Little Stabs at Happiness


The film I chose to look at by Ken Jacobs was called Little Stabs at Happiness. The film was a collection of segments Jacobs shot from the period of 1959-1963. By looking at this colorized film it will be shown that Jacobs had some odd themes associated with this film.

The first section of the film was called "In The Room". This was the most odd section of the film. It had an upbeat song playing with lyrics that were consistently singing about happiness. In this segment there were people dressed in strange outfits with painting on their faces. These people were lying around on the floor and in a bathtub. Throughout the segment the people constantly had smiles on their faces as they proceeded to take their "little stabs at happiness". This consisted of putting their cigarettes out in the doll's eyes and continually biting the lower section of the doll. In this first section I felt that these people were showing their happiness by always smiling but that happiness seemed to be demented by the things they were doing. Smiling does not always mean that you are happy. It can be a sign of madness. This was the most unusual section of the film.

The second section of the film was called "They Stopped To Think". I felt that this might have been the most important part of the film because it had Jacobs himself doing a talk over discussing the people in the film. When Jacobs first talks he says that he wants to end this in three minutes as to keep the film on track. He then talks about certain sounds such as a bell and how the audience will react to each of these sounds. Jacobs then discusses where all the people who are in this film are now. He speaks of the woman and how he last heard that she was getting ready for surgery. He then discusses other people before finally getting to Jack Smith. He stated that he and Smith are now bitter and not talking to each other. As he is talking the film is showing images in the dark such as feet and a woman smoking a cigarette. He then ends his segment by saying "That's three minutes". I felt that this was the most important segment because it shows the sadness that Jacobs endured as he finished this film. He had shot the footage of Smith and the others around 1959 and then finished the editing by 1963. By that time he and Smith were not speaking anymore. I thought that Jacobs added the dark footage as an "image" showing that he is not speaking to many of the actors that he used. This is sad because it shows that things can change between human beings from the time you shoot to the time you edit film. To me this was definitely the most important section of the film.

The third section of the film had no title. This section just had a woman jumping up and down and having a good time. As the camera kept moving you could see her smiling and having fun. However the end had a shot of her walking straight at the camera with a serious look on her face. The segment then ended with her walking. This was also an odd segment but still seemed to show someone having fun in his or her own way.

The fourth section of the film was called "It Began To Drizzle". Jacobs threw in one of several graphic effects, as raindrops appeared to drop onto the title page. This section was also odd in that it had a man and a woman constantly looking at each other and talking but you don't hear anything because there is no dialogue, only upbeat music. I consider the upbeat music to be a sign that the two people are enjoying each other's company. The man is sitting on the ground holding his hands while the woman is rocking bath forth in a rocking chair as she looks at things such as a cup and a bird. As the woman is looking at these things the man continues to look at her from the shadows (Jacobs probably purposely threw in that effect). At the end the two pick up their chairs and leave. This section was odd because it would seem that the two people are happy because they talk and the music is upbeat but they never come near each other to truly express their happiness. They just look at each other and talk. Maybe Jacobs is implying that talking to someone is all the happiness you really need. This was also another odd section of the film.

The fifth section, which had no title, was probably the shortest section of the film. This section just involved children drawing pictures with chalk on the street. As the children are playing there are adults standing over them and smiling. This led me to believe that the adults were possibly parents who were watching their children doing something that made them happy which in turn made the parents happy. Although this section was the shortest in the film it illustrated what the title of the film was all about. In saying "Little Stabs at Happiness" this section showed both the parents and the children having fun.

The final section of the film was called "The Spirit of Listlessness". The main actor in this section was Jack Smith. This section involved a man in a strange outfit having fun with a balloon. He attempts to put the balloon in a chimney and then puts the balloon in his mouth. We then see a wider shot of many people playing with other objects such as balloons. As the section ends we see Smith's character rolling against a wall with the balloon still in his hands. At this point the section cuts and the film ends. This section was odd because we did not know exactly why the people were having fun. We just assumed that they did because the camera continually showed smiles on all their faces. This was another odd section.

This entire film was shot towards the early part of Ken Jacobs' career. You know from "They Stopped To Think", which I considered the most important section of the film that things did not work out so well between Jacobs and his actors. That section showed the lack of happiness that Jacobs had because he couldn't get along with his actors when the editing time came. This section illustrated that much can happen between the time you shoot and the time you edit, especially if you shot your film several years ago, which Jacobs was notorious for. Overall I thought this was an odd piece but did demonstrate how different types of people see happiness. Some people find ways to amuse themselves, some enjoy watching children have fun, and some, such as Jacobs, have little happiness at all.

--Mark Fijalkoski, 2001.



Ken Jacobs Work