The great, ground-breaking avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs headed up the film department when I was at Harpur College/SUNY Binghamton (now Binghamton University). I was studying literature and creative writing but friends equipped with 16mm or Super 8 cameras were in seminars with Ken, and tagging along to a class here and there and attending programs at school’s film society, I was introduced to moving pictures like none I’d previously seen or had known existed, miraculously expanding my idea of what film could be and do. In addition t0 Ken’s films there was work by filmmakers including Larry Gottheim (also a faculty member), Michael Snow, Stan Brackage, the Kuchar Brothers, James Benning, Hollis Frampton, Jack Smith and Jonas Mekas–and my friends.
One afternoon, as I arrived to meet Gerry (who was close to Ken, his wife, Flo, and Larry–and as obsessed with film then as I later became) in a lecture hall before a screening, Ken’s daughter Nisi–she was four, five, max–came over to talk to him. She looked at him intently and asked, “Do you know my Daddy very well?” Gerry replied, “Yes, I think I know him.” Next question, “And my Mommy?” “Yes, I think so.” “Larry?” With curisosity (but not impatience), Gerry replied, “Yes…” And then Nisi preternaturally aware of what she was saying, proudly zinged him, “And do you know yourself very well?”
I’d retained this exchange for decades and when I shot Ken and family (I had also shot him alone several years earlier) prior to the release of his son Azazel’s preceptive, well-shot story of the comfort of a childhood home and adult responsibilites, “Momma’s Man,” I told Nisi the story. She hadn’t carried it with her from the lecture hall but didn’t doubt the accuracy of my memory–she knew she’d been a nearly impossibly precocious child.
Ken turned 80 on May 25. He has been honored this year with programs at MoMA and Anthology Film Archives. Tomorrow Museum of the Moving image joins the celebration with “Flo Rounds a Life: The Films of Ken Jacobs,” screening three of his films that focus on his life partner (Ken and Flo have been together more than 50 years): “Nissan Ariana Window,” “Flo Rounds a Corner,” and “Cyclopean 3D: Life with a Beautiful Woman” (in which 3D works with just one eye–perfect for my amblyopia).
Screening and discussion with Ken Jacobs at Museum of the Moving Image, Sunday, June 2 at 2:00 pm.