Still from the 16-mm film component of Ken Jacobs’s Nervous System performance XCXHXEXRXRXIXEXSX, 1980, approx. 90 minutes.

OF THE SENIOR AVANT-GARDE FILMMAKERS STILL working in New York, the three most prominent have been remarkably prolific in recent years. Jonas Mekas (b. 1922), Ken Jacobs (b. 1933), and Ernie Gehr (b. 1943) might owe something of their productive energies to release from their institutional affiliations—Jacobs and Gehr retired from teaching; Mekas relinquished the daily management of Anthology Film Archives—and to their switch from 16-mm to digital filmmaking. It is as if lives spent overcoming the economic and technical difficulties of working with celluloid prepared them for dispatching digital works with exceptional efficiency. Besides films, Mekas and Gehr have been exhibiting video installations, while Jacobs has redoubled his commitment to the paracinematic performances he has been putting on for decades.

With the publication this spring of Optic Antics: The Cinema

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