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BY BRAKHAGE: AN ANTHOLOGY(director/writer: Stan Brakhage; cinematographer: Stan Brakhage; editor: Stan Brakhage; Runtime: 243; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Stan Brakhage; Criterion Collection; 2003)
“I think these Brakhage films are necessary for those who take their cinema seriously.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, considered among the most influential figures of the American avant-garde, was born on January 14, 1933 and died on March 9, 2003. The pioneer filmmaker made nearly four hundred films (mostly 16mm, some 8mm); in this Criterion Collection there are twenty-six of his unusual short films (They range from the 9 seconds “Eye Myth” to the 75 minutes “Dog Star Man”) that span from 1954 to 2001. His films have directly influenced everything from cartoons to music videos to feature films.

I think these Brakhage films are necessary for those who take their cinema seriously. The poetical Brakhage, a romantic at heart, dedicated his life to the heroic searching for the nature of vision itself (most of his films are without sound and narrative). He challenged the way films are made (especially as straight narratives) as his camera was turned on to such things as nature studies, the seasons, child birth, sex, death, visions of God and his own self-awareness. Brakhage’s rapid collages had him mark images directly on the film itself, as he either scratched, distorted the focus, under-and-overexposed the film, drew or painted on it by hand. Clearly influenced by Jackson Pollock’s artistic unconventional style of using the “drip” method on canvas Brakhage, always the technical innovator and social gadfly observer, struggled with his depression problems, limited funds and resources to persevere and find his own way. For a more detailed writing on his accomplishments I would recommend reading what film scholar and critic Fred Camper has to say about the filmmaker he has avidly followed since 1966 and wrote the very informative DVD liner notes as well as still maintains a website on Brakhage.

Of all the films in the collection I was most interested in Brakhage’s Dog Star Man (1964), a film many consider to be his masterpiece, which I saw sometime in the 1960s in a NYC theater that was pitch black and had partitions between the seats so you can block out the audience and just concentrate on the movie screen (a terrific way of seeing a film, though it’s good to know that the filmmaker, being anti-institution, preferred the viewer watch his films at home). The film tells about a time Brakhage was unemployed and acted out the part of an outdoors-man by chopping logs, trying to climb a mountain and wrestle with a dead tree. It clearly shows man pitted against nature. In Part 2 there’s things about his family, and Part 3 there’s a haunting sexual dream that mirrors his perceived failure with a scene of cosmic destruction. It’s presented in a visual language based on the roving camera and super-impositions that merit strict observation. He’s a unique filmmaker, who matured and successfully brought his experimental films down a road opposite of mainstream cinema, who will be sorely missed as a voice in the wilderness.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”