Director: Ken Jacobs
Year: 2004
Time: 67 mins
Music: John Zorn & Ikue Mori
Eye of Sound: Ken Jacobs flows with a sense of history. As a septuagenarian artist, Jacobs is himself a human inscription of history. But it is through his works that this temporal depth goes beyond a youngster's banal recognition of a veteran's memory of things past. Many of his latest films have been exploring the memory of cinema, that insidious instrument that single-handedly defined the 20th century and forever changed our cognitive and mnemonic habits. There is thus something simultaneously paradoxical and redundant in exploring the history of cinema as an art in itself; the memory of memory is more than a meta-exercise in remembering, it is a thrust as twisted and potentially deranging as the tale of the woman who gave birth to herself. Jacobs has been making extensive use of found-footage, but with an unique approach that somehow leaves the integrity of his materials untouched: rarely there's a juxtaposition of sources, and the used footage is given he privilege of standing on its own, distortion and corrosion coming from within the film itself. Another approach has been the use and reinvention of projection machinery that cinema history forgot. The magic lantern, which Jacobs has been developing in the past few years, is a precursor to the slide projector and represents nothing less than the essence of cinema and photography: the capture and projection of light for the creation of visual illusion. With the addition of a hallucinatory stroboscopic effect, Jacobs "invented" the Nervous Magic Lantern, a device which allows him to further complicate our notions of cinema: film here becomes an improvisational material, and the session is indeed a performance as irrepeatable as any other. Celestial Subway Lines/Salvaging Noise, selected from four performances, is Jacobs' most notorious exercise with the Lantern simply because it's been released through the renowned NY label Tzadik. John Zorn and Ikue Mori provide a suitable soundtrack for the Lantern's unreal visuals. Dreamy but haunting, these electronic soundscapes add different layers of intensity to an otherwise stable visual input, ranging from destructive industrial noise to distorted vocal samples, concrète recordings and abstract electronic tones. In such circumstances, of course, the soundtrack is highly intrusive and determines much of the understanding of the visual projections. The final result is a tremendously disturbing hallucinatory experience in which the illusion of tridimensional depth is a constant challenge to perception and the eerie soundtrack adds an element of danger and nightmare to what could well be a psychologically neutral event. Watch this at your own risk, but do watch it.


  1. Hi,
    Did you write this text? I really like it and whould like to quote from it in an assignment.


  2. Hi.

    Even if - or especially if - you want to quote this in a essay on how internet writing has impoverished film criticism, please feel free to quote all you want. I do all the writing here and I deserve all the bashing in store.

    Feel free to share your assignment later, if you feel like it.