Blonde Cobra

Since I am one who is more familiar with popular television programs and movies, I am not aware of such things as recognized artists for film. One man, in particular, also wasn't aware of such things until he went to the Museum of Modern Art. There, he acquired an interest in film and paintings. Let's look at one of his films that contains not only a somewhat bizarre "plot" but also an interesting story behind the making of it.

In 1962, Ken Jacobs created Blonde Cobra. It's a black and white film with much narration to a black screen. Jack Smith, another film artist, starred in the film, giving way to adventures that he may have had. The film is broken down into three parts: "The Lonely boy," "Madame Nescience," and "Sister Dexterity." One of the first scenes to be shown is a graveyard which gives the idea of death and despair. The three parts will help the viewer figure out why.

In "The Lonely boy," we see Smith as a child (a man dressed in baby clothes) playing with various objects. He sits in a corner waiting for some candy from his mother. As the narrative goes, the mother gives a little bit of candy to him and keeps most for herself. The film shifts into a narrative over a black screen, telling the audience an experience of the little boy. The story mentions the boy met another little boy, took his penis out and lit it with a match! This is sad because is shows that the little boy had no guidance or care from his mother. She left him to be lonely, sad, and misguided.

When the film switches to "Madame Nescience," the scene briefly shows Smith in drag, dressed like a Nun. He addresses a character named Madame Nescience, calling her as such, but then correcting himself, he calls her "Mother Superior." This gives the idea that Smith was in a catholic school at some point in his life.

In the final scene, we see Smith in his loft crying out and putting a toy gun to his head. He is upset because of his mother's neglegience in his upbringing. As the film closes, we see the image of the graveyard, echoing the earlier shot, suggesting that Smith has tried to commit suicide. Then, the next scene shows Smith falling to the floor, with Sims behind him holding a card that said, "FIN". We hear narrative of Smith asking, "What went wrong?" This could be taken as "what went wrong with my life?" or "Why is the film ending?" or "Why did I fail in killing myself?" Blond Cobra creates a seemingly helter-skelter array of images and sounds that openly points at homosexuality and transvestitism, instead of covering it up so young minds could not see and remember. Blond Cobra, by mixing images of movement on the screen without sound, or by presenting pitch-blackness containing a story, threw the viewer off balance enough to wait till the end of the film to form a conclusion.

The film had been done over a number of years. Originally, Bob Fleischner and Jack Smith didn't call the film Blonde Cobra, but rather "Blonde Venus" and "The Cobra Woman". Apparently, Smith and Fleischner had an argument over who should pay for the raw stock of the film. A fire destroyed it when Smith's cat knocked over a candle. The films were handed over to Jacobs from Fleischner to do as he saw fit. Jacobs took the two films and combined them.(Sitney, 333).

Again, this film was based on human experience. I found the film to be very flamboyant as well as bizarre at times, but the overall effect of what Jacobs was trying to capture was definitely there. In my opinion, Jacobs made the viewer feel the feelings of the character. He posed every detail of each part of the film, so the viewer has the complete understanding of the character's adventures.

--John M. Bartruff Jr.

Ken Jacobs Work