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Ron Reed

Stan Brakhage

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Thom   

Here are my picks to begin with, Kindering and Eye Myth.

Due to the non-narrative structure, any of the selections are going to make for a interesting discussion but Kindering really took me in.

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Thom   
Eye Myth is amazing. There is so much presented in only 9 seconds, of course the viewer brings a lot to Brakhage.

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Persona   

I will rewatch both of these tonight.

Eyemyth is an amazing work if only because it took a year for Brakhage to create it but clocks in at a speedy nine seconds of wonder.

It is a silent film.

The idea, if I can properly understand it, was that he would create a myth without the use of language, a myth born purely of our own perceptions. I don't really know if this is possible or not, but one comprehends the abstracted pictures a whole lot better when still frames are shown rather than the movie. I've opted not to post any images because viewing a still might actually taint one's viewing of the film as a whole. If one wants to find stills, though, they are easily found in a google search or at Fred Camper's site.

I guess one question I have even before I watch Eyemyth again is: Can there be a myth without a story? Or, does a narrative need words to still speak to us?

I watched Eyemyth at least ten times the first time I saw it. It was explosively amazing. I had to back up and experience it over and over again, not even fully aware of what I was actually experiencing. Come to think of it, this is a lot like life itself. We look for and experience patterns -- some we recognize and many we fail to respond to.

I don't remember Kindering anywhere near as well as Eyemyth, but IIRC it was a much more passive, peaceful work.

-s.

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Thom   

Kindering is one of the very few that actually has a soundtrack, which seems to aid the creation and the world we are experiencing in it.

Watching Eye Myth in still frames, or a slow forward, tends to kill the notion of the myth being created visually. Stan has some short but interesting remarks on the DVD for Eye Myth. Another reason it took so long to complete was that it was originally 29 minutes.

Edited by asher

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Persona   

Kindering is one of the very few that actually has a soundtrack, which seems to aid the creation and the world we are experiencing in it.

Absolutely true. In fact, this time, as I watched those two films (more than three times each), it was Kindering that I responded to more favorably than Eye Myth.

In Kindering we have SB's grandchildren caught in a moment of play, but shot with little regard to sentimentality or innocence. There are at times several juxtaposed or interlayed shots that show two grandchildren -- a little boy and little girl -- playing with each other in a big back yard. You see the front porch, the family dog, the big ol' tree in the front yard and a clothesline in the frames. Later on the clothesline is substitued for a leash, but we will get into that in a moment.

There were more special effects in this film than I remember from other SB films. The little girl on the swing in the first minute of the film had an editing effect that was fantastic. She seemed to stop in mid-air and switch to slow motion, and the garbled music ran perfectly in stride. The effect reminded me of something from a modern day horror film, to be honest. Like a stop-motion shot out of The Ring or Saw. It elevated the non-innocence theme running throughout the short.

The music seemed comprised of two backward tracks done seperately but running side by side. One was a stock orchestra score that seemed like it was from another film, the other was a child's voice singing acapella with lots and lots of reverb (which always creates tension backwards). I watched the films with my wife, who really found the music quite disturbing. I'm a little more at home with this type of recording, and have actually done many recordings using the exact effect (turn over the two-inch tape), so I didn't find it nearly as disturbing as she. In fact, at moments, I found it lovely. But who is this "A.O." who was responsible for it?

The problem I have with the film is this: What are the grandchildren doing? Brakhage spoke of the "rituals of adulthood" in the interview prior to the film, mentioning that the children seemed to be acting out some of the things they see socialized in adults. Well, what I saw was equal to a little girl who ended up on a leash and a little boy who was swinging a very big stick at her. Does this signify the aggressiveness of men and the submissiveness of women, or am I reading too much into the image here? Perhaps he just had a stick to swing; perhaps she was only playing "doggie." Is SB only capturing a moment of the play of his grandkids, or is he trying to convey something more?

Regardless of the motive, I found the film unique, separate, and altogether different than the things I am used to seeing. In short, I loved it. I loved his choice of shooting through the leaves in order to obtain a more mysterious and abstracted image of the grandchildren.

However, Eyemyth befuddled me this time around. I must've watched it six times, and each time I seemed to gain nothing compared to my first experience with it.

SB spoke of the "little stories" that the eye seems to draw in -- are they there in the nine seconds of this project? I don't know. I see a man, maybe a few men, and they appear to be reaching out or up. Perhaps the myth is that one can fully comprehend vision. Or that one can rely on the things that they see.

I have heard that Brakhage wanted public viewings to show the film three times before any comments were made. I can understand this. Nine seconds just seems like too short a time with all of the images stuffed into this idea.

I thought it was interesting that "Doing it" convinced Stan that he could make a myth that is only relayed in vision. Again, this may sound trite, but isn't life like that? You never know what you can accomplish or obtain until you find yourself in the middle of it, walking in faith.

-s.

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M. Leary   

<!--quoteo(post=96284:date=Dec 31 2005, 02:34 AM:name=stef)--><div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(stef @ Dec 31 2005, 02:34 AM) </div><div class='quotemain'><!--quotec-->

However, <i>Eyemyth</i> befuddled me this time around. I must've watched it six times, and each time I seemed to gain nothing compared to my first experience with it.

<!--QuoteEnd--></div><!--QuoteEEnd-->

I just had the opposite experience, and thus attempted my first actual Brakhage

<a href="http://www.imagefacts.blogspot.com/" target="_blank">review</a>.

<!--quoteo--><div class='quotetop'>QUOTE</div><div class='quotemain'><!--quotec-->SB spoke of the "little stories" that the eye seems to draw in -- are they there in the nine seconds of this project? I don't know. I see a man, maybe a few men, and they appear to be reaching out or up. Perhaps the myth is that one can fully comprehend vision. Or that one can rely on the things that they see.<!--QuoteEnd--></div><!--QuoteEEnd-->

I don't think the "myth" aspect has to do with what one can or can't see. He bases the "oxymoronic" sense of the film on the difference between eye and mouth ("myth"), and is simply trying to create a myth that has nothing to do with oracular or literary processes. Whether he accomplishes this or not is the question to ask. I am not really convinced that his conception of "myth" is the same one that literary criticism has generally accepted. So if he thinks he has been successful in creating an "Eye Myth," than he is doing so on the basis of a slightly skewed definition of myth.

On the other hand, what I do like so much about the film is that he does establish a link between the eye and the mouth in terms of discourse activity. He uses film as a medium of "myth-making." Not using film to tell stories that are mythical in nature, but actually creating an image that somehow parallels the verbal process of myth-making.

I am just trying to make sense of this as I go along. Thoughts on <i>Kindering</i> later.

Edited by MLeary

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gigi   

I am finally able to watch my region 1 brakhage dvd thanks to my housemate's chipped dvd player! hoorah and huzzah!

looking forward to participating in this thread once I've worked my way through the many many films.

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Doug C   

Just thought I'd mention that I came across a new book on Brakhage that contains a variety of essays by many writers. It looks quite good.

"Stan Brakhage: Filmmaker contains arguments and perspectives on Brakhage's work I've not seen before. The combination of academic perspectives and those of filmmakers is an especially original and appropriate way to treat Brakhage, who always hoped his films would inspire new ways of seeing and making, and is a major strength of this fine book, which offers a variety of new and interesting ways of thinking about Brakhage's films."

Edited by Doug C

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Thom   

When discussing Brakhage it seems one can only discuss form to a small degree. Brakhage created moving paintings. What is the structural form for this artistic expression? You can

Edited by asher

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M. Leary   

"Brakhage, by placing no audio or vocal cues, begins to challenge the idea that verbal communication and visual communication are dependent upon one another for complete expression however necessary for shared experiences. So now I wonder, is it a necessity to possess shared meaning in a visual experience?"

Hm. I think I am with you on the first sentence. I think Stef and I have decided that this is what Brakhage thinks he is doing in Eye Myth but doesn't pull it off, because it is impossible. As far as the "shared experience" facet is concerned, does this actually factor in? I have always had this image of Brakhage as a solitary mind producing images for solitary viewers. If Brakhage is all about bypassing verbal, conventional, dramatic, narrative, and other assorted cues and directly targeting our mind's eye, then doesn't that imply that "shared meaning" has nothing to do with it?

And I am not suggesting that there is a relative sense to all of his films. As if you just take from them what you can and yada yada yada. Stef and I had precisely the same response to Kindering. I would articulate it differently, but whatever was encoded in the film unfolded in our brains basically the same way, and I will bet all the royalties to The Myth Trilogy that you did as well. I think his films are pointed, he gets a fairly specific idea that he is working with, and somehow gets it across to us. But that doesn't occur via the typical avenues of "shared meaning" such as dramatic convention, genre, narrative form, or even formalistic repetition.

Just musing...

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Persona   

Let's test your theory though. For this weekend I propose we watch Desisistfilm and Cat's Cradle. Each of these seems to have a narrative structure that is visually relayed; these are stories, stories that have structure, but the structure is certainly not linear nor even broken down chronologically. The stories here are felt to be understood, and that is why Brakhage remanis so incredibly emotive even in this strange, anti-mainstream genre.

And for the record, here is a question for you: When watching Desistfilm, I often think of Masculin, f

Edited by stef

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Persona   

PS Going back to Asher's last post is conjuring up images of shared experiences like Plato's Cave analogy. Whoa, time to go to bed before somebody puts old Socrates to death.

-s.

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M. Leary   

Let's test your theory though. For this weekend I propose we watch Desisistfilm and Cat's Cradle.

Brilliant idea. Let's all post a 200 word response at the same time on Monday so that we won't be influenced by each other's perceptions

And for the record, here is a question for you: When watching Desistfilm, I often think of Masculin, f

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Persona   

The first thing about Desistfilm that catches you off guard is the droning, moaned sounds that are displayed as the short opening (drawn) credits are rolled. It is practically screaming out, especially to anyone viewing the film in the 1950s, "The old ways are dead, let's take this thing for all it is worth, let's really take Bu

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Persona   

Asher and I have stumbled across what will never be described as a "chance encounter," but rather, a meeting with some of Brakhage's friends from years ago -- friends who happen to also own many of his very rare films on 16 mm, and desire for the public to see them in that format. Needless to say, we leaped at the opportunity last night, heading up to the north side to meet the folks that Fred Camper has recently referred us to. Right here in Chicago, living in the same house, are two separate Brakhage friends: Bruce Cooper and his bountiful family live downstairs, and Mimi Brav and her teenage son live upstairs (names given with permission). The two have been friends with Stan at different points in his life, and each own a large number of his films. They somehow met up years after knowing him (in a church, no less) and later ended up as friends and neighbors. Their story is astounding, as is their love and admiration for Stan Brakhage's work.

My own reasoning for never describing such an event as a "chance-encounter," is that the day before this meeting, Mimi happened to find herself 30 miles southwest in my suburb, at my own church, where I lead in the Sunday morning worship service (and my wife delivered the morning sermon). Out of 9 million people in the greater metropolitan area, we unknowingly connected twice in two days, through two very similar means -- Christian Spirituality and art. Brakhage would've loved the preordained feel of this "not-by-chance" encounter.

We started out as film lovers do -- we discussed lots of different films

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Thom   

Wow Stef, you have encapsulated the evening with the utmost perfection. There is nothing really to add to Stef

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Persona   
I've always been disturbed at people who film their lives (and the lives of their intimates) obsessively. No matter how much I like or admire Brakhage or Ross McElwee as artists, I still see their acts of filming as extremely (passive) aggressive. (the whole "point and shoot" thing) Apparently, Brakhage was a fairly volatile, angry person, and this film may have been some attempt to deal with his effect on his family. Do you think that Brakhage really came to terms with the power disparity that using a camera gives you? It's interesting that his second wife refused to let him film her or her (their?) children. Which required a whole different approach to film.

I'm interested why you think he was a "volatile, angry person." His interviews, films, books and letters don't suggest he was volatile or angry. I'm sure we all have angry phases, but overall I don't see this. I do see, around the time he made Tortured Dust, a lonely and depressed man.

I'm not familiar with Ross McElwee outside of Sherman's March, which I was too young for when I saw it and have realized twenty years later that I must have missed the point, so I can't really comment on his work. I think a better point of comparison stylistically would be Jonathan Caouette and his Tarnation, in which we have an artist using heavy personal technique and an emphasis on very rapid edits, bringing out the psychology of a tortured soul and his family. However there is a huge difference between anything Jonathan Caouette has done and what I've seen in Brakhage, and that is the restraint of Brakhage, which differs from Caouette's showing of more than a few unrestrained emotional outbursts displaying an entire family on the edge. It seems that Brakhage is still trying to capture the beauty in his kids and wife while someone like Caouette is aiming to grate against the soul. If Stan wanted opportunity to bring out the Whole Bloody Truth ala something like Tarnation, he failed miserably, shown in the fact that he generally makes silent films based on the aesthetic nature of his own personal approach. In other words, Brakhage goes through this family crisis filming all along the way in good taste and with respect toward his subjects; I am not sure I would say the same thing for Caouette.

And like you said, we need to keep in mind that this is only the middle era of Brakhage's work. He didn't start out with these docu-dramas regarding him and his clan, and the film paintings from his last 15 years are nothing like the docu-dramas either. But according to the people that knew him, the reason he changed course in the latter part of his life had less to do with his new wife not wanting to be filmed (which is true), but more to do with the dreams he had before he met Jane in the first place. For instance, the Faust films were ideas that he had in the fifties. After the divorce, he began to work on these older ideas. And of course, the painting, which he had toyed with throughout the years, just kind of consumed him in his latter years. So I see it as having less to do with Marilyn and more to do with new drives and ideas kicking in.

-s.

Edited by stef

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I'm interested why you think he was a "volatile, angry person." His interviews, films, books and letters don't suggest he was volatile or angry. I'm sure we all have angry phases, but overall I don't see this. I do see, around the time he made Tortured Dust, a lonely and depressed man.

First of all, I'm not at all saying this as some kind of meta-criticism. It's not at all unusual to have artists who are driven by rage over humiliations, rejections and privations that they have endured. Also, Depressives tend to be rageful people. And I guess it's a combination of remarks that friends and collaborators made about his volatility, and a certain spider-sense i get watching his filmed interviews. He does specifically address rage and the creative process in this interview...

"Brahkage: Other things that came in relationship to that, very close kin, were Night Music and Rage Net. Rage Net comes out of the terrible awful feelings when I was divorcing. Just rage beyond anything I could possibly have imagined. Fortunately not very much at Jane, but just at the world itself. I mean, little did I know I was going to enter a whole new realm in which my...which Marilyn and I would make song way beyond anything I had been enabled to imagine before. I just found myself stuck with the awful rage of betrayal and a sense of loss and so on. So what to do? I mean, you start...you can feel pretty silly to just start carving on a piece of film at some point like that. Like why not just slit your throat instead, you know? I mean, there I am poking away and out comes some beauty. It

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Persona   

Thank you for transcribing all of the Brakhage quotes on rage, Goneganesh. Interesting comments indeed, and only about half of them are on the Criterion disc. For what it is worth, on the DVD there's also this quote, in which Stan speaks about rage in the introduction of Rage Net, "Much of what has been said about this film could be repeated here, except that Rage Net arises from meditation upon, rather than being trapped psychologically by, rage."

I think that it is worth stressing that the remarks you quoted came at a very specific point in time. They aren't the remarks of a volatile or angry person; rather, they are the remarks of an artist struck dumbfounded at the thought that the weight of his marriage is crashing down. He is filled with doubt, feeling that he has lost (perhaps wasted) entire decades of his life. I think that in that moment, rage is the proper human response.

It is also noteworthy that only a few films like this were made -- he did move on, and what he moved on to eventually became his most plainly spoken spiritual films.

Due to your thoughts I did watch both Night Music and Rage Net tonight. They are purely painted films, there is nothing else there but the flowing form of a painting. They are short, under a minute each, but look like they would have taken years to make. In Night Music Brakhage is trying to capture the beauty of sadness; in Rage Net, a meditation on rage. The rage has more jagged edges to it and is more convincing of the emotion it is trying to express. Both films are edited very similarly, which may work as a disadvantage in trying to differentiate them from each other. Nonetheless, for only a minute-or-so each, they are alternative filmmaking at its finest. It is a shame that it took sadness and rage to help shape and develop the form, but these passions have undoubtedly shaped more art than we will ever know.

-s.

PS Stan Brakhage update: Sonic Youth has put out a new live recording entitled SYR 6: Koncertas Stan Brakhage Prisiminimui, which Paste has given 4-1/2 out of Five stars to, in which The Youth improvise for a full length CD to Brakhage stills or shorts behind them. I haven't heard it but would certainly like to, and wonder if we will get a chance to actually see it.

Edited by stef

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I think that it is worth stressing that the remarks you quoted came at a very specific point in time. They aren't the remarks of a volatile or angry person; rather, they are the remarks of an artist struck dumbfounded at the thought that the weight of his marriage is crashing down. He is filled with doubt, feeling that he has lost (perhaps wasted) entire decades of his life. I think that in that moment, rage is the proper human response.

I guess if Brakhage was truly dumbfounded (which I'm not at all sure is the case) then it seems he was truly naive about the costs of filming his family constantly. Marriages and families don't fall apart overnight. It takes years of mutual neglect and carelessness. Obviously by the time Brahkage made Tortured Dust, he was more aware of the hostility his cinematic gaze was returning. He may, as you say, not have noticed it before, and only saw this stuff in retrospect. When did he make that (Tortured Dust) film..?

I'm also pretty confident that Brakhage's anger wasn't just a phase. It seems like the dominant impulse of his art. The arc of his artistic trajectory is from 1) The OUTSIDE WORLD -- semi-conventional photographed "social" filmmaking, mixed with humiliating commercial work, to THE FAMILY CIRCLE and NATURE (autobiographical and personal poems) to METAPHYSICAL SOLIPSISM AND HERMITAGE (the painted films) I think we don't have to look far to sense a reinforcing pattern of mutual rejection and withdrawal.

I'm mostly speculating, of course. We'll have to wait for the definitive biography....

Again, I don't see this as a problem. Artists are under no obligation to be the buddha. Contentment rarely squares with art.

Edited by goneganesh

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