The Joys of Depth


celestialsubwayHow does a baby view its mother? This question bothers Ken Jacobs, a legend of independent film, whose work is currently on view at (a free online film gallery that requires only a quick sign-up).  To develop a concept of an object, we throw out all impressions that don’t fit.  Jacobs throws them all back in, in an effort to recreate the way we acquire impressions. 

Since the late sixties, Jacobs has experimented with stereoscopic imagery, the pairing of flat images of an object from different perspectives to create a 3-D effect without cardboard glasses. Like cubism, his films mimic the way we see objects – in pieces and from various angles. His films jiggle, strobe and split.  His subjects are simultaneously in motion and stasis, which is unsettling, but induces a sense of hallucinatory depth that is not only surface deep.  Whether his subject is a beautiful woman staring out a car window, a cookout, or a dying man, Jacobs doesn’t want you to adapt to what you see, but asks you to rethink how you see.

While some of his films, like Celestial Subway Lines/Salvaging Noise, and Razzle Dazzle: The Lost World, use historic found footage, and others, like Flo Rounds a Corner, use modern images, all owe more to precursors of modern film, like the Magic Lantern and the inventions of Étienne-Jules Marey, than they do to Martin Scorsese.

Like a modern day Marey, Jacobs endures as a pioneer of the moving image with work like Cyclopean 3-D, screened at Light Industry in New York on 3/17, that will soon be available online.  The film makes use of his patented technique, “Eternalism,” which further enables his experiments in time and space, and is perhaps named after his commitment to sustaining wakefulness.

Rozalia Jovanovic is a founding editor of Gigantic, a magazine of short prose and art. She is the Deputy Editor of Flavorpill and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Columbia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Unsaid, The Believer, Everyday Genius, Guernica, elimae, and She blogs at The Astonishing Egg and is The Rumpus New York Editor. More from this author →