Review: ‘XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX’ brings sex back to the big screen

Ken Jacobs’ “XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX” is part of the Roxy Cinema’s “The Carnal Screening: Erotic Visions,” a series devoted to exploring sexuality on the silver screen. Jacobs’ experimental film delves into the cosmic nature of life and sex through a series of hallucinatory, pornographic images.

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Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer

“XCXHXEXRXRXIXEXSX” is an experimental film exploring themes of sexuality and pornography. The film is the latest project from avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs. (Staff Photo by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer)

Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer, Arts Editor

Pornography has never looked as psychedelic as it does under the careful editing of legendary experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs. 

Jacobs and the Film-Makers’ Cooperative screened “XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX” as part of the Roxy Cinema’s “The Carnal Screening: Erotic Visions,” a new monthly film series created in collaboration with the Museum of Sex to explore identity and sexuality on film. The screening of  “XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX” marks the beginning of one of the most provocative and exciting film programs New York City has seen as of late. 

“XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX” is a film about “the act of creation,” as Jacobs put it in the disorderly Q&A that followed the screening. “Sex, what a crazy concept,” said Jacobs when asked by a member of the audience to elaborate on the theme that sex presents in the film. “The idea that two people can come together and create life — wow!”

The film is scrapped together from a discarded pornoflick, “Cherries,” whose title is embedded between the umpteen Xs in “XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX.” Jacobs claims to have gotten ahold of through the mafia. It showcases footage subjected to all sorts of editing tricks by the filmmaker and his partner Flo depicting a man and two women having sex in pastoral France. Adapted from their “Nervous System” performances, where the couple would playfully edit stills from “Cherries” as they projected them before an audience, ‘XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX” condenses the Jacobs’ experimental genius into a monumental work of astounding beauty.

Images melt into each other through Jacobs’ patented cinematic process, dubbed “eternalism.” The effect creates an image palpitating with life that forces viewers to keep up with the film’s dynamic rhythm by swaying to the ever-flickering motions of the movie. “XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX” pulsates through the audience, inducing something like a communal trance. The Roxy’s screening perhaps marks the closest an audience has ever come to being subject to hypnosis upon going to the movies. 

The film’s content, an unimportant albeit engaging arrangement of random sex scenes, presents itself as an ever-permutating Rorschach test comprising groins, penises, breasts and vaginas. “XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX” is formalist smut at its best.

It’s not so much about what’s on the screen, insomuch as what is being done with the screen for Jacobs. It’s surely sex that controls the screen in “XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX,” but it’s the fact that those images are being stretched, warped and modified that makes them so magnificent. The formal experiments Jacobs hurls at the screen will definitely make audience members think about sex and bodies in new ways after watching the film. At the end of the day, though, it’s the particularities of how Jacobs manipulates film that is most striking. Whether the film showcased couples making love or couples having breakfast together, it is how Jacobs’ editing would represent them doing those things that would be the most interesting thing about the film.

That being said, the fact that this film deals with pornogaphic sex and is part of “The Carnal Screening” cannot be dismissed. The fact that a film like “XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX” could play in a theater before general audiences these days is unreal. The particularities behind the fact that a practically sold-out theater is stuck together watching art-porn through a critical eye that consumes it as art is a singularly special fact. 

The screening of “XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX” puts forth the idea that there is a critically engaged audience willing to discuss sexuality and digest art relating to the topic. It will be interesting to witness whether similar programs pop up in other theaters around New York City. But, for the time being, “The Carnal Screening: Erotic Visions” seems like it’s going to be the place for people to consume sex-related art in safe space where they can become mesmerised, repulsed or absolutely infatuated with the images that overwhelm their eyes and minds. 

“XCXHEXRXRXIXEXSX” is now on view at the Roxy Cinema at 2 Sixth Ave.

Contact Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer at [email protected]