Stan Brakhage: The Stars Are Beautiful (1974) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: The Stars Are Beautiful (1974)

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

The Stars Are Beautiful - 1974Turning on The Stars Are Beautiful, I noticed that there was something off immediately.  There was a hiss on the soundtrack, the kind that you hear when a microphone is left unattended.  Shortly after the introduction Stan Brakhage's family was onscreen and talking to each other in unclipped and perfectly synced voices.  This was the first time I have heard clear speech in a Brakhage film, which is also one of the first "home movies" that I've read unkind things about before.

Based on my experience with The Stars Are Beautiful I hope that the criticisms of his "home movies" are incorrect, but still felt tremendous disappointment in the product.  There are two threads running through the 18-minute film.  First, the Brakhage family sitting around to clip the wings of their chickens, calm them down, and put the clipped chickens back outside.  Second, Stan narrates a disconnected series of imaginative observations about the sun and stars to a sequence of light patterns that somewhat reflect the imagery of his speech.

What makes the result so disappointing is how direct the montages are.  For example, when Stan says, "The sun is the ejaculation of the penis into the vagina of the universe," the camera has cut from the assembled family to a bright, mostly solid light pattern with a fragment of that light creating a slight splotch in the corner.  It gave me the impression of potential father, sending his seed out into the nothing and hoping that they will reproduce.  The phrasing is clumsy, and the imagery so direct, that I was having trouble thinking of how to interpret the film as anything other than "Enigmatic Dialogue Helpfully Illustrated."

This got worse as the image to narration grew even more direct, as in the instance when Stan says, "When a dog howls the response is the moon,"  and cuts straight to a dog yawning.  Perhaps if children figured more prominently in the family imagery, instead of the chicken, I could see it as a mundane adult reflection of children's imaginations.  But chickens?  Even the Criterion booklet that accompanies the DVDs I've been watching was less than confident on its reading, talking about what it "seems" to resemble instead of making a direct emotional or intellectual analysis of the film.

Which comes back to my disappointment, there's a lot less that the visuals convey here as it is spelled out so directly after each shot.  Even the presence of the formal, cold lettering at the beginning and end, which replaces Stan's usual scribbled "by Brakhage," distanced me from the film.  Each introductory scribble is unique to that film, and here the words could be replicated at any time.  Stan has been such a superb visual poet so far, hitting a peak last week with The Garden of Earthly Delights, that I hope this sort of formal and easy-to-digest arrangement is an exception to his body of work.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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