Stan Brakhage: Cat's Cradle (1959) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: Cat’s Cradle (1959)

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Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues.  You can view Cat's Cradle here.

Cat's Cradle - 1959Back when Ryan and I worked at a movie theater together he would tell me stories about his experiences with art film.  If you came into the conversation in the middle of his observations it would almost sound like he was being forced to dredge up old war injuries.  The best way to make life feel like its dragging on forever with no end or point in sight was to put on an art film.  That way, three minutes will start to feel like three hours after staring at squiggles on an ultra-harsh frame.

I'm more likely to recall these experiences with Stan Brakhage fondly, and going through these shorts has given me an incentive to seek other experimental filmmakers.  But after watching Cat's Cradle I understand completely how art films like this can take a small expanse of time and make it seem like you're watching Satantango.  Cat's Cradle wasn't as enjoyable an experience as the other films, at least using a metric that something like The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes can be considered enjoyable, and didn't intrigue me as much as the other films.  It's astonishingly dense, and to follow the visual narrative in as close to a traditional sense as possible the film has to be played at nearly 1/8 the run-time - which helps explain why these films feel so long.

Cat's Cradle plays as the infidelity-laden counterpart to Brakhage's Wedlock House: An Intercourse which he made the same year.  This is filmed in a deep red, contrasting the sometimes harsh black and white of the other film, and the quick editing makes it feel like the two couples are sharing one another's space and touching across frames even if they aren't in the same physical location.  The editing, if stretched out, is a lot like what a romantic drama would show in montage while a sad tune plays overhead and misunderstood lovers are apart and don't know how to connect.

That aspect of the film is great.  The inclusion of a cat who serves as a sexual medium is a puzzling distraction at best.  Building on the idea of treating this like a distorted romantic drama, the 'witchcraft' aspect feels like a bit of high-concept buggery.  Of course, no corporate interests are being served here, but it's easy to imagine a screenwriter looking to sell out and when pitching his movie says, "It's like Sleepless in Seattle, we've got lovers mixed up over the airwaves only - get this - they're missing one another because of a magic cat."

Putting it more as a companion piece with Wedlock House helps it make a bit more sense.  After all, Stan had been married to his wife Mary Jane for two years, and it helps to project reasons beyond control to deal with feelings of infidelity - no matter how fleeting.  Perhaps a magic cat wasn't the best way to do so, but it's the only film I know of that's trekked this particular path.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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