3D Experiments From Ken Jacobs

It hasn't been a good summer for 3-D. Amidst waning audiences and reports of some brutal eyestrain, in June DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg told The Hollywood Reporter, "I think 3-D is right smack in the middle of its terrible twos," as if the misbehaving format simply needs to grow up a bit.

Hollywood might do well to learn from Ken Jacobs, who can boast more than 40 years of provocative, demanding and transformative explorations of various permutations of 3-D, putting the primitive, in-your-face assaults of Hollywood to shame. The 78-year-old New York–based artist has dedicated his life to exploring both the mechanics of human perception and the technologies of movies, returning to cinema's origins in the 19th century to create transcendent experiences of film viewing, experiences that lift you out of your seat and transport you into the space and movement of the image itself.

Jacobs probably is best known for his Nervous System live projector performances, in which he uses two projectors and an auxiliary, propellerlike shutter mechanism to simultaneously screen two prints of the same film, just slightly out of sync. The result is a flickering dance of figures and light, with images that pulse rhythmically into and away from the surface of the screen. It's an exploration of film in three-dimensional space, without the need for glasses. However, Jacobs has more recently been experimenting with more conventional 3-D and digital techniques, creating a series of brand-new works and continuing to revise favorite projects from the past.

Jacobs will visit L.A. this week, appearing first on Aug. 21 at the L.A. 3-D Club to talk with the club's founder and 3-D aficionado Ray Zone and film scholar David James, who recently co-edited a collection of essays titled Optic Antics: The Cinema of Ken Jacobs. The three will discuss Jacobs' very specific notion of stereoscopic imagery and screen excerpts from several 3-D projects, including Anaglyph Tom, a dazzling 2008 film that remakes a Thomas Edison short from 1905, at once dismantling it frame by frame and putting it back together as a 3-D spectacle. Two nights later, L.A. Filmforum and Cinefamily will host Jacobs as he presents five experimental shorts, including The Georgetown Loop, an acclaimed 11-minute black-and-white short that borrows imagery of a dramatic train trip through the mountains from 1903 to craft a kaleidoscopic celebration of movement and perception.

Rather than dutifully depicting a more realistic space or, worse, using 3-D for gimmicky visual tricks, Jacobs deploys 3-D technology as part of a larger, lifelong exploration of vision, consciousness and the materiality of cinema, even in its incredibly ephemeral manifestations. As Jacobs himself once said, "It's very hallucinatory." —Holly Willis


AN EVENING WITH KEN JACOBS, MODERATED BY AZAZEL JACOBS | Aug. 23 | Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre |

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