He is quite possibly the biggest name in experimental film making and was incredibly productive for almost fifty years. When I say experimental films I'm not talking about giving a film a twist ending, telling the story out of order, or other techniques that are more plot devices than actual manipulation of film.
When I talk about experimental film, this is what I am referring to. He manipulated film to such a degree that sometimes he never recorded anything, just etched the film frame by frame, exposed it to light in different ways, matched disparate footage together in extreme montage, played with the soundtrack, and generally just experimented. To be honest, I know very little about his films and only really know the man through his reputation.
However, I plan to try and get to know him through his work. This is going to be different than my previous director analysis where I occasionally tried to fit the director's work in some kind of larger context. Here I am going to be doing things a little differently.
First of all, I am usually taking notes when I watch a film - for Brakhage's films I am just going to sit with my screen and headphones to absorb them. Second, I'll be writing about the film as soon as I'm done watching it - I typically allow varying lengths of time for the film to settle in my mind before writing but this time I'm going for gusto. Third, other than the viewing order, I'm just going to be relaying more what I feel and less what I do and don't like. I'll still be offering the normal views when appropriate, but I want to change my approach a bit. I plan on doing one a week unless there's a day that needs to be filled for content, in which case I'll put another film up on the block. If you want to follow along I'll be updating regularly every Sunday and then more as appropriate week-depending.
Finally, I'm going to be a bit of a stereotypical film nerd when it comes to the viewing order. In addition to getting to know Brakhage's body of work, I'll finally be watching the two Criterion DVD sets of his films that I acquired a little over two years ago. I hate leaving this unwatched on my shelves, and with this only my Six Moral Tales set will remain in the future.
Now, let's begin!When possible I'll post links to the films so that you can follow along. Desistfilm is available here.
Desistfilm reminded me of when I used to drink heavily with my friends. Those were great nights. Or they were horrible nights. Some of them were ok, I guess, but a lot of them have kind of faded away to the back of my mind.
This movie is not one of the good nights. Sometimes things were so awkward just getting ready to drink that the small talk didn't really muster for conversation. I was getting that feeling a lot with the first minute and a half or so of the short. A few guys and a gal are all sitting around not talking, and mostly looking away from each other. One movement caught me by surprise as one boy turned to the left of the screen as if something caught his eye, and then the camera panned to the right to find his friend looking at something else. I'm so used to the camera following the participants line of action that it was a quick reminder of what I casually take for granted in a lot of film.
Adding to that drunk feeling was the soundtrack. There were a lot of times that I felt nauseous not watching the film so much as listening to the way the soundtrack lined up with their actions. The intro, when everyone is just kind of sitting around, sounds like bees playing a theremin through a distortion pedal. As another harsh juxtaposition the sound, at times, intensified with one of the teens playing a mandolin.
I didn't think that the second half was as interesting. When the jug of unidentified booze gets brought out everyone starts to behave strangely. One guy is stacking books, another is playing with his belly button, and yet another is lightning matches. A touch I liked was that these three eventually leave the house and they were lit and portrayed like a demonic Three Stooges set gone horribly right. Some folks, with just the right level of booze, always think that they're the comedian.
I also liked the details with one of the boys and the girl. There's a part when they've had just enough to drink and they seem to be naked, but unashamed, in front of the others. But when they retreat into the room and we see that they're fully-clothed they exchange glances of shame when they see the other three staring at them. Once again, the booze let them play a role they were all too willing to let themselves act out, but couldn't hold onto forever.
This was the second Brakhage short that I ever watched and I was surprised that it wasn't as experimental as I was expecting. There are still some things I find interesting but not trying that much different from some other shorts I have seen. The narrative is there and the actions are straightforward - it's more disquieting from the soundtrack and little misdirections than out and out experimental. Still, I'm keeping this all in the framework of one film directed at the beginning of a 50+ career, and I'm definitely intrigued at the evolution from here.