Stan Brakhage: Mothlight (1963) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: Mothlight (1963)

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Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues.  You can watch Mothlight here.

Mothlight - 1963While I still have many films to go, I've been able to draw a few different conclusions from Stan Brakhage's work so far.  Enjoyment is a prickly beast, sometimes born from catharsis and other times from a good laugh at a well-timed joke.  But in watching Brakhage's films I've noticed that my enjoyment has come from two different wells of experience.  Either I am in deep awe at the ability of his cinema to try and force an emotional reflection that I've found myself previously incapable of, or I find myself in an emotionally neutral stance with some intellectual appreciation and not much else.

Window Water Baby Moving is firmly in the former camp, and it's fitting that Mothlight, which Wikipedia helpfully informs me is one of his other "best-known" films, is in the latter.  I am more interested in the technique of Mothlight, and Brakhage's mindset when he was making it, than in watching it again.  Truth be told, I can't think of a single other film like it, nor can I think of another well-known cinematic persona who would take dead moths and affix them directly to film stock.  This gives the film an especially physical touch, and combined with Brakhage's rapid collage once again tries to replicate an impossible experience with less impact.

There is perhaps no way his technique could have been altered to allow the same kind of impossible connection that Window accomplished, but his methods keep me at a distance from the film.  It's in an odd position because since the film uses real moths, a constant reminder that plays through the grainy texture of their wings did nothing, I was constantly aware that I was watching a film of something that no longer exists in any meaningful way.  This is, perhaps, the sadness that Brakhage felt when he was making the film.  But I admit, I don't care too much about dead moths and have long accepted that I will one day cease to exist in any meaningful way, so the film played more as an interesting technique than an engaging watch.

So while I'm not necessarily engaged, I still admire his skill.  Mothlight's unusual presentation allows for another narrative to be told in a non-traditional fashion.  Frequent shapes and shades of color forming leaves and grass film the screen just long enough to flutter away before the moth meets its end among the empty corpses and discarded wings of its dead brethren.  This brief journey is dense, continuing the same kind of quick visual narrative I first commented on back in my look at Cat's CradleMothlight is more interesting because of its construction, but I ended up at roughly the same endpoint with Cradle as I did when Mothlight ended.

I've been impressed with Brakhage's creativity so far, and he is pushing the medium of film as a form of expression more than any other director I know of.  But Mothlight, interesting as it is, left me wondering if this sort of attempt at raw expression will sustain itself over time.  I've got dozens of films to go, so I'll find out before long.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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