Filed under: notes, Philippine Chronicle | Tags: actualities, edison films, found footage, ken jacobs, philippines
Harry Kreisler: A couple of your films are more political than others. In one you use some old footage on the Philippines to make a point. Talk a little about that film and how this format for your art is tied to a real historical experience.
Ken Jacobs: Well, the work is called The Philippines Adventure, and I hit upon a little film purporting to be the history of America’s relationship to the Philippines. It was just a little propaganda piece and I used it almost intact, essentially to mock it. To bring out things that were there. The work is essentially my horror at what this piece of imperialism has been.
HK: What is the potential of film to shape our moral imagination?
KJ: Moral imagination?
KJ: Well, that sounds like propaganda.
HK: Why is it like propaganda?
KJ: Well you know, somebody’s morals …
HK: So “moral” is the bad word there?
KJ: I’m very involved with morality, and of course I think we are struggling, a lot of us, towards doing right. Being able to live with ourselves, being able to respect ourselves. But essentially, as I said before, I think that the deeper opportunity, the greater opportunity film can offer us is as an exercise of the mind. But an exercise, I hate to use the word, I won’t say “soul,” I won’t say “soul” and I won’t say “spirit,” but that it can really put our deepest psychological existence through stuff. It can be a powerful exercise. It can make us think, but I don’t mean think about this and think about that. The very, very process of powerful thinking, in a way that it can afford, is I think very, very valuable. I basically think that the mind is not complete yet, that we are working on creating the mind. Okay. And that the higher function of art for me is its contribution to the making of mind.
HK: And making mind, on the one hand, by disorienting it so it sort of has a sense of itself. And beyond that, what else?
KJ: Well in some cases also mindfulness. Mindfulness, in the case of The Philippines Adventure of American imperialism, you know, American self glorification, self-mythologizing. So there are things where you also want to create mindfulness, but it’s of lesser value than this primary thing of keeping the mind alive. And there’s lots against keeping the mind alive. We are surrounded, inundated, with bullshit. Okay. From almost everywhere. Advertising, which is a euphemism for lying. This government of lawyers who are working for people who pay them to go out and be on television and be ingratiating and get votes. They go to the lawyers, and they lie. And all of this just eats up the mind and makes us stupid. And stupid is also moving away from existence. We lose a hold on existence.
Making Light of History: The Philippines Adventures, 1983, (90 min.)
Has anyone seen this film? Or know what footage Jacobs used?
I wonder if it some it may be this:
U.S. Troops and Red Cross in the Trenches Before Caloocan
Advance of Kansas Volunteers at Caloocan
Colonel Funstan Swimming the Baglag River
Filipinos Retreat from Trenches
Capture of Trenches at Candaba
…and I also wonder if it has ever been shown in the Philippines?
A number of the same Edison clips are seen in still another extremely interesting work. Though produced in 1995, I was only introduced to it this year (thanks to brilliant programming at Cinema du Reel) and it has moved and affected me more than any other film I have seen for the first time in 2008. This is Marlon Fuentes’ Bontoc Eulogy, and I have a feeling I will be writing much, much more about it in the near future.
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