RAZZLE-DAZZLE: THE LOST WORLD

NR
Reviews

The Brooklyn-born Ken Jacobs (Tom, Tom, The Piper’s Son) has, for several decades now, taken found footage and re-examined the material in bold new ways. Razzle Dazzle: The Lost World is the latest and possibly most ambitious film within his canon.

Jacobs’ starting point is A.C. Abadie’s 1903 short for the Edison company called Razzle Dazzle, in which Abadie took a single shot of people enjoying themselves on an amusement park ride. Right away, Jacobs re-photographs the scene in close-up and adds splashes of blood-red to the original black-and-white film stock; we become part of the ride, but at the same time we sense the danger, even the horror, that the original film suppressed. As the ride’s rhythmic motion careens out of control and Jacobs changes the speed of the projection, the heavily costumed children and adults of the era appear to lose their equilibrium (and, in turn, their innocence).

Later, three-dimensional shots from a stereopticon interrupt the central fairground ride image. In stark contrast to the flat projection of Razzle Dazzle, these primitive 3D still pictures (of more people of the same turn-of-the-century era) are anything but still—and are made all the more disorientating by the jagged shake of the camera (or is it a computer?) filming them.

In addition to the “dazzle” of Jacobs’ style, the filmmaker subtly critiques the patriarchal power structure and the notion of “perpetual war.” In the first section, the deconstruction of the Abadie short focuses on the men at the center of the ring engineering the dangerous ride for the children. Later, we hear the actual voice of Thomas Edison on the soundtrack encouraging America’s entry into the hyped-up Spanish-American War during the period Abadie’s film was made. Sadly, between Edison’s voice-over and the cinematic reinterpretation of the Edison-produced film, we realize that beneath the “razzle dazzle” of American entertainment lies the propagandistic strain that leads young people to die in war for old men’s causes.

Though Razzle Dazzle: The Lost World might be confused with some other “found-footage” experimental films—particularly Bill Morrison’s Decasia—it has a relevant and important style and message of its own.