Ken Jacobs & John Zorn
Nervous Magic Lantern Live Collaborative Performance
Celestial Subway Line 3

Anthology Film Archive, 5/29/04

"AIRY NOTHINGS would be a way of describing the illusion of moving through and about places that aren't there. I can understand not wanting to throw away hard-earned (by somebody) money on such frivolity, like riding a cloud through the heavens solely to gawk in wonder. The Nervous Magic Lantern opens before us an unsuspected cinema, without actors and their fascinating problems (movies are about actors, they allow common people to learn something of the problems of exceptionally beautiful people). While only recently acquiring the Nervous tag, it is a technique that could've been employed before the advent of film, and way before electronics. As soon as light could be concentrated and focused through a lens in a surrounding darkness against a reflective surface, and a shutter could be made to spin, it was at hand. I figure it had to've given evidence of itself during the time of optical toys and experiment but got pushed aside, was skillfully shunned as extraneous to the inventing of cinematic mimesis. Recognition of its potential required a mind primed by Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. A mind also willing to turn its attention away from human strife, hi-tech barbarity, stupidity, venality, needless pain and waste in the service of God or The Nation. This dream world is a deception of another order, modernist deception, stating itself as such in the same way Houdini attacked priestly miracle-makers and spiritualist con-artists by performing tricks and saying so. Now if you as viewer wish to join in and lend substance to the work via your own depth projection, well, that's okay. Let us tangle." - Ken Jacobs

Met Brian and Marianne at Anthology.

Zorn doing a laptop score of some kind. Relaxed unnerving tamboural movements.

The Nervous Magic Lantern projection system does seem like it could have just as easily have been done with candles and a hand crank in the 19th century. The operation and design was intentionally obscured by pieces of cardboard (don't pay an attention to the man behind the cardboard?) Different objects/photos of some kind, including slides covered with colored granules and half-deflated balloons, seem to be placed under a moving projection lens /strobe -- or maybe the objects themselves were moved. The system allowed for the improvisation of different effects -- radial blur, a panning effect, maybe even some kind of stereoscopic effect or simulation.

Most of the material looked like a helicopter-eye view of a barren / alien landscape, like opening shot of The Shining or the planet surface sections of Solaris. The point of view was a disembodied watcher floating over nightmare landscapes, looking for something. Endless variations within the sameness of the surface textures. An alienation effect created by the disembodied viewer pespective, as in the monster-eye view in horror movies, not frightening, but unnearving, since the monster is no longer unknown: we are a spectator watching powerlessly from within it. Seeing this flim is like watching someone else play a video game designed by an evil shaman.

Shifting blurred forms and powerful strobing. Made me think of a Butthole Surfers concert I saw in a small building on the campus of Bard College in 1987 where there were two separate epileptic seizures from the strobes.

The Nervous Magic Lantern strobe is relentless and slightly nausea and headache inducting. Add to that the constant panning and blurring and it becomes mild torture. The darkened theater becomes a dungeon. Constant hallucinatory texture of mineral surfaces. Some kind of suggestible state / hypnotic state induced by the strobe? Seeing things in the mineral surface forms -- faces mostly, and skulls, but also a pair of vice grips? What does that say about me? That I project issues of identity, death, and agency onto what I see? Brian and Marianne later reported also seeing faces.

At one point a 19th century family portrait of some kind was the photo source, and the people became a nightmarish shifting landscape. The surface of human historical record or memory rendered into a morphing lava-like fabric...

Maybe if we worked out our nightmares more in virtual realms we would export them less to other countries...

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