Stan Brakhage: Burial Path (1978) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: Burial Path (1978)

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

Burial Path - 1978 I’m most interested in Stan Brakhage’s films when they deal with death.  Brakhage is never morbid about the subject and approaches it with a form of artful realism.  Death is never the explicit subject but sort of sneaks up on the viewed Brakhage’s careful distortion.  The bodies of The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes do not seem to be dead until the carving instruments come out to start the autopsy on each corpse.  Even when dealing with death through symbols, such as in The Dead, Brakhage’s camera does make it clear that we are observing graves before making the connection to the humans still alive.

Like these films, Burial Path does not seem to be about death at first.  The opening seconds contain one of Brakhage’s most brilliant visual misdirections.  We look at  what appears to be a drawing of a bird then the contrast lessens quickly, and what once appeared to be an illustration becomes the physical body of the bird laying in a box.  There’s barely time to process this realization of death before the camera begins observing the air and engages in quick, blurry close-ups of trees and other outdoor locations.

What Brakhage does, to great success, is create a monument to the memory of flight for a bird who has recently passed away. This ties in directly to the last Brakhage film I watched, The Process, that concerned human perception.  That already displayed a great level of empathy but with Burial Path Brakhage is opening up an entirely new realm of empathetic sensation.  Flight is imperfectly recreated and considering the technical limitations of the gear he was working with we shouldn’t expect that he would be able to.

But what’s impressive is that he tries, through quick motions and great distortion, to create this sensation for us.  The editing here is extremely important as Brakhage presents this sensation through two cinematic time lines: one that takes place in order as the bird is respectfully buried, and the other as Brakhage simulates flight.  We have no means of reliably knowing what was going on in the mind of the dying bird but Brakhage doesn’t let that stop him from trying to create final sense memories we can experience for the bird.  This creature may not be able to experience the sensations that once made it unique compared to other life forms but through art we can try to understand.

Burial Path is a eulogy, and there’s some sad tenderness in the way the bird is buried with respect, but the tone is not mournful.  Instead we feel the excitement of possibly experiencing life in new ways through the tools we have available.  It’s another blinding, beautiful sentiment from Brakhage.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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