Article Title

A History of Failure

Document Type



The film Blonde Cobra (Ken Jacobs, 1959-63) is the product of a collaborative failure. To paraphrase Jack Smith at the end of the film, “It is a mother’s wisdom gone terribly wrong.” In watching this movie, one senses that something is being attempted; a relationship with the past is being drawn. And that sensing becomes the experience, an end in itself. One is watching acts of mimicry as a form of representation, even if this mimicry fails in a traditional sense. Shared experiences of 1930s and 1940s U. S. popular culture—film, musicals, radio—whether lived concretely or culturally acquired at some later moment, provide an interdependent framework for the motifs of collaboration and failure for participants in and then spectators of films like Blonde Cobra, a framework that rests on an understanding of the interstices of history and identity – that history is something that is collectively experienced by individuals, even though these experiences can never be – and never are – precisely equivalent or sustained in the same way by different generations or even within them.