his attention on the qui-vive […] While it first appeared a priori difficult to account for different approaches and tone of these filmmakers, their reunion under the banner of maniérisme, as well as their different use of formal elements, seems like the cement of their shared identity.”
    I propose to put forward two up-and-coming Montreal short-film directors to Faradji’s cinéastes cinéphiles banner and they are Anne Émond and Sophie Goyette.
    Émond’s short film Sophie Lavoie is exceptionally well-done in its minute social observations through indirect means as in a single-long take it explores the thoughts and feelings of a young woman (Catherine De Léan) as she is getting an STD test. It is about "modern love" as Émond describes it. While Émond also moved to full-length features as her Nuit #1 premiered in Canada First at TIFF 2011 and is being released in Montreal on December 16th. Nuit #1 is about a young woman who picks up a guy at a rave and then how she deals with the nights after effects. While there is also Goyette whose La Ronde I will be reviewing below. But to confirm these two and their generations passion for filmmaking here is a quote from an interview between Goyette and Sonia Sarfati from La Presse Suisse, “I adore writing, and directing is another form of writing. So I can’t really see myself giving my scripts to anybody else, just like I can’t see myself directing something somebody else wrote.” Émond and Goyette truly captures this new Québécois mannerism. They have a story to tell and a desire to share it through cinema.
    Sophie Goyette’s fourth short-film, and longest to date at twenty-three minutes, La Ronde is a rural Québec drama set in Laval about these identical twins Ariane and Alex Valencourt whose father Michael, who was suffering from schizophrenia, recently attempted suicide. They now have to decide if they want to ‘pull the plug’ on their father who is being kept alive by life-support systems. The twenty-three-year-old Ariane (played brilliantly by Éliane Préfontaine) has a plane ticket and she is ready to leave, while Alex does not really wants to go, even though he only works at a late night diner. Similarly to Sean Durkin's Martha Macy May Marlene and Steve McQueen’s Shame, the film explores the breakup of a family and how it affects both siblings differently through how they deal with the solemnity of the grieving process.
    La Ronde begins with an amazing circular shot of Ariane in her family home while she plays the piano. This sequence is similar to the opening of Catherine Martin's Trois temps après la mort d'Anna where a gifted violinist Anna performs a complex Beethoven concerto while her adoring mother Françoise looks on. You can tell that Ariane’ home has not been inhabited for a while, or at least has not taken care of, since it is messy and full of empty beer cans. The kitchen sink is full of dishes and for dinner Ariane makes a microwaveable dinners. There is a loneliness to the scene of her prodding the layer of plastic over the tray. Then Ariane walks through her father’s room where she listens to his voice on the answering machine and spells his deodorant. Ariane's grief is presented with an understated sensitivity. And then she is off into the night on her electric scooter.
    Ariane used to be the local high school football coach and she catches on the school’s playing field a few of the boys drunk. The beer cans are littered around and the boys are stumbling and then one of them barfs. Ariane brings the sick boy back to his parent’s house. And in the conversation with the kid’s father, who thought that his son was staying at a friend’s place, the viewer learns about Ariane’s father and the reason for his hospitalization – a suicide attempt. This father and Michael were co-workers in a nearby industrial park, which is a major contributor to Laval’s economy.
    Ariane then drives off to the top of a cliff, which looks down upon an industrial park. Where she stands a bit too close to the edge in is a close-up of her feet kicking little rocks off. She then decides to back away and drive off. Except that her scooter dies - it no longer works. All of this loss and stress has been building up in her and this is the breaking point. She has lost her parents and does not know what to do or where to go. In a vulnerable cry for help and protest Ariane yells out "câlisse". 

    And then, what does Ariane do? She kicks her helmet off the cliff à la Football kickoff and keeps moving onward into the night and forward in her journey.
    Walking on the side of an off-beat road, Ariane gets picked up in a car by a mysterious man (is he a criminal on the run?). After driving for a while they run into a dead deer lying on the middle of the road. The man wants to drive on top of the deer but Ariane decides to get out of the car to pull it out of the way. This appreciation of life, of all different species, reflects the films Christianity, the dominant Québécois religion. This was hinted at earlier while they were driving and passed a a brightly lit cross.

    While preventing this deer from being run over Ariane sees and hears something from off in the forest, which she decides to follow. In one of the most spellbinding sequences in the film Ariane follows this apparition. In a point-of-view shot through a dark grassy field with a path illuminated by a flashlight the soundtrack also shifts to the conversation between the brother Alex and a doctor discussing cutting off Michael's life support. When Ariane finally gets to what she has seen, it turns out to be a cow. The films mysticism and contrasts gives the impression that it is the father re-incarnated in the out-of-place farm animal. The texture of the scene feels very sci-fi supernatural or more concisely like Apichatpong’s oneiric Tropical Malady. As well this focus on animals seems like general trend in Québécois cinema as an owl played a large role in Halima Ouardiri’s Mokhtar as well Denis Côté’s new film Bestiaire (which is premiering at Sundance) is a documentary consisting solely of animals filmed in a Montreal zoo.

    There is a beautiful exposition shot of a brick wall with statues of white doves flying to the light, and then Ariane makes her way to the family’s tombstone. She spends the night there and in the morning she scratches out with chalk Alex and her name. She then calls her brother and says, "Je suis ici avec tois," “I am here with you”. To end La Ronde, Ariane is able reconcile her demons and find solace - her views making a full circle.

    David Davidson

    Sophie Goyette’s other short films include En parallèle (2008), À l’État sauvage (2009) and Manèges (2009). As well she is currently completing a new short, Le futur proche, and writing her first full-length feature film. La Ronde had it’s world premiere at the Big World for Short Films program at the Locarno Film Festival 2011 and also played in TIFF Short Cuts Canada and in the Focus Section of Montreal Festival du Nouveau Cinema.

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Ken Jacobs and Experimental Cinema (Toronto 2011)

    So far 2011 has been a good year for experimental film in Toronto. To list some of the highlights: In collaboration between The Free Screen and the Images Festival the Lightbox hosted a book launch, with two screenings, of Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945–2000 with Kathy Geritz in attendance. Hot Docs programmed Allan Sekula and Noël Burch’s The Forgotten Space. The CFMDC and the Cinémathèque Québecoise released the complete work of Joyce Wieland on DVD, a first, and there was also an accompanying screening at Jackman Hall. Andréa Picard’s Wavelengths program (see: Bart Testa’s coverage) curated Ben Rivers’ Slow Action at Gallery TPW. Early Monthly Segments1 - a monthly experimental film series programmed by Scott Berry, Chris Kennedy and Kate MacKay - had an Owen Land memorial screening. The Pleasure Dome had the projection and book launch of Splitting the Choir; The Moving Images of Donigan Cumming, co-presented by Scott Birdwise. And to sidestep from these Toronto screenings, I went to New York for a week in October. Where I got to see Harun Farocki’s Images of War (at a Distance), which included Serious Games I–IV (2009–10). As well the Anthology Film Archives was having an Adolfas Mekas memorial retrospective where I got to see The Brig (1964).

    Now to top off these screenings there were the Ken Jacobs' projections and performance in Mississauga2 and Toronto on November 18th and 19th, which was part of the University of Toronto Arts Council 2011 "Speaker in the Arts" Series. Where Jacobs’ held a Nervous Magic Lantern performance and screened his 00's digital work, including his much anticipate Seeking the Monkey King, which recently played in Zuccotti Park in New York in conjunction with the Occupy Wall Street protests.

    How to best describe one of Ken Jacobs' Nervous Magic Lantern performances? It was to take place in the evening time on a Friday. I was surprised to see this university classroom - out in Mississauga! - so full with students. Nearing the 8PM start time the last minute stragglers were being rounded up by Jacobs who was helping them find a seat. The seating was arranged so that the chairs were centered and that the front rows had fewer chairs, so that the quantity progressed outwards with more chairs adding on to the edges. As well each row was higher then the previous one. It was kind-of like a pyramid of people facing forward. With the Nervous Magic Lantern set up at the center, back of the hall where Ken's long-time wife and collaborator Flo Jacobs was sitting.

    The Magic Lantern is a pretty primitive device whose origins are the 18th century lamp image-projectors. Wikipedia describes how they operate as such,
    "The magic lantern has a concave mirror in front of a light source that gathers light and projects it through a slide with an image scanned onto it. The light rays cross an aperture (which is an opening at the front of the apparatus), and hit a lens. The lens throws an enlarged picture of the original image from the slide onto a screen."
    The Nervous Magic Lantern has a rotating propeller that serves as a shutter over the lens, which gives the image a strobe-light effect. For Jacobs, the light source magnifies these various plastic slides that he changes sporadically over the hour-long performance. The light stops being projected between the slides and the room is in pitch-black3. I counted around twelve changes. These plastic slides, which the light passes through and are then projected onto the screen, are all different. They are hand-painted in a style that recalls the Abstract Expressionist - by that I mean colorful, formalist and non-representational - though one can always tease out specific images from them. As well these plastic slides are doubled and can be indented, bubbled, scratched and further manipulated. The pulsating image gives off a sense of three-dimensionality. While Jacobs can, and does, move the slides around to give the image a sense of motion - a form of motion that seems infinite as the objects always seem to be moving while never actually going anywhere. The image is being projected at the front of the classroom on a projection screen as well as the surrounding chalkboard and wall.

    Michele Pierson writes about the genesis of the Nervous Magic Lantern performances in his Introduction: Ken Jacobs – A Half-Century of Cinema in the new Oxford University Press book Optic Antics: The Cinema of Ken Jacobs (2011)4, which is edited by Michele Pierson, David E. James and Paul Arthur,
    “From the mid-1960s, Jacobs became increasingly involved in the development of a variety of performance projects: shadow plays (THE BIG BLACKOUT OF ’65: Chapter One “Thirties Man” [1965]), multimedia light and sound shows (THE BIG BLACKOUT OF ’65: Chapter four “Evoking the Mystery” [1968]), and diverse types of projection-based performance (including, in the early 1970s, a marathon multiple projector film performance at the Bleecker Street Cinema. […] Sometime in the late 1960s he began using the term paracinema to describe these works. Some, like the shadows plays and, much later, Nervous Magic Lantern performances, create the conditions for a cinematic experience entirely without film, while others exploit the creative potential of projection to make film newly and strangely resonant. Jacobs’ conceptualization of paracinema as a kind of parallel cinema, running alongside the cinema everyone already knew, brilliantly foregrounded the extent to which the technological and material parameters of cinema could still be considered up for grabs […] Precursors for the Nervous Magic Lantern performance are not to be found, as they are for the Nervous System, in the analytical experiments of Eadweard J. Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey, but in Thomas Wilfred’s colored light shows.”
    Jacobs' Nervous Magic Lantern paracinema have a unique quality to them as you are watching something pass before you that is unlike anything that has shown before or will show again. Jacobs' describes them in the Rountable on Digital Experimental Filmmaking5 in October (N.137) as, “each time I do it, I improvise. I can’t repeat what I did a previous time,” which is removed from the definitive performances one can find on the DVD transfer Celestial Subway Lines/Salvaging Noise (with John Zorn and Ikue Mori) (2005). All the while there is also something about sharing the experience with others, being in the same room with Jacobs, the uniqueness of the score (Jacobs has different scores), physically being under the light that is projected onto the screen, and sharing in the improvisation on how Jacobs' spins the projected plastic sheet - that contributes to a palpable sense of anticipation and then awe.

    At the performance there were a few introductions by three different professors, all brief and generous, and then Jacobs introduced the work. He discusses his studies with Hans Hofman who taught him how to better utilize the flatness of painting while being able to give it depth. His speech was evocative of Clement Greenberg’s essay Modernist Painting but transplanted Greenberg’s ideas towards image-projection instead of painting as Jacobs’ emphasis was on image self-criticism, focusing on what makes it medium-specific – it’s flatness – which removes it from the representational and literal while instead rendering it abstract.

    One thing about Jacob's work that is interesting is how it mixes formalism with the personal and the social. An example of this is the use of sound in the Nervous Magic Lantern performance. The audio soundtrack is a recording of Jacobs going out and being on the New York City subway. What do you hear? There is the whizzing of the subway, footsteps, people chatting, singing, and music. It continues as such until near the end, where Ken leaves the subway, goes up stairs to his apartment and he chats with his wife Flo. She asks him if he brought up the mail? No, he didn’t. There was only one envelope – the punch line of the performance. The Subway station sounds, just like the neighborhood in Window or the references to New York in Blonde Cobra, give Jacobs’ work a particularly New York City, American quality. As well the conversation with Flo continues the interlacement of his wife and family within his work. The formal-aesthetic qualities come from the visuals created by the Nervous Magic Lantern (as described above). This hybrid of elements leads to interesting results.

    1. The Early Montly Segments will be closing up for the year on Monday December 12th with a screening of Jack Chambers’ Hart of London, to coincide with an exhibition of Chambers’ artwork at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
    2. The performance took place on the UTM campus, where in the Blackwood Gallery there was a looped projection of Daïchi Saïto's Never a Foot Too Far, Even, which was well worth checking out.
    3. The use of non-images has been consistent for Jacobs’, which started in his early work when he would not splice out the flameouts (the black frames at the end of film reels), “I kept them in my films for a number of reasons. I wanted to say, “This is film; this is the character of film. What I’m showing you are unedited rolls from a camera; I left the flash frames in: that was part of the statement. And now you can make it happen digitally, and it doesn’t connote anything. It doesn’t signify. It’s just an effect.” Jacobs’ also writes,
    “But the marks of these older technologies mean something. They ring a bell, they do something. I studied decay, OK? My Tom, Tom, The Piper’s Son is really about decay, among a lot of other things. It wasn’t about nostalgia, it was about asking, What is this old stuff? What is it made of? What is its character as a series of light impressions?”
    4. So what are the key Jacobs’ references? This new book Optic Antics: The Cinema of Ken Jacobs (2011) - a word play on Jacobs’s Ontic Antics (2005) – is going to be important for all future Jacobs’ scholarship. Especially as Pierson’s introduction increases the knowledge surrounding Jacobs as his research includes a lot of unpublished material. As well there is the 1979 Lindley Hanlon interview with Ken Jacobs. And there is the catalogue Films The Tell Time: A Ken Jacobs Retrospective, which is edited by David Schwartz and has contributions by Tom Gunning.
    5. The Roundtable on Digital Experimental Filmmaking included Flo and Ken Jacobs, Luis Recoder, Lynne Sachs, Mark Street, Malcolm Turvey and Federico Windhausen (who does a good job at guiding the conversation). In it Sachs’ brings up an interesting point, “I think one of the interesting directions that the digital world is taking us toward is a fetishism of decay […] The desire for decay is a nostalgia for the aura of the original and its physical transformation.”

    Ken Jacobs’ Life and Career
    Stan Brakhage’s book Film At Wit’s End1 (1989) is one of the earliest published resources to describe Jacobs biographical information at length. Jacobs was born Jewish in 1933 in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York and his childhood was rough. When Jacobs was fifteen his public school got him an access card to the Museum of Modern Art where he could go see films like old classics and the French avant-garde. Jacobs has always had a leftist, anti-military attitude. But even so, he was forced into being drafted after high school where he served his time in the Coast Guard, which was a position that he was told is essentially defensive and “does nothing.” In 1956 his stint was over and Jacobs returned to New York. The living conditions in New York at the time for artists were miserable, Brakhage describes it as, ““Jungle” is not the term to describe it because there is no jungle so dirty as a lower east side apartment in the 1950s.” During this time Jacobs met Jerry Sims, who would be important to his artistic development, along with the journalist-photographer Weegee (The Naked City) and the artist Hans Hofmann, who was one of his teachers. Jacobs with Larry Gottheim would start a film department and teach at Harpur College, New York and St. John’s College in Queens. Since then Jacobs has kept teaching, making cinema, performing, and has had a family.

    How best to talk about Jacobs work and career?
    (1) There are the early, less polished works starting with Orchard Street (1955). This period includes Jacobs' collaborations with his friend of the time Jack Smith who acted in some of his films like Blonde Cobra (1959-63), which was made out of footage from Bob Fleischner’s Blonde Venus and The Cobra Woman. Brakhage refers to Blonde Cobra as "one of the masterpieces in the American cinema." There is something quintessentially beat about this period through its forming of a junk aesthetic. Pierson describes Jacobs and Smith’s collaboration as their “shared attraction to the marginal produced a collection of films more explicitly antagonistic to prevailing social values than anything the art world could accommodate.”

    (2) Things would change once Jacobs' got his “lucky break” (as he puts it) and met his current wife Florence Karpf. The Jacobs had a falling-out with Smith after the arrest of Ken (theatre manager), Flo (ticket seller), and Jonas Mekas (programmer) over the premiere of Flaming Creatures (1963) at the New Bowery Theatre on St. Mark’s Place in March 1964. The work Jacobs created in the wake of this event, where he was in-and-out of court hearings, like Window (1964) and Nisan Ariana Window (1968) and Spaghetti Aza (1976) Jacobs describes as "chamber works"2 and "pockets of sanity." The films are calm places to forget about the American army that was at war with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from 1955 to 1975. And there is a stronger impression of his own filming, instead of using found-footage, and that primarily consisted of his New York City surroundings and an engagement with his new family, which included his wife Flo and his newly-born children Nisi and Azazel.

    (3) Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son (1969) is the work that Jacobs is most readily known for along with Star Spangled to Death (1956-60/2001-04), which is “the greatest found-footage film” according to Jonas Mekas. In Tom, Tom Jacobs makes the viewer more conscious of film as a manipulative element that consists of celluloid through obvious filmic flips and turns. Brahkage describes it, “Ken’s Tom, Tom is probably an ultimate comedy. It takes a simple comedy that was cranked out in the dawn of the film industry and reaches all the way to the fullest possibilities of comedy that I have ever seen in one film.” While Pierson describes Tom, Tom as a structural film, to use P. Adams Sitney's term, “a new focus on and exploration of the structural features of the medium.” There are now at least two digital versions of it: A Tom, Tom Chaser (2002) and Return To The Scene of The Crime (2008). While Jacobs' Perfect Film (1985) continues his appropriation of old archive footage as he gathers material of news-reporters talking to witnesses and a police sergeant about the Malcolm X assassination in Harlem. Jacobs' comments on it,
    “For the straight scoop we need the whole scoop, or no less than the clues entire and without rearrangement. O, for a Museum of Found Footage, or cable channel, library, a shit-museum of telling discards accessible to all talented viewers/auditors."
    Which brings us to Jacobs' digital work…

    1. The other filmmakers brought up in Film At Wit’s End along with Ken Jacobs include Jerome Hill, Marie Menken, Sidney Peterson, James Broughton, Maya Deren, Christopher MacLaine and Bruce Conner.
    2. “He [Jacobs] calls the films he began making with this camera in the year the Flaming Creatures trials took place – Window (1964), We Stole Away (1964), The Winter Footage (1964), Winter Sky (1964), and The Sky Socialist (1964-68) – chamber works. In his words: “Composers, I knew, would sometimes take their most personal thoughts and feelings and experimental ideas and work them out in chamber works rather than concert hall ideas.”” According to Michelle Pierson in Optic Antics.
    Digital technologies
    Jacobs has been using digital technology since 1999, starting with Flo Rounds A Corner (1999). On the subject, “digital technologies were revolutionary and that they fundamentally changed filmmaking,” with came about through the rise of cheaper digital cameras and editing software like Final Cut Pro. This do it yourself software culminates for Jacobs in his recent six-part 3D Occupy Wall Street series, which is available on YouTube under his username Nervous Ken1.

    Malcolm Turvey’s recent article Ken Jacobs: Digital Revelationist from October (N.137) situates Jacobs in the realm of digital experimental cinema. Turvey sees Jacobs work as part of the distinct tradition of revelationism,
    “and Jacobs is one of this tradtition’s most important and brilliant contemporary practitioners, extending it into the digital era […] What distinguishes revelationism is its embrace of both the cinema’s capacity to reproduce reality, as beloved by realist such as André Bazin and its ability to transform reality, as celebrated by modernist like Rudolf Arnheim.”
    Turvey also looks at the ‘indexical’ quality of digital photography and cinema by arguing against Mary Ann Doane’s essay The Indexical and the Concept of Medium Specificity as digital videos remnants are, “mechanically generated non-contact physical traces.”

    1. The nervousness of Jacobs’ account name in relation to the protests that he is filming might be a nervousness of social anxieties. Instead of the optical nervousness of his entitled performances that is derivative from,
    ““Cézanne’s nervousness” Picasso spoke of wasn’t nervousness at all but his efforts to put down the elusive contours of objects studied very closely as seen with two eyes […] What Cézanne’s apple means to me is that painting is being used less to tell us the facts about the apples than about what it is to see with two adjacent eyes reporting similar but conflicting and forever unfixable (on a flat plane: the canvas, the movie screen, the monitor surface) aspects of three-dimensional reality.”
    From the Nicole Brenez contribution in Optic Antics.
    Jacobs' 00’s digital work
    On Saturday night, November 19th at University College (Room 140) St. George Campus there were the screenings of some of Jacobs' 00’s digital work: Capitalism: Slavery (2006), The Surging Sea of Humanity (2006), Capitalism: Child Labor (2006), Another Occupation (2011), and Seeking the Monkey King (2011). It was a throbbing lights series - not for persons afflicted with epilepsy - that uses Jacobs’ patented eternalism, “a method for creating an appearance of sustained three-dimensional motion-direction of unlimited duration, using a finite number of pictures.”

    With Michael Moore-like titles Capitalism: Slavery and Capitalism: Child Labor, Jacobs uses the tools and techniques from his other work to offer a social critique in a series that is ostensibly more political then it has been in the past. There is a focus on infrascenic movement, to use Nicole Brenez’s term, where Jacobs “finds irrational, inconceivable movements that nonetheless form the objective material of human circulation.” It is insightful to bring up Brenez as she describes one thing useful in better understanding Jacobs, which is that he is “the creator of a theory [visual study] that is as important for its technical initiatives as for its textual and filmic manifestations.” Visual study being, “the study of an image using the very means of the image itself.” This study of an image through use of the image itself is what Jacobs accomplishes in these Capitalism films and in The Surging Sea of Humanity, which uses an old 19th century picture by B.W. Kilburn of a crowd of bowl-hat wearing industrialist flâneurs and then superimposes the picture on itself with some Tom, Tom manipulations. While in Another Occupation Jacobs’ takes archive footage of a Huckleberry Fin upstream journey into a military occupation and slave plantation. The video is interlaced with anti-military comments and has some Disorient Express (1996) footage alteration.

    To finish it off there is Seeking the Monkey King, which consists of twelve pictures of crumpled gold and black aluminum foil with a digital strobe light effect. There is a slow momentum of the enlarging of the scale of the images. And with J.G.Thirlwell’s music the piece is especially haunting. Where through text Jacobs offers scathing political criticism of American president Barack Obama’s failings mixed with references to his own cinematic evolution from his teenager days seeing the French avant-garde at the MoMA (À nous la liberté) to the heyday of the underground film (Deren, Brakhage). As David Phelps writes about Seeking the Monkey King over at Mubi,
    "As younger, American avant-garde masters—Dorsky, Klahr—pursue the veil of illusion, a sublime presence blind to history, Jacobs makes movies that work to break through the patina of beauty, only to reveal the ultimate illusions of movie-making, the third dimension of a figurative space and movement out of single, still images."
    The works of Jacobs are spellbinding adventures of perception that continue to provide fresh experiences while still being able to comment about the state of American politics.

    David Davidson