Stan Brakhage: Commingled Containers (1996) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: Commingled Containers (1996)

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

Commingled Containers - 1996Commingling Containers is unique in Stan Brakhage's filmography. Brakhage created it in 1996 after he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and was still processing his feelings. Unlike Rage Net, which blended Brakhage’s despair with an inner monologue scratched onto images that reflected his isolation, Commingling Containers finds Brakhage confronting his fate in a far more optimistic way. Commingling Containers is not nearly as colorful as his other films, but is his brightest and most life-affirming work so far.

Despite a lack of sound, I felt the hum and beat of Commingling Containers thanks to Brakhage’s editing. Commingling Containers opens with a relatively clear close-up of unsteady waters, perhaps at a beach or a windy day at the lake. Just as this image starts to cement in our minds he cuts to an extreme close-up of…something. It’s not entirely clear from the first cut and the sudden loss of orientation moves the flow of the water into an uncertain direction.

Brakhage establishes a nice rhythm of the small cresting waves of the ocean with the specified subject of the blurry close-up. Then there’s movement, like the beating of a heart, that shakes the unspecified shots. Light erupts from the close- up, and the cuts between the water and the light start to blend the two together. It becomes gradually clear that Brakhage’s close-up subject is the beating pulse of life as reflected in a heartbeat the sends almost imperceptible but important shocks through the body, not unlike the seismic shifts and global weather patterns that cause the cresting of great bodies of water.

These are the containers, two vast organic bodies that exhibit ripples from the slightest internal change. I love the way Brakhage uses this philosophy to put his life in perspective. Brakhage could have used this opportunity to show how that same disturbance throws off the two systems and lead one or the other toward ruin. Instead he considered both part of a universal and never-ending flow. He also ends on a different note in terms of his usual style. The chiaroscuro of the final images involves an increasing brightness forming an oval around the frame instead of deep shadows, as is the norm. The light overcomes the screen so we do not fade to darkness, but are enveloped in light.

Commingling Containers is one of Brakhage’s finest films and one of the better examples of how experimental film can express an idea clearly and without dialogue. It’s inspiring to see him face his diagnoses and probable death with this kind of grace in art and philosophy.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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