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Ken Jacobs`s film programme and the Russian premiere of «Star Spangled To Death»

The American film artist and experimentalist, a partisan of para-cinematography, who rejects standard mainstream technology, Ken Jacobs is included by Whitney Museum in the list of 100 greatest artists of the XXth century. The Russian première of «Star Spangled To Death» at the Media Forum will show the film which Jacobs has worked upon for almost half a century, from 1957 to 2003. A tale of corrupt and dangerous America consists of found footage of film material, news, musicals, documentaries and animation. It combines all elements of the new absurd and limits- free cinema born in the 50s New York and acquires a really epic scope.

The Nervous films of Ken Jacobs 

Having studied painting as minutely as he did the history of cinema, Ken Jacobs wanted to become a painter. He is even now not sure if he hasn't succeeded in this, however, he uses the knowledge of art in his work these days, though formally it belongs to the field of cinema. No ordinary viewer will agree that this is what a film can look like. Ken Jacobs' strange films open like a collage of reportage documentary, animation and video art, musicals and elements of theatre performance. It plays on the viewer's subconscious revealing the specifics of his nervous system. As other Media Forum stars Ken Jacobs makes films, but he does it differently. 

The term paracinema which is used to describe Jacobs' work has appeared in the 1960's in the USA. It united the peripheral genres of video, far off from mainstream, in the effort to legitimize all the experimental forms of camera work.  Later this term was used principally to define art films which belong only formally to the cinema and incorporate various materials. This was the kind of films Ken Jacobs made. He worked at the time when the actively developing American conceptual art has called to forego the traditional media for everything immaterial and ephemeral, unstable and short-lived forms of art activity. Under the influence of these ideas new "films" appeared made without film or camera but thought to be cinema nevertheless, or paracinema to be precise. Jacobs' works at the time were closer to live theatre performances for they were created by chiaroscuro effects on screen. 

The famous Jackson films are also included into the category of paracinema system under the common term of «Nervous System Performances». To create them the director uses found footage and transforms it into something very different. He has thought up a special tool the Nervous System - an apparatus to convert found footage into 3D images and create various special effects and illusions. Two projectors show the viewer only a few stills a second, the images overlapping. The artist likes to vary their quantity and play with pictures morphing into strange images. 

While working on a film Jacobs takes a short film or a short fragment of a film and studies it in depth, mining it like an ore-deposit, digging in search for lost meanings in between the stills. The process itself and its result is, in his own words, fascinating and entrancing, so that it becomes all-important and brings on madness. Ken Jacobs wants to share this emotional experience and knowledge with the audience to show what he sees by activating human nervous system and mind. The goal of these films is to transfer the processes of perception out of the unconscious and analyze them in detail.  The name Nervous System was not chosen randomly -it is what Jacobs films aim at, playing with the resources of human perception of transformed space, time and movement, sound and silence.

"Nervous New Yorker'' - Ken Jacobs films program 

The Surging Sea of Humanity Ken Jacobs, USA, 2006 -10`00``

The human see composed of almost identical people in bowler hats surge sand spreads, filling the screen. The stereoscopic effect is enhanced by the sheer multitude of people gathered for the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Throughout the film the picture of the dense crowd is blurred to a psychedelic pattern and then again appears orderly and clear. 

Hanky Panky January Ken Jacobs, USA, 2007 -1`00`` 

According to the director himself this work describes a moment when sensuality is born between two people -a crucial moment in a love affair between a man and a woman. It is a very clear cut film, as short as the flash of desire was between the characters who lived in the beginning of the 20th century. 

Capitalism: Child Labor Ken Jacobs, USA, 2007 - 14`00`` 

The film is based on a stereoscopic photograph of a cotton mill in the beginning of the industrial revolution. In the factory shop near the cotton spinning machines stand the boys who are not twelve years old. Under the hawkeyed foreman's glare - he looks like a slave owner - they service the production. This image of a developing America where a child is seen as a tool and even raw material for production of the merchandise and making profit is accompanied by Rick Reed's soundtrack.  The noise and grinding of the machines is chosen by the composer to characterize the action. 

Kripton is Doomed Ken Jacobs, USA, 2005 - 26`00`` 

This is a performance carried out with the aid of a manually operated magic lantern. The stereoscopic and hallucinatory show evokes the feeling of other worldly powers presence, creates the effect of multidimensional space and creates multi ciphered images which call for personal answers. The art event is accompanied by a Superman serial radio show of 1940's. The story is told of Krypton's destruction and the escape of the supernatural child to the Earth. It should also be mentioned that the director's message was to use Krypton as an allegory of the state of Europe after the Second World War and the nowadays USA with its political and social crises. 

Let there be Whistleblower Ken Jacobs, USA, 2006 - 18`00`` 

With the minimalist accompaniment of Steve Reich's drums the train moves towards the viewer. It rushes trough a tunnel and arrives roaring at a station. This black-and-white picture of the locomotive is both realistic and abstract. It was created by Jacobs from the old digitally restored reels. The director explores the digital space where the surreal action of his retro-film has been transferred and juxtaposes the old fashioned and the new technologies of cinema. 

Nymph Ken Jacobs, USA, 2007 - 2`00`` 

A ball belle surrounded by beaus can be discerned even by a one-eyed viewer in this 3D image. The main goal of the director, though, was not to allow the audience to watch these films in a relaxed fashion. That's why here as in other works by Jacobs each viewer has to decide for himself what it is he's actually seeing, what the fairy tale told by the author is about. 

«Star Spangled To Death» Ken Jacobs, USA, 2004 - 400` 00`` 

For almost a half century Ken Jacobs has worked on his major film - the Star Spangled to Death. Its length is over 6 hours. The main material was filmed in 1957-1960 but the story of a corrupt, dangerous and ambivalent America of the 20th century ruled by mad politicians and divided by social conflicts was continued. The resulting epic film is a collage of documentary and news footage, animation, fragments of feature films and musicals.

It is a story combining the elements of a new absurd and limit-freecinema born in the New York of 1950's and it has acquired an epic quality. The film was presented at the Documenta 12 program in Kassel, Germany and it was probably one of the main reasons for the Whitney Museum to include Ken Jacobs into its list of the 100 greatest artists of the 20th century. 

Attention: These works employ throbbing light and should not be viewed by individuals afflicted with epilepsy or other seizure disorders.