Stan Brakhage: The Garden of Earthly Delights (1981) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
12Aug/140

Stan Brakhage: The Garden of Earthly Delights (1981)

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

The Garden of Earthly Delights - 1981Now here's an interesting bit of friction from Stan Brakhage.  All the films I've seen so far have more to do with how he is feeling or coping with an aspect of his life.  In the case of Mothlight it was an abstract look into death, and Window Water Baby Moving was more direct in the connection between his love for his wife and attempts to communicate the experience of birth through film.  The Garden of Earthly Delights presents a unique scenario because it is more of a direct response to how he was feeling about a work of art, in this case the painting of the same name by Hieronymus Bosch.

As I've grown more knowledgeable when it comes to directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, and other aspects of cinema I've found that I still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding other art forms.  My tentative steps into jazz helped me understand why Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues didn't work well, and studying the original Bosch painting proved to be an illustrative contrast to Brakhage's work.

On an initial viewing of Brakhage's short, I was struck by how vibrant the images were compared to the sterile experience of Mothlight.  It's filmed in his collage style where he doesn't use a camera and instead affixes individual components to each frame of the film.  What results is a wonderful contrast between the veins and color of the vegetation that he puts on each frame and the initial polarization of these images.  The darkness that surrounds the life onscreen is as pervasive inside each of the formerly living materials as it is on the outside.  That duality is toyed with as the film is gradually exposed to more light, bringing the bits of vegetation to their full luster, but still in the knowledge that these come from a deadened space.  Sure enough, the film eventually returns to the darkness that it came.

I loved the contrast.  The death is present, much like in Mothlight, but is engaged in a constant struggle with the life of the vegetation.  It's enough that the film stops after the return to darkness, to go further would make the point of the cyclical nature of life and death redundant.  True, that's not the most original sentiment, but the careful craft in keeping that balance between negative space, bare outlines, sudden light, and color is marvelous.  Looking at the film with the painting yields more interesting tensions, as the images Brakhage creates are not nearly as dense as the fantastic imagery that is in Bosch's painting, but Brakhage's film looks as Bosch's painting might under a magnifying glass during different times of the day.  I also like that Brakhage consciously took the dark and the light together as opposed to Bosch's painting where there are all these pleasant things happening on the surface and the torments are separated from the pleasures.

The Garden of Earthly Delights shows how different artistic mediums can be in conversation with one another while still adhering to the practices of their individual forms.  It's a lovely transmutation of Jean-Luc Godard's maxim of, "In order to criticize a movie, you have to make another movie."  I hope to see more of this kind of conversation from Brakhage as I move forward.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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