WP 4: Arousal

About Myself

Ken Jacobs

I do not knowingly lie, but when I do lie I make it as obvious as possible so that you and I can see the lie for what it is. Towards the end of The Sky Socialist, the Muse Of Cinema cuts the film and physically substitutes The Happy Ending (a narrative device lifted unknowingly from Max Ophuls’ La Ronde, a bittersweet and cynical appraisal of romantic love. Over 50 years would pass before I’d again see the film and recognize my swipe).

 I only knowingly lie.

 I listen religiously to Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! and watch it when I can on Link TV. She watches over America, over the continents, spearing lies. I don’t actively do much politically, don’t involve myself in Greenpeace for instance, and don’t feel good about it.

 I make my films. I know Star Spangled to Death remains potent even though the Left barely acknowledges it. I wish more people could see how in its seemingly delirious way it’s an ally of The Corporation and Who Killed the Electric Car? The problem is probably esthetic. Perhaps my film is thought of as too personal, too twisty and too demanding at seven hours to do any good. (starspangledtodeath.com) I in turn deplore the use of coercive background music often accompanying films the Left does take to heart. And perhaps I’m thought of as flighty with so many of my films and videos fixated on sensory developments.

 Art is the human product, even though the grass and flowers may see things differently. I say beyond science because art is largely a diary of caring. I’ve felt obliged to answer to many demands, wife and kids, students when I was a teacher, but most essentially to our communal discovery of Being. I’ve offered my particular line of inquiry—my two cents—to be entered on the books. This last obligation, with its appearance of self-indulgence, contends with the screaming immediacy of history. Amy Goodman, Chris Hedges, Thomas Frank, Naomi Klein, Barbara Ehrenreich, Noam Chomsky just for starters, won’t let us forget that terrible things are being done, unnecessary suffering is being inflicted. As an American and a Jew I’m forced to consider what some fellow Americans will do for money, financial looting, wars for oil, etc. (Uncle Scam), what some Israelis do in the delusion of securing a nation, even now when the world internet is neatly bypassing the old local drummed-up allegiances. And it goes on, most of it simple warlord piracy, mafias, and lies. I tune out when working but just barely. The sour joke is that such brutalities are bringing human history to an end real soon (some people like this) and with it the epic gathering of consciousness. So what am I doing this for? It isn’t all pleasure. More troubling is not knowing if our freak reflective consciousness has evolved anywhere else in the cosmos. I doubt it, seeing how exceptional it is among the billions of life forms that’ve come about here on Earth.

 The picture is disgusting. A repeating mechanism of expansion and collapse with no reflecting mind to lend a sense of tragedy.


Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Ken Jacobs, was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1933. He studied painting with one of the prime creators of Abstract Expressionism, Hans Hofmann, in the mid-fifties. It was then that he also began filmmaking (Star Spangled To Death). His personal star rose, to just about knee high, with the sixties advent of Underground Film. 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. His own early studies under Hofmann would increasingly figure in his filmwork, making for an Abstract Expressionist cinema, clearly evident in his avant garde classic Tom, Tom, The Piper’s Son (1969) and increasingly so in his subsequent devising of the unique Nervous System series of live film-projection performances. The American Museum Of The Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, hosted a full retrospective of his work in 1989, The New York Museum Of Modern Art held a partial retrospective in 1996, as did The American House in Paris in 1994 and the Arsenal Theater in Berlin in 1986 (during his 6 month stay as guest-recipient of Berlin’s DAAD award). He has also performed in Japan, at the Louvre in Paris, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, etc.