Ken Jacobs's avant-garde landmark (1969) is both a study in the possibilities of rephotography and a film about watching movies. It begins with a 1905 short of the same title, in which a large crowd of people tumble through a doorway, leap from a loft, and climb out of a chimney in pursuit of the eponymous pig thief. Jacobs then rephotographs the film—slowing it down, freezing frames, introducing flicker effects, and isolating portions of the frame, some so tiny that we see mostly the grain. As he varies the rhythm the film becomes a series of carefully constructed riffs on particular characters or actions, or on pure shape; new meanings emerge from the little dramas between alternating shadows, or from background elements of the original. In a gesture at once didactic and poetic, Jacobs repeats the short near the end, and now it's glorious to behold: we see its imagery more actively and intensely, far more aware of its complex and diverse rhythms. Thus Jacobs teaches us how to resee almost any film, by mentally reframing its images or changing the speed of its action.
By Fred Camper