Stan Brakhage: Black Ice (1994) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: Black Ice (1994)

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

Black Ice - 1994While going through Stan Brakhage's films I've felt surprise, delight, boredom, disgust, anxiety, and many other active emotions - but rarely the simple sensation of letting the film wash over me.  It's partly because his films don't exactly need a close reading but can't be watched passively.  No matter what I'm on edge, but not enough to completely disrupt my emotional bead of the film.  Now that I've seen Black Ice I know what comfort feels like in a Brakhage film, and it's a reassuring sensation.

Brakhage, at the end of  Black Ice, says that the film is a collaboration with Sam Bush, an optical printer.  In Brakhage's many films he has not openly acknowledged an influence or partnership like this.  Even in Window Water Baby Moving, where Brakhage quite clearly could not have made Window without the help of his then-wife Jane.  But even in the case of Window Brakhage's style is obvious.  Many of his films that rely on human figures don't layer the action, are filmed as though taking place on a limited plane, and split shots between intimate close-ups and from a long distance.

Black Ice doesn't have any humans, but outside of the meticulously crafted frames and presence of paint it doesn't feel like his painted films either.  What it has is a sense of dimensionality that his other films do not, almost making Black Ice feel like a 3-D film without the glasses.  A lot of this has to do with the gaping mass of black at the center.  Even when colors are starting to fly around the edges they either quickly move out to the end of the frame or get enveloped back into the darkness.  There's never a struggle between the lines of paint and the dark center, just a curved dance as the colored lights radiate from behind and then back into the center of the frame.

This has a meditative quality as there's nothing that disrupts the harmony of the frame.  The introduction and close are the two closest bits, with harsh full-screen colors that leave no room for the variety of the other paints or the comforting center of the dark.  Brakhage, by his admission, created this film after he fell and hit his head and was forced to wear corrective contacts.  I feel I would have appreciated the allure of Black Ice more had I not known this.  This tidbit makes it too easy to connect the dots between Brakhage's injury (the first flash), his recuperation and sight issues (the main body of the film), and then when his vision slowly returned (the last flash).

Even with that bit of mystery gone, Black Ice is a welcoming film and one of the few I could recommend to someone unfamiliar with Brakhage's work.  There's still plenty of mystery to be had, and I wouldn't trade the comfort of Black Ice just to restore some pleasant confusion.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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