Ken Jacobs in 3 Dimensions!

Anthology Film Archives has put together a winning new retrospective of avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs’s work, highlighting his adventures in 3D.  This one is not to be missed if you are in New York or can get there.

Hollywood over the last two years has become dangerously reinfatuated with 3D technology following the immense success of a certain movie about a faraway planet of blue people. To those of us who have seen many of the resultant 3D movies hitting the multiplexes, these two years may seem like twenty years of migraines: we have been bashed over the head too many times with weak 3D and weaker content.

Jacobs’s 3D work, which essentially stretches back to the 1960s, is the polar opposite. He uses 3D effects to push his audience into themselves, to get viewers to question how they perceive the world and possibly what prejudices—or at least predilections—they carry inside their own heads and hearts.

This retrospective, which runs May 13–19, features three rare performances of Jacobs’s Nervous Magic Lantern, which is much more fun than one is usually allowed to have at the movies these days. To call it a psychedelic experience does not do it justice, but Jacobs slowly, steadily manipulates the screen space with a mysterious, hidden device or devices in a way that most certainly is mind-altering. While not technically a “film”—the performance is slide-based—the Nervous Magic Lantern is cinema. And it points the way to new possibilities for the art, proving how entertaining and doable improvisatory cinema can be.

Jacobs’s 3D work involves a number of methods with intimidating names like Pulfrich 3D, Eternalism 3D, and Analglyph 3D. Suffice it to say, many of his films have flickering and throbbing effects, in which images can seem to be leaning or even leaping toward the viewer. Many of the Jacobs films involve remixing archival footage and stills, as in “Disorient Express” (1996), screening on May 13, which turns 1906 footage of a train trip, from the vantage point of the train, upside-down. Jacobs then splits the screen, with the movie mirroring itself. The result is that the concrete becomes abstract, as the film takes on an ever-transforming life of its own. Throughout Jacobs’s career, there has always been this push and pull of the concrete becoming abstract and, very importantly, vice versa.

The May 14 program features Jacobs’s early work in investigating depth. The classic “Window” (1964), shot entirely out of his loft window, asks the question “What could you see if you really looked carefully enough out your own window?” The answer perhaps being “The entire universe.” This little film is enlightening in a way that the big Hollywood 3D movies of today could never hope to be.

“Ontic Antics Starring Laurel and Hardy; Bye, Molly” (2005), which screens May 15, breaks a Laurel and Hardy comedy into pieces and puts it back together with Jacobs’s effects. Laurel and Hardy now seem to be engaged in some kind of an eternal struggle or dance of cosmic, yin-yang proportions, their separate identities at times becoming indistinguishable.

Many of Jacobs’s 3D films are heavily political, as seen in this retrospective with “Analglyph Tom (Tom With Puffy Cheeks)” (2008), which takes on the Great Recession, “Another Occupation” (2010), with its critique of US militarism, and “America at War, the Home Front: Film Opening” (2011), a sly take on recent US foreign policy in the Middle East.

“Capitalism: Child Labor” (2006), which screens on May 18, is one of Jacobs’s strongest pieces in recent years. This fourteen-minute film based on an archival still of child workers, is—like “Capitalism: Slavery” (2006), which screens the same day—disorienting, sinister, and ultimately heartbreaking, especially with its haunting final image of a child’s bare feet on the factory floor.

Jacobs wants to make our heads spin in more ways than one. To this artist, opening our eyes to new dimensions goes hand in hand with opening our eyes to what the military-industrial complex has been up to—in other words, getting away with—in recent years.

For more information on the screenings, please visit