Ken Jacobs

Flo and Ken Jacobs


From the opening paragraph of his Biography at Electronic Arts Intermix:

A pioneer of the American film avant-garde of the 1960s and ’70s, Ken Jacobs is a central figure in post-war experimental cinema. From his first films of the late 1950s to his recent experiments with digital video, his investigations and innovations have influenced countless artists.

On his work with stereoscopic shadowplay:

“In 1969 I came up with a simple way to project shadows in 3D, voluminous color shadows,
by which time I was teaching in Binghamton, with space and a big translucent rubber rear-screen and students I could yell at for not showing up for rehearsal on time.”

“Shadowplay has always had a place for toddlers and for small animals. A great animal moment was in a 2000 shadow revival at CalArts when a King Kong puppy (apparent size being malleable in shadowplay), projected from underneath, pissed a hearty jet on a screaming audience, 3D shadowplay being a wrap-around experience and not something only happening upfront.”

Millenium Film Journal Summer/Fall 2005


On his early work with alternating images via the spinning shutter:

“In 1975 I began Nervous System film-performance and that kept me busy for a long time, the last such work being UN PETIT TRAIN DE PLAISIR, 1998. (There’s excellent writing in San Francisco Cinematheque’s Cinematograph issue #5, SENTIENCE, organized by Peter Herwitz, and a transcript of a grotesque altercation with commissars of the Flaherty Film Seminar following a presentation of XCXHXEXRXRXIXEXSX in Scott MacDonald’s A Critical Cinema 3.) The first Nervous System pieces were further riffs on TOM, TOM utilizing a shuttle between like frames. The figures in XCXHXEXRXRXIXEXSX looked like 2D cutouts in a 3D setting, interesting in itself but it was Alphonse Schilling’s spinning shutter that would introduce rounded voluptuous volumes and much else. Alphonse lived nearby on Broadway (I was commuting to Binghamton) and for a while we seemed to be producing works for the exclusive pleasure of each other. We traded technical discoveries and when toying with the Pulfrich Effect led Alphonse to the exterior shutter, standard design in early projectors, he urged me to apply it to my efforts. I then presented a work, SCHILLING (title declaring my debt to him), and he blew up, saying, ‘I only meant for you to use it in your studio.’ He said that he worked like a scientist and I was a showman and predicted, correctly, that it would be my work that would connect in people’s minds to his discovery. Alphonse had been giving what he called “demonstrations,” exquisite and ingenious mind-blowing illustrated lectures using the shutter with stereo-slides, but -working with filmstrands never intended to produce stereo-phenomena- I was creating symphonies. And wasn’t about to stop. Two profound colleagues then went their own ways, Alphonse returning to considerable success in Vienna.”

Millenium Film Journal Summer/Fall 2005



Manuel Cirauqui on Ken Jacobs Film, The Guests, exhibited at the Guggenheim Bilbao 2017


+ Some low quality scans of R. L. Gregory’s seminal 1964 article in Nature wherein he describes the principles of a real time stereoscopic shadow display

+ Optic Antics : The Cinema of Ken Jacobs

+ Ken Jacobs EAI biography

+ Painted Air: The Joys and Sorrows of Evanescent Cinema

+ Article in MFJ Issue Nos. 43/44

+ GreenCine Daily PODCAST: Ken Jacobs


+  Cinemad 2011 Interview of Ken Jacobs by his son Asa

+ Vimeo version of Capitalism: Slavery, 2006

+ Vimeo version of Capitalism: Child Labor, 2008, Music by Rick Reed

+ Nervous Magic Lantern Performance, 2015