On Star Spangled to Death

by
Jonas Mekas


 

O

rganic, living organism that grew and grew over the period of 47 years.

Ken says, "The film is done; it weighed on me all those years." But I wouldn’t take that for the last word. Maybe the only film I know that is Artaud: Monumental Song of Despair & Hope. Of epic proportions, incredibly complex in meanings. It’s an absolute masterpiece that will be seen differently by every viewer. The greatest found-footage film. No found-footage film can be made after this one; add to it Joseph Cornell, Bruce Conner, Julius Ziz, and Bill Morrison. A film that contains some of the most cinematic and grotesque film material from the first 100 years of commercial cinema.

A film that is not about avant-garde. A film that is not like Brakhage or the last Bruce Elder, who create their own worlds of their own making. This one creates a world according to Ken Jacobs out of bits of the banal, clichéd, grotesque, vulgar, dripping sentimentality that is being sold to the people as real food and everybody feeds on it and even enjoys it and then dies.


Jerry Sims in Ken Jacobs' Star Spangled to Death.

Ken Jacobs: "It is a social critique picturing a stolen and dangerously sold-out America, allowing examples of popular culture to self-indict."

So Ken takes a knife and cuts it all open. Irreverently and lovingly and with a skill of a good surgeon he reveals it all to us from the inside, and we do not know whether to laugh, cry, run out screaming, or applaud.

And there is Jerry and Jack wrapped in it all, trying to live in it, to exist one way or another—you have to be Jack to still dance through it all at the same time as you cry and starve. Yes, this is a film that sums it all up and you almost hate it, but at the same time you know it’s all true, it’s all true, this is all the America we live in, our home, the official America of the 20th century, here it is on the plate, so eat it and then vomit it all out.

Luckily for me, this is not my America in this film: I live in another America, the America of my dreams.

 

 

*This piece originally appeared in The Brooklyn Rail and is republished here with the author's permission