Like father, like son? In the case of avant-garde luminary Ken Jacobs and his son Azazel, this is only true up to a point. As evidenced by the elder Jacobs’s Two Wrenching Departures and the younger one’s The GoodTimesKid, both playing at Anthology Film Archives for one week beginning January 17, father and son do not share a common aesthetic so much as an affinity for special forms of silence. Two Wrenching Departures, a video version of a “Nervous System” projector performance piece, is the superior of the two films. Made in response to the week-apart deaths of his friends Bob Fleischer and Jack Smith, Jacobs Sr. presents moments from their lives as something resembling a cinematic conniption. The black-and-white footage, some culled from the director’s unfinished Star Spangled to Death, appears to predate Taxi Driver, though it’s obviously newer than Sam Wood’s The Barbarian, from which Jacobs Sr. samples images and sounds throughout. The film lurches forward before abruptly pausing to joggle back and forth between frames, suggesting a psychotic episode. Set to the sounds of the city, dialogue from the lives of its subjects, and a Carmina Buranaish composition during one particularly impressive sketch, Jacobs Sr. illuminates the idiosyncrasies of New York City through the antics of Fleischer and Smith.
The younger Jacobs is equally sweet on Echo Park, where he shot his doodle The GoodTimesKid. A day in the lives of an Olive Oyl Latina, her punk boyfriend Rodolfo, and a second Rodolfo who lives inside a boat, the film claims to be “a story about stolen love and stolen identities shot on stolen film,” though we could also apply to it Inland Empire’s own promotional description of itself: “a story of a mystery…a mystery inside worlds within worlds…unfolding around a woman…a woman in love and in trouble.” But that’s not a recommendation, really. Jacobs Jr. gives us a film perched somewhere between the realistic solipsism of Mutual Appreciation and the insufferable quirk of Garden State. The film is such that characters ask stupid questions that no one answers (possibly because they go unheard) and a brawl between two people is implied using only one actor. My screener went kaput about five minutes before the film ends, shortly after the second Rodolfo boards a bus toward a future in the army. This is meant as a sign of sacrifice on his part, but the film, in spite of some lovely visual textures and transitions, does not give us reason to care for Diaz or either of the two Rodolfos, all of whom are cardboard signs of disaffection. Props, though, for giving us the first great line of the new year: Take it easy (pronounced, lovingly, “Tayket eecie”).
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.