Created/Directed The Millennium Film Workshop, N.Y.C. 1966-68;
Started the Dept. of Cinema at S.U.N.Y. at Binghamton, 1969; Professor of Cinema 1974-2000;
Distinguished Prof. of Cinema, 2000-
Distinguished Professor Emeritus. In 1967, with the involvement of his wife Florence and many others aspiring to a democratic -rather than demagogic- cinema, he created The Millennium Film Workshop in New York City. A nonprofit filmmaker’s co-operative open to all, it made available film equipment, workspace, screenings and classes at little or no cost. Later he found himself teaching large classes of painfully docile students at St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens. In 1969, after a week’s guest seminar at Harpur College (now, Binghamton University), students petitioned the Administration to hire Ken Jacobs. Despite his lack of a high school diploma, the Administration -during that special period of anguish and possibility- decided that, as a teacher, he was “a natural.” Together with Larry Gottheim he organized the SUNY system’s first Department of Cinema, teaching thoughtful consideration of every kind of film but specializing in avant garde cinema appreciation and production. (Department graduates are world-recognized as having an exceptional presence in this field.) A 1999 interview with Ken Jacobs can be seen on the Net as part of The University Of California at Berkeley’s series of Conversations With History. http://cinema.binghamton.edu/faculty.html
For more than 35 years, drawing on his skill as an imaginative illusionist, a work man-like tinkerer, and a worshipper of film frame by frame, Ken Jacobs has confronted reality and unmasked established powers. Oct 13, 1999
Series: "Conversations with History"
Ken Jacobs Master Class Materials
Following is a talk delivered (with projections and some changes) at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in October 2018.
HUGE CHURNING VISTAS
Volumetric is such a beautiful word and there isn’t a single popular song featuring it.
Flat images are a form of writing. One reads and if one knows the signs, one gets the picture. “The boat rocked on the waves” is a wonder, placing the scene, together with a hint of accompanying sound, in our minds.
Each word is a realization by a genius.
Speaking of genius, Ray Zone is not here today. Gone way too soon. He loved depth, loved the illusion of depth. Our last performance in LA was by his invitation. Afterwards, he bought tickets for us to experience the tunnel-of-love tour given by one of the movie studios and we did indeed love it. Ray, you knew a good thing when you saw it, real or not, especially not.
(The real is okay, bloody awful but impressive, but let's not get into the real. It will only lead to the really nuts, to talking about plutocrats who think they'll be waited on by robots in an air-conditioned bubble. Let us continue.)
So how could people not believe in magic words? igniting the theater of the mind with things that aren't there, even things that never could be (like an all-seeing all-powerful and deeply caring Creator, but isn't the concept terrific? not bad for a species of ape).
Words began and so did markings, rudimentary pictorial likenesses. Alphabet letters even resemble things.
Surely there was a language-creating genius that went beyond the discovery of things to focus on the space between things. Rain and snow, fog, smoke -atmosphere- make that space visible, graspable one might say; it couldn’t’ve been missed. (Remember the capture of THE INVISIBLE MAN when Claude Rains is tracked through the snow.) But how was so-called empty space, the most important space of all to us, the space we live and breathe in, pictured?
l was arrested in DC years ago at an anti-Vietnam war protest. Busloads of protestors were kept by police along the margins of a park rather than allowed to gather at the Washington Monument and show our numbers. Some of us acted up and were taken to jail. I can’t complain because Flo and I first decided to marry so we could communicate by phone during the time I expected to be incarcerated. After a weekend of education (an uppity friend was put in the hole and returned very chastened) I was escorted to the courthouse and placed handcuffed in a holding space just big enough to stand in. Inches from my face was a metal vent that allowed in sound and air but no light. I stood there half a day, hands cuffed behind me, waiting for my case to be called. Very little open space. I didn’t like it.
(What happened was the ACLU moved the judge to accept the bail money they'd put up as a fine and my case was dismissed. We married, anyway.)
Earlier, age 22, I met up with the expression "negative space". I’d had painting teachers, a couple of them good painters but nowhere as teachers. The great Reginald Marsh instructed me, each time he stopped by my easel, in the shadowing of a woman’s breast; a cliché of a breast, without referring to the model. But after release from the Coast Guard (draft was on then) I began studies with Hans Hofmann.
"Negative” didn’t sound so good, but of course nothing negative was intended, it was just the term to differentiate open space from solid positive space. On a canvas it meant that all areas were to be equally considered. A pattern of positive/negative might be seen one way and then suddenly there'd be a shift of dominance, a mind would change so that what had appeared forward changed places with background forms- without, of course, anything actually moving. In one’s concept of the space, dynamic exchange had taken place.
An advantage of leaving behind representation was that positive and negative dominance would be free to repeatedly change places. A truly active action-painting was rife with subtle contradictory signals prompting changing spatial interpretation.
Hofmann was exacting, there was a right and there was a wrong and I think that explains my admiration of him all these years while devoting my time not to painting but to cinema, with crazy unhinged films being my models, Betty Boop and the early Marx Brothers. The stars of my early films, Jerry Sims and Jack Smith, were off the charts but vivid -see STAR SPANGLED TO DEATH. And yet here I am these many years later using no actors, telling no stories however flippantly, but instead concerned with pulling huge churning vistas -illusions of course- from my invention of The Nervous Magic Lantern, but I'll get to that.
Yin/yang, negative/positive space without the evil/good connotations.
Hofmann stressed the picture plane. The way I understood it, the picture plane was not necessarily the face of the canvas, important as that was. We worked to indicate depth both to the rear and forward of the picture plane. Thus the picture plane would lift off the surface to hover before it. This wasn't said in so many words but, for what its worth, such was my understanding.
The model was pliable architecture while “Hofmann’s space cadets” drew on large sheets of paper, charcoal sticks indicating things happening in space with solid and open spaces free to exchange places as quickly as a mind could change or one came upon a previously unnoticed detail that made one reconsider the entirety.
A terrific book by an earlier Hofmann student, Earle Loran, is CḖZANNE’S COMPOSITION. He shows the thing -tree, dish- set in space and angled to set the gaze off in another direction, like in a pinball game. Cézanne’s paintings are not collections of things but instead guided tours using things to move the gaze from place to place, then allowing the “things” to settle back into their true identities as so many paint-strokes. Surprisingly, Cézanne seems to have done all his outdoor studies on nice days, without a buildup of atmosphere. Other painters somehow caught the look and feel of atmosphere. Amazing.
Hofmann also made it thinkable to embody the space between things with paint rather than the things. Paint was what was happening, just as abstract sound was the stuff of music, but especially now that cameras were here to record things and events. Paint as the subject of painting was no longer obliged to picturing our loony stories, our absurd dignitaries.
Opposition. Counter-forces affirmed each other, the student determining location of opposing forces in a model’s arrangement with gravity being the strongest and most decisive force of all, the upright body asserting itself against this downward pull.
One indicated, one's marks were to tell something to the viewer but always to be what they were, charcoal marks -and later, on your own, paint-strokes.
Did illusion play any part? Understandings of depth would build up, often so convincing they’d seem on the threshold of illusion -but staying on the thresh-hold. Illusion, so it seemed, was gross, intruding upon a territory of mystical idealism. A terrific painter, Pat Passlof, once insisted to me, “There is no time in painting.” No illusion and no time; I differ, but we'll let it go.
You learn from your palette said Hofmann. What one learned was painterly turmoil, unexpected color affinities and all the possibilities a mess can suggest. More than one masterpiece is likely a meticulous expansion of an inch or so of pallet. Torn and overlaid strips of subway posters could look gallery-worthy. Mindless chance, we learned, had all the good ideas.
This stressing of open space made our work opaque to non-initiates and yet, once introduced to this play between solid and open, and the logic of painterly signs, it was hard to go back to capturing likenesses.
So it was startling and meant a lag in appreciation of the great work of Philip Guston when he switched from color atmospheres to bitter cartooning.
Caustic art. Hofmann actually spoke approvingly of caricature as something we should be reaching for, as simplification and exaggeration, so that depiction wasn't slavish copying. But none of us were prepared for Guston's switch. Richard Nixon was President and Guston needed to respond. He exaggerated in his cartoon paintings but Nixon was always recognizable. It was emotional realism, Guston was our Daumier, but it would be some years before his art was again widely celebrated.
Today Flo and I saw a show of Soutine's work. The identities of the things he painted were always taken to heart, he engaged profoundly with his subjects. This was not painting about paint but what a majestic use of paint and clearly leading in its enormous verve to abstract-expressionism. So we won't be dismissing art that pictures things. Rembrandt was the painter most often mentioned by Hofmann: likenesses? yes, though always clearly the result of paint-strokes applied to canvas.
The early 20th century had produced non-objective painting and that led to Cubism. Cubism reinforced the notion that the painting was what mattered and not the subject. But a theory I have about Cubism is that it had a Humble Beginning, arising from the stereopticon.
Picasso and Braque lifted Cubism from the stereopticon though they would never say it. The stereopticon was common, almost everyone had a stereopticon, the tv and porn-deliverer of its time. But the visual puns of Cubism -inverted spaces and the caricaturing of objects with positive/negative exchange- were effects introduced by the stereopticon, particularly by cheap left-eye/right-eye pairs of photographs that had been carelessly assembled. When left and right pictures are mis-mounted so that the left-eye picture is seen by the right eye and right-eye picture by the left eye, optical hell breaks loose. If you're a young wise guy already wound up about perception you commence to cut apart and transpose your supply of porn and after marveling you imitate their spatial outlandishness in your paintings.
Pseudostereoscopy is still a mindbender. You'll be seeing what I can only allude to here in Tuesday's projection of THE GUESTS.
Social-realism for American painters after the Great Depression ended was not going to do it. Ideas and values had emigrated to New York from Europe just before and during the war; abstraction was even politically encouraged since it didn't complain. Realist painting was not even where public interest was: You mean there's a guy that throws paint at his canvases?
The school was on 8th Street, downtown Manhattan, close to the Cedar Bar where Pollock was not permitted in. I recall him threatening to break a glass window in a drunken demand to enter. The Cedar was where the New York School of sexist jerks bickered and developed and where pretty coeds found excuses for famous artist vomit lying on the table (I witnessed this). It was mortifying to visit the place and see what slobs one's aging heroes could be.
The fact is that even realistic painting needs deciphering. You would think that pictorial painting would be universally understood, concerned as it is with at least some fidelity to appearance, but I’ve read that so-called primitives with no contact with techno-society are bewildered even by photographs. They do not see what we can’t help but see. Or I should say read.
As much as 2D images long for further dimension, strain against their existence as mere surface, their efforts to achieve depth remain suggestion, indication, sign. Fortunately for us, the signs pick up on life-experience so that, for instance, one form interfering with the seeing of another is understood as closer to the viewer; smaller implies more distant, et cetera. We bring our life-experience of circumnavigating reality to the canvas allowing a Pollock for instance to take place in a space just this side of convincing. Conceptually enormous.
A class model seems out of place in such a school but Hofmann believed that unless one returns to consideration of nature -places, bodies- one’s composition became repetitious, devolving to a sort of signature while the eternal surprises of actuality kept one compositionally inventive. The model, however, was never seen or spoken about as a person, she was weights and extensions forming hollows and thrusts enlivening space. A balance was to be achieved in the work that included consideration of space between body parts, between body and chair. Chair and surrounding space was of as much concern as the arrangement of the body itself. Between between between: one constantly determined the shape of volumes of air between things.
A more important body was the rectangular format of the work. Two parallel verticals, two parallel horizontals, like nothing in nature. It was one's entire play-field and its enclosing shape, separating it from the enormous world outside so that the determinations within it might count for something, conditioned all that was done within it. Kandinsky said that we bring our life-experience to even a blank canvas and, for instance, due to the ever-present pull of gravity in our lives, the bottom of the canvas will be heavier than the top. This from his wonderfully clear book FROM POINT TO LINE TO PLANE.
Also -no small trick- every charcoal mark was to refer to the entire format with balance maintained throughout so that at any stage one could leave it. Entire. Done. But then perhaps dismissed and done again as impulse drove it on as one discovered possibility upon possibility and, more often than not, impulse would not explain itself.
An example of positive-negative interplay and change of dominance. Here's a recent I-Pad painting showing that I learnt my lesson. SHOW SLIDE
A portrait or landscape, a depiction of a bridge, all were equally unsentimental arrangements, meetings, inter-penetrations of positive and negative space, but with specific identity of objects replaced by paint, by advancing and receding color, by overlap, density. This was the place and matter of expressiveness, so that de Kooning’s angry portraits of women could seem a step backwards. (Just today I’m seeing the influence on them of Soutine and wondering was non-representational painting meant to prevent too much thinking about WW2.)
Seeing a painting with one eye or two doesn’t matter but later in my film-work the two and a half inches more or less between eyes would make all the difference -as it does! in our existence as bipeds, each of us twins, meeting and merging in the middle. Eyes/brains talk to each other, come to conclusions together and only then, after coming to agreement, do we see depth. Each eye sees flat, the seeing of depth happens not outside but inside our heads.
Gestural painting.... could mean looking at a paint-stroke and imagining, to some extent feeling within one's own body the physical gesture that got it there. I think a lot of abstract-expressionism calls for empathy with the physical actions of the artist and indeed it matters but it isn't depth-construction.
Hofmann's book is titled SEARCH FOR THE REAL, no place for illusion with that title. Yet Hofmann spoke of advance/recession of colors and isn’t that illusion? Orange optically advances, its opposite on the color wheel -for paint, different from the color wheel for light- is blue. Blue opens, recedes. Those colors are the most extreme regarding recession/advance. Red and green seem to land on the same plane and I never understood yellow and purple. His famous dictum “push/pull” is signifying in and out. Depth! But limited to idea?
One particularly maddening day Hofmann was making his round of easels and I heard him laugh and say, “People think Mondrian is flat!”
I hadn't the nerve to ask what he meant but then began a lot of looking at Mondrian. Indeed, I got to see a Mondrian take place in depth but still don’t know if I talked myself into it. His rectangles, of different sizes, can be seen to abruptly advance and recede, never staying still, with the shifts accelerating so that one can take the action only briefly. But I’ve never come across written support for this phenomena including words by Mondrian, and Hofmann’s gone.
But isn't that, if it's what Hofmann meant, illusion?
My best experience of the picture plane shifting between advance and recession was following a Cézanne landscape deeper and deeper into depth and when I got to the furthest tree it was painted against a patch of raw canvas -whereupon the landscape, now understood as projecting forward of this furthest painted tree, suddenly miniaturized and flattened.
All this depth-consciousness, correct or confused, had to affect my filmmaking. In WINDOW, 1964, there are shots of lateral -sideways- camera movement that feed our eyes successions of perspectives and this -combined with simultaneous zooming- makes for an illusion of movement through space. Emptiness is the subject of WINDOW, open space -but, as ever, one needs objects to indicate passages of open air and to indicate the limits of those passages. SHOW FILM
Vulgar illusion, my favorite, my beloved. With illusion one engages with apparent depth, often mistaken for reality. No more has to be learnt other than what we learn being pushed around in baby carriages: this is a street allowing Mom to push on; this is a wall facing us- no, no, must turn; and this is a tricky reflection. Now it is night when reverberating sound must guide us through. Staring goggle-eyed in carriages, we learn more than we'll ever learn again.
We build familiarity with the world and then, at our leisure, enjoy the tricks played on us by illusion.
Illusion can offer depth-experiences impossible to reality but are they actual experiences? Hearts quicken, juices flow; I believe so. But the adult can maintain a margin of disbelief in the midst of them, impossible for children, so as to maintain a grip on one’s actual circumstances. For grownups, it's the conflict of realities that provides much of the fun.
Stereo images, stereo sound, the move to virtual reality and the effect on everyone including children will change what humans are. The present is quaint, as we’ll all soon see.
We won't be showing you any of our shadowplays, in 2D and then performed in 3D. Voluminous and silent shadow-transformations, beautiful but requiring distribution of Polaroid spectacles. We used the same Polaroid process for our shadows that made possible the short-lived craze for 3D movies in the 'Fifties: two opposing Polaroid lenses discriminate left and right images superimposed on an aluminized screen, one perspective to each eye. A major advance on the earlier red-blue anaglyph process, mostly used for black and white movies. The active specs distributed today in theaters rapidly alternate left and right images (on any screen surface) too quick to see the alternation.
“The shadow doesn't lie”, the shadowplay cast learned. It was uncanny how a wrong move made itself known in shadow, maybe especially in fulsome shadows advancing forward of and receding behind the translucent rubber shadowplay-screen. A great piece was nude Flo in front of the screen, similarly built and nude friend Hali behind it, in back of Flo. Their dimensional bodies would interpenetrate as they performed art-class poses.
What brought on this commitment to illusion? It was on a day like any other, in the year 1964, when I came upon a display on a store-counter offering dinky plastic and cardboard spectacles beneath the legend SEE TV IN 3D, ONE DOLLAR. What was this?
We had very few dollars. I walked out of the store, turned, put down the dollar. Flo looked at the specs and said, “More magic beans, Ken?” Now I can answer: “Yes, exactly. And no going back.” It was the dollar purchase that changed our lives.
The designer of the specs knew something. They didn’t work reliably but there were hints of an airiness that kept me at them. Then one day, watching a ticker-tape parade on tv, the screen unmistakably opened: coils of paper twirled down on Broadway in a hither and yon that opened up the entire avenue. Taking apart the specs, one discovered a dark plastic filter that could be shifted from eye to eye. And that was all. That was it; a dollars' worth? and bad instructions? But it was unmistakably doing something.
In the book EYE AND BRAIN, H.L.Gregory explains: he speaks of the Pulfrich Effect (see description on the web), also known as the Pulfrich Pendulum Effect, theorized by Herr Pulfrich who had lost sight of one eye in World War One and could not see the effect himself.
A dark -but not opaque- filter held before one eye absorbs some light going to that eye but also slows down the light that passes through it. Hence, a fateful delay is introduced in the light going to the eye looking through the filter which in the case of watching a film means that the eye not looking through the filter sees the frame onscreen at that moment while the light-cheated eye passes along the frame that had been there a moment earlier (!!!!) and if there's been any level movement between frame exposures, the viewer automatically sees and resolves (what is assumed to be) two adjacent perspectives.
Depth perception depends on having an inter-ocular distance of about 2 and a half inches, allowing two separate and conflicting perspectives -more conflicting as things approach the viewer- to be sent to the brains (notice: plural) to argue over and sort out and they do, as said, so by resolving similarities and differences as depth. That doesn’t make ordinary depth perception an illusion but it does create some affinity between natural and artificial depth perception. A process has to happen either way, it is not something immediately available.
Here the sideways movement was steady and consistent and the depth-illusion familiar. But whacky depths can happen, too, and why not whacky? We’re in the artworld now, where playing with our sense-mechanisms is permissible and misinforming them (the trusting senses having formed eons ago know nothing of movies) can make for vigorous mental exercises. (One makes sport of the mechanisms.)
The Pendulum Effect: a clock-pendulum swings left and right in a straight line. With the dark filter before one eye the pendulum is seen swinging in a circle. Shift the filter before the other eye (both eyes always open) and the circle reverses.
1975, Flo and I begin our live film-projections, naming our setup The Nervous System. I'd had an unexpected hit with TOM, TOM, THE PIPER’S SON, a re-filming of an early chase-movie with people running in every direction without somehow ever dropping off the screen. It was a study in flat, of things seeming to operate in depth but that were inescapably flat (1969-1971; let’s assume you have some familiarity with it) but the silent 1905 film that I'd obsessed over wouldn’t let go and we went at it again and again in live performance.
The Impossible, Chapter One: SOUTH'WARK FAIR was a Polaroid 3D work done with two stop-motion projectors, myself at one, Flo at the other, slowly clicking along two just barely out-of-sync prints -of the introductory scene of the marketplace- frame by frame, slowly, slowly, with enough time to really see the bizarre spatial distortions taking place as the characters shifted about a small stage. Boring! very boring, but not to those not requiring a story. The people and things onscreen went through preposterous, delirious, physical changes.
Not a hit but what the hell. 3D had left a bad impression after junk movies were unloaded on the public during the culturally bottom-of-the-barrel ‘Fifties, and the great stereopticon popularity before movies had been long forgotten. Imagine: the stereopticon world came to anyone with this cheap device, all sorts of realities caught in the midst of life or as carefully posed as scenes in early movies, capturing in depth places and peoples they could never hope to otherwise see. But then came Charlie Chaplin, that charming fellow, and the stories (which, it is true, before the onset of censorship could be about real issues), and out went quiet perusal of volumetric stand-ins for reality.
Jean Vigo’s ZERO FOR CONDUCT is a movie. Joan Blondell was a movie star. The human body is at least 50 percent water and the human mind at least 50 percent movies. My movie-love is perfectly normal and of course I admire all they’ve done to enliven the 2D screen. But you must admit there’s hardly a let-up in centered subject matter. Tarzan swings through the jungle and what we get is a lot of Tarzan. I want a chase scene with protagonists removed. I need to see a movie that allows my gaze to -even in imagination- soar through backgrounds. Jack Smith complained of not being able to go to a lunch-counter and simply ordering a bowl of gravy and I long for a remote that removes anyone blocking the so-called background.
The new 3D movies can be feasts of depth-perception, most seem to be well worth the extra admission price. So why am I still so cranky? I suppose because every one I've seen remains vicarious experience, with actors and stories still in the way. Do I expect or want a steady diet of LADY IN THE LAKEs? Sigh.
"Stupid 3D” had become a single word. But I now had a teaching salary and we couldn’t be bothered by stingy notices (no-one dares review our projections to this day, has the words to describe them, studied with Hofmann). One work kicked off another and we went on. Some people loved what we did but I do remember more than one audience member asking me, while busy at the machines, “Why are you doing this?” Not ill-intended but really saying, “No story means nothing happening so why are you doing this?”
With everything that we can't help but know about, do we really need stories? Maybe I wouldn't be so sour if the movies stopped mid-sentence, as unresolved as life, with no “tying up of loose ends”. Could be it's the making sense such as movie-stories make that gets me down? The End is the worse thing that ever happened to cinema, infantilizing us all.
Nostalgia for reality: I watch people pointing cameras at themselves posing before some natural wonder like a stretch of water, the world as backdrop for selfies. They strike a smile, drop the smile and go on without looking back. They look at their devices, fount of stories.
Stories, I've told a few, but contemplation of being is really my thing and included in that being, ironically, are the ways we fool ourselves with stories. What a feat of devious construction is Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT. The Brooklyn Bridge is another human construction but it invites you to enter, to mount, look around, and not simply be awed.
This art-stuff is a leisurely pursuit, what I used to refer to as A Playtime Production. It's what we do when stomachs are fed, heads not begging for sleep, when we're neither too hot or too cold and at least somewhat free of care. Of course we make sure that no kindred being is abandoned anywhere. It's then that we're at leisure to enjoy our capacity for sensory and intellectual delight.
And then Flo and I put aside the Polaroid system and created a shuttle system (later a spinning two-bladed shutter) to release/hold back the light of each stop-motion projector, with each eye (no spectacles) seeing each pair of alternating images held in the gates. This is essentially the technique that makes possible the Eternalisms I create at the computer all these years later utilizing our daughter Nisi’s frightening expertise. Here’s the first of four 20 minute collections we’ve assembled from stereo photographs, POPEYE SEES 3D. I refer to Popeye, the one-eyed sailor, because this is 3D that can be seen by either two eyes or a single eye (!!!!) since all information is simultaneously going to both eyes.
We traveled with three stop-motion 16mm projectors 1975 to 2000, becoming older and the projectors heavier. And then I had a dream, of deep churning vistas seen from every angle, not images of the natural world but something like it. They were coming from a simple projection device I’d been toying with, one that made no sense. I got serious about it after the dream and when it showed what it could do I put aside the Nervous System and The Nervous Magic Lantern took over; a modest slide-show that knocks me for a loop every time.
I paint the slides (so-called but actually clear plastic disks that can be shown in every position and often changing position mid-show) not for how they appear directly but for what they can produce when sections are shown -at different angles relative to the light-beam- onscreen. I go for textures, for bent and irregular surfaces. Paint as a material substance is in essence just what they evoke when hugely magnified onscreen, often appearing as different aspects of unidentifiable natural forms. The spinning shutter introduces black intervals, a sort of flicker, difficult for some viewers but necessary to the affect.
The dream is realized; continuous changes in depth with no change of position until made to happen by the involved projectionist. Things move, and keep moving without changing place (the Eternalism!) until repositioned onscreen by the projectionist. Change of every sort happens before our eyes yet seeming to have happened than happening.
Good news is, that when video-recorded off the screen, images keep their volumetric dimensionality. Here’s a few minutes of a recorded Nervous Magic Lantern performance.
3D is a slighting term for referring to Space. An entire dimension, as much as Time, given a dopy advertising monicker?
Do you know that Franz Kline projected small details of small sketches onto his big canvases and then painted them? I'm a movie-maker but there's some similarity here. I don't film my messy paintings, worth nothing in themselves, but, instead, lingeringly project small sections of them one after the other. Unless recorded the onscreen images are short-lived but what's important to me is seeing them move and keep moving in all kinds of ways in illusionary depth.
Right or wrong the following film-interpretation owes much to Lloyd deMause and the Psychohistory movement.
The title of a mediocre 1952 Hollywood movie, an apologia in religious terms (God made us do it) for USA being the first to employ atomic weaponry, is ABOVE AND BEYOND. We’re still talking space, these are spatial terms, but who, exactly, is above? and -more important- who can be beyond? A Jungian had to have written the screenplay, someone with some understanding of how myth functions in our lives, some knowledge about the deepest notions -beyond conscious examination- that we harbor.
Robert Taylor plays Paul Tibbets, the first man to commandeer the dropping of an atomic bomb on living creatures. It's important that they were living: people dogs cats birds insects…. or there’d be no grand sacrifice. The bomb is named Little Boy and this is the story of a collective discharge coming from the concerted efforts of our fighting men (beginning with a prayer by the crew, a call upon God for everlasting life) working together with only one aim, to achieve Godliness and to do God's work.
Tayor/Tibbets says “Laying it in down the middle” -he's laying Hiroshima, fucking Hiroshima- as he releases a truly otherworldly energy, with a spume of black debris reaching up from Hiroshima to ecstatically shake the plane, the plume a Hollywood effect neatly approximating God’s titanic coming to fructify the world. “God”, says Taylor, identifying the holy emission for slow thinkers in the audience.
When we begin -and there’s reason to believe that in mythic thinking only males are truly born, females remaining earthbound with the task of further generation of more little boys- each sperm in an ejaculation is a hope it will be the one to pull ahead and, shouldering aside its approximately 100 million cohorts lashing tails for all their worth (forming armies is an atavism), successfully make the egg its own. Yay, champ! and for the rest of our lives we’ll be identifying with and cheering on champs. We're happy when we fill the world with ourselves. There remains in the sperm “mind” -which never leaves us, grownup and elaborated sperms that we are- the impulse to move on. Ever more, ever more. Impulse is what the sperm is and it doesn’t need proof that there are worlds beyond this one.
Open space is unbearable. We are anxious sperms longing for containment, a womb of our own. Before birth the creature is wonderfully content, filling all space with itself; after birth it is again a tiny thing in a vast unknowable world (it’s cold out here). All a sperm really knows is to struggle on, fasten on and become more. Language makes it crazy. Where, it only wants to know, is that fucking egg?
It prays to God, a really big man, even as big as Dad was relative to itself, and with no proof but with the intrinsic faith that it is composed of, it calls upon God to come give it another heave-ho. Kaboom! Emission accomplished, life goes on -and on and on- and the movie ends.
Mythic thinking is mad (you must pardon Trump, almost pure unmodified sperm) but with rational thinking serving unconscious aims, the world we are now first learning about had best be understood as disposable.
In his book ATOMIC DIPLOMACY, Gar Alperovitz maintains that Japan had made clear her intention to surrender, with acceptance delayed because it wished to keep its Emperor. After the bombings the Emperor staying was acceptable to the USA, implying that there never was a problem and that USA only wanted to try out its new weapon in actual circumstances, and brandish it at the Russians, before the war was over. USA in fact rushed to drop two different atomic bombs, on Hiroshima and on Nagasaki, in two practical experiments before the surrender was official.
Ken Jacobs September 2018