Pixilated, magnified, morphed, torn, stretched, slowed, strobed, smeared and smashed, a 1903 Edison actuality of a fairground ride becomes celluloid putty in the hands of cine-magician and avant-garde legend Ken Jacobs, whose phantasmagoric reconfiguration of turn-of-the-century artifacts finds new and exhilarating expression in Razzle Dazzle: The Lost World, a Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son for the digital age. Where Jacobs’s Tom, Tom (1969) rephotographed a primitive Biograph comedy to painstakingly investigate each frame and grain, Razzle does even more with A.C. Abadie’s one shot of a swirling, tilting amusement park attraction ridden by a ghostly gang of patrons. Turning the film itself into a ride, Jacobs counterpoints the spinning and tottering with patented strobe flashes looping brief movements jerkily back and forth to throbbing, optical illusion effect.
Time proves malleable, as does space: Razzle fills black and white footage with colors and saturated hues (red, orange, blinding white) and then goes into the image with kaleidoscopic zoom ins and outs of its very emulsion, continually transforming the texture into a distorted shipwreck of vanishing heads, split bodies and spectral faces accompanied by tuba and glockenspiel-punctuated marching waltzes on vintage 78. Digital novelties — layered, cubed, rippled and, at one point, rained-upon images — go beyond the tactile immediacy of Tom, Tom by rendering the past a computer-generated netherworld, but stills from ancient stereoscopes really sear the imagination with tragicomic family portraits, Civil War dramas, slapstick gags and religious panels culminating in a flicker apocalypse of bones and skeletons. Not one for kitschy nostalgia, with Razzle Dazzle Jacobs fashions a disquieting reimagining of a bygone “innocent” era’s descent into the ultimate nightmare of war.