“Ken Jacobs began annotating a lyrical junkyard allegory with chunks of found footage in the late ‘50s; screened in various versions over the decades, Star Spangled to Death became his life’s work. Incorporating audiovisual material ranging from political campaign films to animated cartoons to children’s phonograph records, featuring Al Jolson, Mickey Mouse, the young Jack Smith, and a half-dozen American presidents, this vast, ironic pageant of 20th-century American history is a unique and mind-boggling contraption, the ultimate underground movie.” —J. Hoberman, Village Voice
“…Star Spangled to Death is the magnum opus of the independent filmmaker Ken Jacobs. Begun in 1957 as a backyard bohemian romp starring the avant-garde legend Jack Smith — an amazing proto-drag performer who later directed his own underground classic, Flaming Creatures — the project grew over the years to incorporate huge chunks of appropriated material, including, for example, the entirety of Richard M. Nixon’s 1952 Checkers speech and what seems like most of an early 30’s documentary on what was then known as ‘darkest Africa.’” —Dave Kehr, New York Times
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. Later he found himself teaching large classes of painfully docile students at St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens.
In 1969, after a week’s guest seminar at Harpur College (now, Binghamton University), students petitioned the Administration to hire Ken Jacobs. Despite his lack of a high school diploma, the Administration… read more
The true compression of the American experience I've been waiting to see all my life in cinema. The first film to peel the veil cast by Hollywood and present a real and thorough analysis on American history, cinema, imperialism, capitalism, and racism, all with an avant-garde approach. Completely invaluable as a work of art and a cultural contribution.
Also: Charlie Kaufman’s writing a novel and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s making a movie.