Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Ron Reed

Stan Brakhage

Recommended Posts

Ron Reed   

Okay, what's the skinny? Over on the nominations thread for The Promontory 100 (or whatever it ends up being called), Doug suggested that we consider Stan Brakhage's shorts. It seemed in questionable taste to me, as no other director's underwear is being contemplated, but Leary and stef and other Chicagoans have in the past identified themselves as Brakhage "fan boys" and, at the risk of exposing The Prom to public scandal, I ask "What the heck?"

Who is this guy? The Windy City Norman McLaren? So he paints on film - big deal! What's that got to do with God, anyhow? (He did move to British Columbia for the last year of his life, so that points to a certain spiritual acuity, but I mean besides that....)

Enlighten us.

Edited by Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
M. Leary   

Oh man, wish I had time to respond in depth to this. Hold that thought for a week.

Brakhage is really important because he was one of the first to identify that the growth of the information age tapped film as a metaphysic. Film isn't just the "seventh art," it also is directly tied into the way we act in culture and percieve the historicity of images. I guess I wouldn't argue too strongly for putting Brakhage on the Promontory list, I would want to go with someone like Deren or maybe even Cocteau with the trilogy, someone a little less intentionally on the fringe.

Here may be a helpful analogy: Brakhage's work is to Film as Pascal's Pensees is to theological literature. A collection of pithy moments in which one comes into contact with the raw spirit of the discipline. Here are the most elevated, lofty concerns spoken in the simple and passionate language of the true seeker.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Persona   

Hmmm. I am by no means a Brakhage "fan boy," i've seen Dog Star Man but that's about it. I'm curious to see more, but i think you have me confused with someone else.

Leary is out of town, or is at least leaving town, so if this thread starts to sink i would suggest resurrecting it in a week or so.

-s.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Persona   

Heh, he obviously hasn't left yet. GET OUT OF HERE!!

-s.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Doug C   

In short, Brakhage is a giant in the history of experimental cinema, renowned and respected the world over. He was also a very spiritual fellow:

Account of Brakhage's funeral on 3/14/03 in Victoria, BC, by Phil Solomon

"In the last days of his life, Stan had befriended Rev.Dr.David Rolfe, the rector at the Church of the Advent, Anglican Church of Canada. Rev. Rolfe would visit him at home and in the hospital during the last weeks, and they would engage in discussions about spiritual issues whenever possible. I think it was of some real comfort to Stan in his last, terribly difficult days. It should be no surprise to those that knew him and his work, that Stan would have requested a traditional Christian service. Though he did not 'practice', I believe that Stan always identified himself as a Christian, as long as I have known him

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Thom   

I am a Brakhage admirer but I would question his placement on this list. Although I think we could impose spiritual themes to his experimental work, I have yet to see the Jesus Trilogy (can't get my hands on it) which may aid in "spiritualizing" Brakhage's work. However, I do find that the way he ties his images together creates a kind of - humans are so small in this huge metaphysical world - type of feeling.

jroberts - were you part of the Stan Brakhage night at the college? If so, will they bring that back or was it a "passing through" type of exhibition?

I cannot speak for Deren but I owuld agree with (M) about Cocteau if indeed any experimental, abstract, avantgarde filmmakers make the list.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Doug C   

I'm really amazed by the hesitancy to include Brakhage here, a Christian filmmaker of universal acclaim who made extremely worshipful films: hand-painted images of Chartres Cathedral or meditations on Christ or a film with the words "Praise Be/to God" scratched on the celluloid itself. I didn't say all Christians should see all of his films, some would certainly object to some of his content, but his work is artistically and spiritually very significant.

His widow, Marylin, wrote this in his death announcement last year:

In his well known Metaphors on Vision of 1963, Stan had written of film artists creating "where fear before them has created the greatest necessity," and that "They are essentially preoccupied by and deal imagistically with

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Doug C   

(Incidentally, Brakhage made close to 400 films, so the possibility of anyone seeing all of them is quite unlikely anyway.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Can't say I know his work, but from your description, Doug, it sounds like he deserves inclusion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Thom   

\"through the arts, through music and painting. He said, \"I wanted to give them God.\"

I am also a bit cynical and not knowing the life of Brakhage the above comment could be more of a mystical, new age kind of comment meaning he wanted to help people find their God or concept of a god.

I do not know whether Stan Brakhage was a follower of Christ or not but beautifully painted films, Cathedral images, and other visuals do not immmediately testify of one's salvation. And even if they did I do not see that as instant inclusion. There are many films that were not made by Christians that will certainly (hopefully) be included in this list. If it is a visually stunning, or visually significant, film then it should be included viewing for a Chrisitan. Maybe it will aid in the appreciation of artists and their art.

I am only going by what I know of his work and based on that small amount of knowledge I would not have suggested Brakhage. I am absolutely fine with another's request to include him and specific pieces of his work.

his work is artistically and spiritually very significant.

You definitely have more intimate knowledge of his work and I respect your opinion. The above comment has only made me want to see more Brakhage.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Doug C   

I do not know whether Stan Brakhage was a follower of Christ or not but beautifully painted films, Cathedral images, and other visuals do not immmediately testify of one's salvation.

No, they don't, but I take people at their word. If they claim to be a Christian and their friends and widow affirm that in unambiguous terms, I'm not going to argue with it. It's not for me to judge.

If it is a visually stunning, or visually significant, film then it should be included viewing for a Chrisitan. Maybe it will aid in the appreciation of artists and their art.

Then what you want is the Sight & Sound poll or a good book on film history. Despite the obvious inclusion of some titles which are merely the personal favorites of various people, my impression was that there was something intrinsically "Christian" intended about the list, ie., the films were made by Christians or dealt with Christian themes and subjects in a notable fashion. All of Brakhage's film fit the first criterion, some fit the second, depending on how narrow the definition is. Certainly both criteria fit Brakhage more than Cocteau. Although the latter did make beautiful and meaningful films, I'm not aware that he ever claimed to be a man of faith or that he ever made films of unabashed worship like Brakhage did.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Doug C   

Maybe I should clarify that when I wrote "some of Stan Brakhage's films," I didn't mean a random sampling of his work, but specific films like Passage Through: A Ritual (1990), the Chartres Series (1994), and Untitled (for Marilyn) (1992), all of which I've seen, and other works like the Jesus Trilogy and Coda, which I've only read about.

I think Christians should be encouraged to look into the work of such a renowned filmmaker in order to a) experience the work--I found it very spiritually moving, cool.gif respond to the many commentaries on the spiritual nature of it, and c) because he claimed to be a Christian artist. I don't think Brakhage should be overlooked or dismissed simply because he worked in the avant-garde. He should be embraced in precisely the same terms many Christians have apparently endorsed Mel Gibson.

When I saw the films mentioned above here in L.A. (with none other than Kenneth Anger in attendance), the dean of CalArts' film school, Steve Anker, stopped the screenings to read Brakhage's favorite passage from 1 Corinthians 3--the same passage Anker had read at the funeral:

"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work."

For a filmmaker who made a movie out of moth wings, the idea of building on a foundation with unique materials is quite touching. wink.gif

The hardcore experimental cinephile audience sat in respectful silence throughout. It was certainly one of the more worshipful screenings I have attended in years.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Doug C   

"The Jesus Trilogy and Coda is driven by tensions between movement and stillness, depth and flatness. Many images are visible just long enough to seem stills but also contribute to the film's rhythmic flow, as patterns transform or collide with others. Skeins of lines and splashes of color create depth effects that suddenly yield to flatness. These oppositions, perceived as irresolvable paradoxes, prevent the imagery from becoming decorative or static, locating it as much in the viewer's mind as on the screen.

Colors glow with an inner light as if alive and at times seem translucent, with others shining through them; then, suddenly, they become more solid, like a relief map. These transitions, experienced as a vibration between solidity and transparence, lie within a long tradition of depicting Christ as both deity and human, spirit and flesh; Brakhage's is one of the most lucid articulations of the idea ever.

In the last of the four, Christ on Cross, Brakhage's multiple lines unexpectedly converge into a vertical pattern, then a horizontal one, several times. Soon there are fleeting glimpses of a cross, standing as a kind of essence behind all the patterns we've seen

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ron wrote:

: Doug suggested that we consider Stan Brakhage's shorts. It seemed in

: questionable taste to me, as no other director's underwear is being

: contemplated . . .

And you say this in a thread, the title of which uses the abbreviated form of "bumfodder" -- you cheeky devil, you. wink.gif

asher wrote:

: I do not know whether Stan Brakhage was a follower of Christ or not but

: beautifully painted films, Cathedral images, and other visuals do not

: immmediately testify of one's salvation.

I don't think Brakhage's salvation or lack thereof is relevant at all. We are recommending FILMS, not filmMAKERS. And even if we WERE recommending filmmakers, we are hardly trying to recommend them based on what we perceive their spiritual status to be.

Doug C wrote:

: He should be embraced in precisely the same terms many Christians

: have apparently endorsed Mel Gibson.

Well ain't THAT the kiss of death. smile.gif

: The hardcore experimental cinephile audience sat in respectful silence

: throughout.

Do hardcore experimental cinephiles normally talk during movies, then?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
M. Leary   

<!--QuoteBegin--></span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td><b>QUOTE</b> </td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'><!--QuoteEBegin-->I'm really amazed by the hesitancy to include Brakhage here, a Christian filmmaker of universal acclaim who made extremely worshipful films: hand-painted images of Chartres Cathedral or meditations on Christ or a film with the words "Praise Be/to God" scratched on the celluloid itself.<!--QuoteEnd--></td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'><!--QuoteEEnd-->

I emphatically agree with taking this tack on watching Brakhage. I have been trying to write up a little piece on his "Christian" films for about a year now. He really is very hard to write about without your copy coming across like a blustery, fluttery catalog introduction for a Kiefer exhibition. But it is worth trying to write about the guy. I have had some intense theological experiences in the midst of some of his handpainted pieces, especially the Praise Be/To God piece. Right there I had the sensation of hearing trees clapping and rocks shouting when that slithered into the background of the film.

But, my only caveat is that I don't think he belongs on a Promontory list. Brakhage really works out of a network of thought that doesn't play a role here in discussion very often, if at all. His approach to film doesn't seem to fit well into the tacit paradigm that is at work in what films we tend to talk about here and how we talk about them. He just doesn't fit in very well.

I guess that is why I would lean towards Cocteau or someone like that. A director that more people in the "Promontory" arena watch and discuss. Just seems more practical in this sense to leave Brakhage off the list. As I write this I realize how lame it sounds, considering Brakhage's signficance. But there is only 100 slots, might as well fill them up with things people can actually get thier hands on.

Edited by MLeary

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Doug C   

But, my only caveat is that I don't think he belongs on a Promontory list at all. Brakhage really works out of a network of thought that doesn't play a role here in discussion very often, if at all. His approach to film doesn't seem to fit well into the tacit paradigm that is work in what films we tend to talk about here and how we talk about them. He just doesn't fit in very well.

I see. Well, I guess one purpose of any critical list is to encourage viewers to break out of their usual viewing habits and engage works they may not have thought about already. Obviously, Brakhage is not a hot topic around here...but he should be. wink.gif

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Russell Lucas   
Guest Russell Lucas

Where should a Brakhage neophyte (or, more accurately, know-nothing) start? Is the Criterion set representative or recommended? Is there much else out on video release? Am I at the mercy of festivals and retrospectives?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Doug C wrote:

: Well, I guess one purpose of any critical list is to encourage viewers to

: break out of their usual viewing habits and engage works they may not

: have thought about already.

Yes, you might say it is to encourage other viewers to develop the viewing habits of the people who made the list. And since the Promontory 101 list is all about films that we would recommend to others, rather than films that we think might be recommended to us ... smile.gif

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
M. Leary   

Where should a Brakhage neophyte (or, more accurately, know-nothing) start?  Is the Criterion set representative or recommended?  Is there much else out on video release?  Am I at the mercy of festivals and retrospectives?

The Criterion set is preternaturally representative. And it comes stacked with all sorts of Brakhage's own commentary on his own work. It is a rather remarkable set, and even if you know nothing about the guy the DVD will find a welcome place on your shelf. I have only seen about a dozen things by Brakhage that aren't on the discs and feel familiar enough with his work.

The best thing about the discs is that they give you a keen sense of what is going on in his films. Something like Dogstar... is really tough to figure out, but the Criterion set will give you enough background to make sense of it. If you do pick up the discs, spend some time at Fred Camper's Brakhage site to get some background.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Doug C   

Yeah Russell, the Criterion DVD is amazing--beautifully transferred frame-by-frame, with commentary by Brakhage and Fred Camper, reigning Brakhage scholar and sometimes Chicago Reader critic.

But do be warned--some of Brakhage's films are very intense, graphically incorporating nudity, childbirth, autopsies, etc. I haven't even completely made it through the whole DVD collection myself, and I'm not sure I will. But his work is widely regarded as being a genuine search for truth and transcendence and artistic discovery, not merely a source of sensationalism or titillation. All of his work is definitely not for everyone, but some of his work certainly could be.

If you can rent the collection and selectively watch a few of the films (like the aforementioned Untitled (for Marilyn)), I'd definitely recommend it. Otherwise, yeah, you'll have to catch a film exhibition somewhere.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Russell Lucas   
Guest Russell Lucas

Thanks, guys. I'll look into that set, and I hope I'll have an opportunity to discuss it with you two in July.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Russell Lucas   
Guest Russell Lucas

"tterly remarkable." That might be the best non-substantive phrase I've heard all year!

I will look forward to it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Persona   

Just returned from the Greatest Christmas of my Life, but leafing through the thread I am reminded that my best buds are here and that I've really missed being able to pay attention to the boards as much as I once did. My education has gotten the best of me. I'd like to report in a little more often: one of the reasons Christmas was personally so good (one of many reasons) is that my parents gave me the Brakhage Criterion Collection as a present. I am sure they don't even know who Brakhage is, but I was actually entertaining the notion of somehow naming my (approaching) son after Brakhage, so I guess they realized I really do love this artist's work.

I'd like to keep this thread alive and eventually make it through the collection. In the meantime, does anyone know where the thread was in which I went Nuts Over Stan Brakhage? IIRC, I posted at A&F regarding Wedlock House: An Intercourse and The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes, posts that were most likely smeared with awe at what I'd just encountered. I've been paging through different Brakhage threads and can't seem to locate those old posts...

My goal was to keep this as the open Brakhage thread but link to the other one in which I fell in love with his works. I think the original question Ron asked can be probed more in depth -- it's something I'd like to consider and really take on over the next few months.

Invisible Man came close to asking about this, too, in the recent Rosetta thread. What makes a film spiritual other than our own personal connection to it? It really is hard to come to a decent, absolute answer to this question. I nominated The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes last year, and stand by that nomination today. I still don't see how we cannot include Brakhage somewhere on the list. I hope to further probe the issues here; I can't think of a better place to discuss this.

-s.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Thom   

Let's keep an ongoing Brakhage discussion open. I don't know if it should be this thread and title but there should definitely be one.

Shortly after this thread began, almost 2 years ago, I picked up a copy of the Brakhage Collection. I have been mesmerized by the images Brakhage has created. They can easily be as worshipful as a piece of music written only to stir the heart in praise to God. I have become weepy and had moments of epiphany while watching some of the hand-painted pieces.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×