Stan Brakhage: Untitled (For Marilyn) (1992) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: Untitled (For Marilyn) (1992)

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Unlike previous entries, today's Stan Brakhage film is not readily available online but can be watched as part of The Criterion Collection's first "by Brakhage" volume.

Untitled (For Marilyn) - 1992Before I get started - a quick note on the title of today's film.  Untitled (For Marilyn) goes by different variations and in some places is simply Untitled while the majority of sources call it For Marilyn.  As I'm watching these shorts on the Criterion DVDs that were created with the supervision and blessing of Stan Brakhage and his widow, I will be referring to today's short as the DVD lists it as Untitled (For Marilyn).

After watching Untitled (For Marilyn) I find that is the most appropriate title for it as well.  Back when I was the praying sort I wasn't in the habit of titling my nightly musings before the Good Book before going to sleep.  Untitled (For Marilyn) is a prayer of the highest order, utilizing both specific church iconography, a scattered and yearning thought process, and a transcendent conclusion.

Brakhage said that this was his favorite film and, while it's not my personal pick, it's easy to see why.  Untitled (For Marilyn) is a cinematic response to one of Brakhage's other great films, the despairing Rage NetRage Net came some time before Untitled (For Marilyn) and was made when Brakhage was at his lowest as he and his wife were divorcing.  Brakhage ripped his style apart in that film, angrily lashing at the frames anytime the images approached harmony.

Untitled (For Marilyn) approaches that harmony in four beautiful movements with Brakhage utilizing footage of a Russian Orthodox church for the backdrop to his painting.  The paints are calmer this time, and for most of the film are a deep blue with bits of purple and green coming from the darkness to form stronger shapes against the walls and windows of the church.  I felt a sense of yearning as each view outside the mirrors was quickly followed by a rush of color before descending back into the dark.  Unlike Rage Net, the dark is not greeted by a tear in the film or a violent restructuring, but an increasing series of light bars on the screen as Brakhage journeys further into the church.

Each break is like a calming breath - a deep sigh as Brakhage's film seems close to godliness but can never quite attain it.  Whatever transcendence entails, it will not be with Brakhage's words, which appear as philosophical scratches in the first movement of the film.  They disappear as the paints become more abstract, but return toward the end of the film as part of the paints instead of separate from them.  I love this visual motif as stumbling toward transcendence with just words and images is not enough, and only when he attains harmony with movement, word, and paint does the film finally explode into brilliant white light.

Brakhage's films tend to be on the short side, and at a shade over ten minutes Untitled (For Marilyn) is longer than most.  But this length works to Brakhage's advantage, as deep prayer isn't about reciting scripture mechanically, but deep searching to find the right words to say.  This patience is seen in Brakhage's writing throughout Untitled (For Marilyn) as the words are not written quickly, but cautiously.  I'm glad that Brakhage did not return to sound for this short because, as The Stars Are Beautiful proved, a constant stream of abstract poetry does not improve an already experimental piece.

I understand why this is Brakhage's favorite film.  It's so patient and beautiful, willing to pause mid-stream to allow a different course of paint and image against that wonderful church.  Good intentions can go awry, but those cleansing mid-film breaths keep Brakhage's film focused and calm.  I'm not in love with it, but something close to awe, and that's a rare enough experience to round out anyone's day.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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