Aside from his early childhood difficulties, at the age of sixteen he had the opportunity to go to the Museum of Modern Art. There, he took a keen interest in various filmmakers, which then inspired him to write some of his own movie scripts. Also, he developed a love for art and painting. He attended the high school of Industrial Arts and often visited the film screenings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
He served at the US Coast Guard. In 1955 he continued to study painting in New York, and in 1956 he studied with Hans Hoffmann.
Also in 1956 he befriended the filmmaker Jack Smith and began to work on his first films and first attempts in Silhouette Theater. In 1956, Jacobs put together a film called Orchard Street. Over the next couple of years, with the help of fellow filmmaker and classmate Jack Smith, his work was finally acknowledged. Smith, being a hopeful actor, starred in Jacob's film Blonde Cobra as well as a few other films.
He founded the Millennium Film Workshop in New York. He then taught film studies at St. Johns University. In 1969 he founded the film department at the State University of New York in Binghamton together with Larry Gottheim. From 1971 to the present he has been professor of film in Binghamton. In 1986 he was a guest of the DAAD (Berlin Artist's Program). In 1996 his work was shown in a comprehensive film retrospective in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Currently, his best-known films are his Nervous System Performances.
--John M. Bartruff Jr., 2000
At the age of sixteen Jacobs visited the Museum of Modern Art. At the museum one day he found his way down to the basement. It was here that he discovered a separate theatre that showed some of his role models "like Chaplin and Langdon" (Interview, p.2). It was also here that Jacobs observed such things as French avant-garde films of the twenties and American comedies (Interview, p.2). Jacobs would go on to state, "Observing these films was an enveloping atmosphere. It became worlds for me". It was at this point that Jacobs knew he wanted to look further into avant-garde film studies.
Some time later Ken found himself in the Coast Guard. When he left the Coast Guard he had saved enough money to buy his first camera and also take some film classes at the City College of New York (Interview, p.3). In 1956 Jacobs started to study film with Hans Hoffman (Interview, p.3). It was at this time that Jacobs started to take an interest in painting. Jacobs appreciated painting because "time seems to stand still in that one single image of the painting" (Interview, p.3). However Jacobs eventually decided to stick with film because "film just dominated in ways that painting did not "(Interview, p.3). After his days of education Jacobs would then go out into the world and do his own films.
In 1956 Jacobs would meet filmmaker Jack Smith and begin a friendship that would lead Jacobs into his first films (Brakhage, p.55). In the span from 1956-59 Jacobs would work with Smith in making Orchard Street and Blonde Cobra. However several years later that friendship would turn sour after many arguments. It was after these films that "filmmakers started to acknowledge my work as an avant-garde filmmaker" (Interview, p.4).
Jacobs would go on to make many more films in his life. His most famous films are called his "Nervous System" films (Interview, p.5). These films were done by taking existing films and turning them into something with different meaning. Jacobs goes on to say, "I enjoy mining existing film. Seeing what film remembers, what it misses when it clocks by at normal speed. It tells us stories and much more" (Interview, p.6). This is essentially what Jacobs' films are all about. He continually takes films and "mines" into them to see what points have been missed and what can be changed. Jacobs also states that, "Hopefully my viewers get many, many different kinds of experiences, but essentially wakefulness and consciousness are the most important things they get from my films" (Interview, p.6).
Some years later Jacobs founded the Millennium Film Workshop in New York (Brakhage, p.58). He was also essential in the founding of the film department at the State University of New York (Brakhage, p.61). Presently Jacobs continues to teach film at the State University of New York in Binghampton (Brakhage, p.62).
--Mark Fijalkowski, 2001.