Stan Brakhage: Window Water Baby Moving (1959) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: Window Water Baby Moving (1959)

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Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues.  You can view Window Water Baby Moving here.

Window Water Baby Moving - 1959Child birth in films is glossed over in film.  Whenever there's any attention paid to what's really happening during the event it's usually done via a quick jolt, like the quick shot of the crowning in Knocked Up, or via the exact moment when the newborn emerges fully from the mother, like in the birth montage of Life in a Day.  Pregnancy faces a similar cinematic fate too, usually a tool for easy comedy or drama, when very few stories handle the physical and emotional realities that come with it.

I can only guess what those might be, no matter how many conversations I have with my closest friends who are having families.  Where Window Water Baby Moving steps in is in trying to synthesize pregnancy and birth into images that communicate the sensation of both.  This is an impossible task, but the beauty of all art is when it is able to communicate something in that incommunicable gulf.  Window succeeds so well that I nearly fainted watching the film because of the transition between the warm tub that Stan's wife, Jane, shares at the beginning to the middle when we witness the birth of Myrrenna.

With this film, "By Brakhage" has more connotations than normal.  It's perhaps the greatest collaborative piece of art, as Stan felt that he could not be present at the birth without passing out, Jane giving in to his wish to film the event so that he would be there, and Myrrenna offering her new existence for the film.  The family moves through the film as a single unit, rarely separated from one another and bonded in Jane's pregnancy.

Stan uses universal sensations brilliantly before going into the unknown ones.  His choice to drape Jane in a light red as she gets into the bath before guiding his hand to her belly unifies the reassurance of connection and gentle heat of the water, doubling as what first seems to be an easy metaphor for the process of life.   These early shots are stunning, with Jane radiant and accepting of the camera as Stan plays with the reflection of sun on the water.

That same physical imagery that guides us into their lives is used again into the birth, focusing first on the blood from Jane's vagina.  Even though we are still in the realm of experiences I can't imagine, Stan's earlier reliance on common physical touch helps call back immediate recollections of wounds and pain.  So when the birth happens, in close up with shots going back to Jane's close-up expression of euphoria and pain, my senses went crazy trying to find something to associate with this and decided to just flood my mind with sublime white noise.

I've never had a reaction to a movie like this.  It's mostly been from terror or unease that I suffer from a near panic attack.  The powerful elements of the film - Stan's transition from senses familiar to the unique, Jane's openness and comfort with the camera, and Myrrenna's cry filtered by silence and filled in by my mind - created something entirely new that I did not have an immediate emotional or physical response to.

That is a miracle.  I've watched thousands of films and left unchanged, but I do not know how to process this beautiful, intimate film.  Window has set a mark for the Brakhage families other films, and I don't mind if they never come close again.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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