Stan Brakhage: The Wonder Ring (1955) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: The Wonder Ring (1955)

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

The Wonder Ring - 1955As The Wonder Ring draws to a close we see that familiar "By Brakhage" scratch that signed off so many of his films.  But The Wonder Ring has only the basics of what we would eventually come to associate with Stan Brakhage films.  The Wonder Ring is the eighth film that Brakhage created and is not using the experimental fusion of paints, layered stock, and varying exposures that would become his trademark.  Instead it relies more on footage that he can acquire just through the camera and with very little manipulation of the image or lighting.

Still, even though it's conventional in some ways, The Wonder Ring has hints of the restless innovation that's to come.  The film starts off solidly and grows in a more disorienting dimension by using some establishing shots to show the camera's location within a train station.  But very quickly Brakhage starts to shoot certain aspects of the station in close-up that don't lend well to easy identification of the various building components, and only through slow rotation of the camera do we see that he is still photographing the station.  The disorientation becomes worse through the camera's placement for these shots that gives the images a feel of being captured from something floating far above the ground.

That almost otherworldy sensation from the positioning and careful movements is mirrored when Brakhage steps into the train with the camera.  I love the way he frames the experience like a silent ghost film as we first see the rickety train and how it is throwing the older passengers around as it bumps along the tracks.  Brakhage does not stay with these people for long and slowly substitutes in reflections, both on metal surfaces around the train and most prominently in the multi-paned windows.  The most stunning shots in the film layer four different realities all at once as the passengers appear to be ghosts in the seats slowly fading from memory.

Brakhage and film layers are nothing new to me, but in '55 he was still in the early stages of feeling through this process.  The Wonder Ring is most like Desistfilm, but the latter is more of an exercise in making creepy home movies than pushing out toward the limits of what film can accomplish.  The unfamiliar and disoriented spaces of The Wonder Ring is where the film works best, not in the careful establishing shots that open the film.  The Wonder Ring is a promising spin in new territory, and one that develops a lingering nostalgia for an experience we may never have.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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