Ontic Antics Starring Laurel and Hardy

  • 80'
  • USA
  • 1998
The Nervous System places two identical filmprints on two projectors capable of single-frame advance and freeze. The twin prints step through the projectors frame by frame as dictated by the artist-projectionist, caught somewhere between movie and slideshow. They tend to advance slightly out of synchronization, usually with only a single frame difference. Difference makes for movement and uncanny three-dimensional space-illusions when a spinning propeller up front, between the two projectors, interrupts and alternates their cast images. Tiny shifts in the way the two images overlap onscreen create radically different visual effects. The throbbing flicker (avoid viewing if you have a history of epilepsy) is necessary to the creation of "eternalisms", unfrozen slices of time, sustained movements going nowheres unlike anything in life. For instance, without discernable start and stop and repeat-points, a neck may turn... eternally. I enjoy mining existing film, seeing more of what film remembers, what's missed when it clicks by at Normal Speed. Normal Speed is good! It tells us stories and much more but it is inefficient at gleaning more than the surface from the film-ribbon. And there's already so much film. Let's draw some of it out for a deeper look, toy with it, take it into a new light with inventive and expressive projection. Freud would suggest doing so as a way to look into our minds. A dose of formulated craziness can be refreshingly therapeutic (see "Hellzapoppin", 1941). For instance: 2 ½ -D is hard to conceive. Things should either be flat or in depth. Yet the lit rectangle doubly cast by The Nervous System presents us with an impossible mix of the flat -our usual reading of forms reshaping as they slide across the screen, one with the screen, and the deep -here the screen punctured by the point formed by our twin sightlines, blown open, fragmented, its surface seemingly divided among myriad objects reaching forward and back of the actual screen-plane, and something inbetween, with both flat and deep claiming appearances unto their respective realms. Things get twisted, caught in this optical tug-of-war. It's The Nervous System! putting the tangle into rectangle, and leaving it a wreck. "Time/motion study" hardly suggests the exercise in ecstacy this can be. Or that we're touching on the essence of cinema, its original impetus: vivisection of the moment. After a century of cinema industrialized, standardized, economically determined and "rationalized", we need a return to the possibilities of a Cubist cinema (Cubism would've been unthinkable without the revelations of pioneering cinema). KJ "With his nervous system film performances, Jacobs wrings changes out of startled frames and makes the infinitesimal matter. Ontic Antics - the simple shift of a vowel or the advance of a film frame creates a world of difference in definition and character. Basking in that shade of difference Jacobs 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 Rorschaching deliveries. Laurel and Hardy the perfect imperfect -a symbiotic couple straight out of the end times of Samuel Beckett. Both capricious and aggressive in their steadfastness, their loyalty is ruptured and repaired several times per picture. Physically versatile mechanically underdeveloped and overly ambitious their inept perfectionism steers them toward heaving adversity and infantile grasping. Their bodies are inclined to awkward ballet- mingling and confusing into a roly- poly polymorphous entity where girth meets skin and bones. Ken Jacobs Nervous System is inclined towards magical disorientations where contours dissolve or overlap morphing the animate and the inanimate and letting the melding paradoxes of two dimensional forms rise into an activated and buoyantly volumetric "negative space". The comic duo of Stan and Ollie are the perfect foil for such transformations. Jacobs elicits poignant and suggestive forms from this timeless yet aging celluloid. Latent sexual force foams to the surface giving new adhesions and blur to the compositions and birthing new perceptions." -Mark McElhatten
Ken Jacobs
Country of production
Production Year
Festival Edition
IFFR 2004

Programme IFFR 2004

Ken Jacobs focus

Read more about this programme
Blonde Cobra

Blonde Cobra

* Images gathered by Bob Fleischner, sound-film composed by Ken Jacobs. "Jack says I made the film too heavy. It was his and Bob's intention to create light monster-movie comedy. Two comedies, actually, two separate stories that were being shot simultaneously until they had a falling-out over who should pay for the raw stock destroyed in a fire started when Jack's cat knocked over a candle; Jack claimed it was an act of God. In the winter of `59 Bob showed me the footage. Having no idea of the original story plans I was able to view the material not as the fragments of a failure, of two failures, but as the makings of a new entirety. Bob gave over the footage to me and with it the freedom to develop it as I saw fit. I think it was in late 1960 that Jack and I ignored our personal animosities long enough to record his words and songs for the sound track. The phrases he repeated into the tape recorder were mostly ones I'd at some time heard him say; most were pet phrases he loved to recite, over and over, his lessons. A very few I made up in his style. The procedure for recording his monologues and songs: I played him selections from my 78 collection, music from the `20's and `30's, sometimes only the beginning of a record and if he liked it would restart the record and immediately record. I don't think there was a second take of anything. Any lack of clarity is due to the very second-rate equipment, third-rate, fourth-rate, we were using. I play the harp for the Madame Nescience monologue. Jack supplied the Arabic music, there's also some SAFARI IN HIFI; a Villa-Lobos string quartet speeded up; a haunting section of a children's 45... `Baby Wants To Sleep". A small amount of my own previous shooting was cut into the film, the short `drowning in nescience' color sequence near the beginning. BLONDE COBRA is an erratic narrative -no, not really a narrative, it's only stretched out in time for convenience of delivery. It's a look in on an exploding life, on a man of imagination suffering pre-fashionable lower East Side deprivation and consumed with American 1950's, 40's, 30s disgust. Silly, self-pitying, guilt-strictured and yet triumphing-on one level-over the situation with style, because he's unapologetically gifted, has a genius for courage, knows that a state of indignity can serve to show his character in sharpest relief. He carries on, states his presence for what it is. Does all he can to draw out our condemnation, testing our love for its limits,....enticing us into an absurd moral posture the better to dismiss us with a regal `screw-off'." -K.J.

Ken Jacobs
  • 33'

  • USA

IFFR 2004