Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blonde Cobra (Jacobs. 1963)

“God’s not dead…He’s just marvelously sick.”

Ken Jacobs is an experimental filmmaker and theory teacher who is still making movies to this day. He was an art teacher to the monumentally influential Art Spiegelman and is sometimes credited for coining the term “paracinema” – though that changes depending on your source. Whether he invented the term or not, paracinema seems to be the wheelhouse in which Jacobs lives. It is a word that literally stands for any type of film that is outside the conventional genres in filmmaking. In Jacobs’ personal favorite genre, experimental avant-garde, paracinema also means any film made without the standard equipment of the film medium. If this essay-like opening paragraph is boring you, I guarantee the subject matter of Ken Jacobs’ 1963 Blonde Cobra will lighten the mood.

I almost feel strange referring to Blonde Cobra as an actual movie as opposed to a home video of two perverts talking about penises. See, I told you it would pick-up. It is set in a cramped apartment and shot with a single camera in grainy and unpleasant looking black and white. It “stars” a fellow experimental filmmaker, Jack Smith (Flaming Creatures), as himself in silly costumes while holding icky looking props. The motives for the movie are almost impossible to figure out. If I had to guess, I would say that these are two bored, eccentric homosexual filmmakers in the early 60s who are doing nothing more than looking for a way to torment the suits. There does not seem to be a point to anything in the film, rather Jacobs fills the half an hour runtime with controversial and offensive voiceovers behind strange images or completely blank screens.

There is no secular narrative presented in the film. Instead, Jacobs split his work into three short vignettes featuring Smith as different characters usually in drag or some other goofy costume. The first short in the film has Smith dressed in the manner of a fortuneteller and displays the behavior of someone with an intense oral fixation. This dialogue-less action includes Smith licking raw poultry and features a voiceover that describes cases of sexual molestation to children and necrophilia. The best I can do is say I THINK that is what they’re talking about, but it is almost impossible to understand what they are saying. Most of these stories, including one particular moment in which Smith describes a female’s use of religious statues for masturbation, are said over a blank, black screen. You’d think that a visual break from the action would be kinda nice, but the narration might even be more graphic. It is certainly more offensive.

The next “scene” has Smith and another man dressed as 1920s-esque gangsters as they dance to what sounds like (but don’t quote me on it) the Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire version of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”. I would think that this scene holds the key to Blonde Cobra even being on this list of films. Pop music in film was a brand new concept in the 1960s. And though many credit The Graduate for the use of a pop music soundtrack, Jacobs and Smith were using recordings in their films as early as 1957. Jacobs’Blonde Cobra, Smith’s Flaming Creatures and, of course, Anger’s Scorpio Rising were all released between 1963-64 and unknowingly serve as the first examples of unlicensed music in film.

And then, after all of that excitement, there is another vignette. This time we have Smith dressed as an explorer of some kind. He and another man rub themselves on all sorts of different apartment props. Smith can be heard saying that sex is “a pain in the ass”. Other than that, nothing really happens.

Maybe the most famous line in the film is said in the first act. Mid-sentence, Smith stops and turns to the camera. With a completely serious demeanor you can hear him say – “I don’t know if this makes sense to you”. I can assure you that the film does not make any sense at all. Not in the way that a surrealist like Buñuel doesn’t make sense, but more in the way that a sleep deprived, gay crack-addict probably doesn’t make sense. I eventually came to realize that looking for a motive or a point in Blonde Cobra is an exercise in futility. The film is pointless.

It would be wrong to say that Blonde Cobra has absolutely no cultural importance. Jacobs and Smith are both very famous in the gay, New York underground film scene. Somebody somewhere likes this stuff. And like Tarantino makes movies for a niche of people – these men made their films for a much smaller sample of the same thing. If you are not part of the particular audience – Blonde Cobra will mean nothing to you. Honestly, it’s a piece of crap.

Blonde Cobra: F


  1. Dear Jake,
    Thank you for your insightful post! I recently watched the film as part of the 1001 Films To See Before You Die challenge I am doing with my good friend. Struggling to make sense of it, I decided to do some research on this (to see if I missed some crucial Point) and came across little else beside your post. It's an obscure cinematic turd, isn't it.


  2. I'm glad I could help you out! Thanks for reading!