Stan Brakhage: The Wold Shadow (1972) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: The Wold Shadow (1972)

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

The Wold Shadow - 1972When I watched Eye Myth, I was struck by the amount of layering and detail that went into each frame.  As I did some digging into the background of the nine-second short (twelve with credits), it did not come as any surprise that the creation of the film took Brakhage a year. Conversely, I watched The Wold Shadow with a bit of impatience and disinterest in the craft behind Wold.  I was also not surprised to find that Wold is something that Brakhage created in a day.

I've been getting closer to articulating just what it is about the Brakhage shorts that I've loved.  The best have either narrowed down an experience unique only to the person feeling it and then transmitting that sensation through a series of gradually progressing shared images.  Window Water Baby Moving almost caused me to faint as my brain tried to get my body to respond to the onscreen birth.  But Wold is aiming for something a bit more elusive here, starting off with what looks like a human figure and then gradually revealing that it is just a few trees, and then looking at that same scene with differently painted lenses.

I was cold to this.  The paints, which made the forest look like it was either bleeding sap or overflowing with lush green, removed the figure from my vision and left me with an obscured forest.  This gave me the impression that Brakhage was trying to remove that human impression from the background of the forest, and make the same kind of symbolic transfer that made Window Water so impressive, but from general human experience to the ephemeral lord of the forest.

The shot lengths left me to linger for too long and actively consider what I'm looking at instead of feeling my way through the juxtaposition of paints and scenery.  When it gets to the longer shots of the painted frames at the end I felt like I do when a villain monologues for too long or the best friend comes up to the protagonist and tells them, and by extension the audience, everything they need to know for the next scene.  I was thinking my way through the moment instead of feeling it, and while I like my mental exercises when it comes to certain films the overall effect here is akin to listening to a joke I never need to hear again now that I know the punchline.

On the upside, it added further perspective on just how tremendous a film like Dog Star Man is, which lingers on its images a bit longer than other Brakhage films.  It seems an impossible task to maintain that level of totally subjective narrative for so long without playing a hand that spells out the film too easily.  The Wold Shadow isn't a success as a singular viewing, but I appreciate the added perspective on Brakhage's work.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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