Stan Brakhage: Duplicity III (1980) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
30Dec/140

Stan Brakhage: Duplicity III (1980)

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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 second "by Brakhage" volume.

Duplicity III - 1980Over the last few months, I’ve expressed frequent frustration with Stan Brakhage’s home movie projects. One of these films, Scenes From Under Childhood, Section One, inspired an interior debate about how my viewing preference of Scenes was more interesting than the film itself. The opening moments of Duplicity III, also part of a larger series, did not fill me with much hope.

The camera is often operating on two layers of reality, both similar to each other. Brakhage films children as they try on different Halloween costumes and take part in a school play. There are good juxtapositions at times as the silhouette of one child fills one side of the screen while the full-bodied children are at play in the another layer on the other side of the film. Those images suggest a thought process about how they choose their costumes when alone and act out their impulses for others.

This was all pleasant to watch, if a bit dull, and I was ready to write off Duplicity III as another boring home movie project until about 10 minutes into the film. Suddenly the juxtapositions grow more confusing and disparate. Close-ups of tiger stripes and other animal markings are laid over vague figures in darkness. Then the children are at play in the snow, but their image is harshly polarized as the images transition to dogs baring their teeth at one another.

Recently, I finished Freud’s “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, and these images made me think of a section in the book where he talks about children at play. Kids create different games as a way of dealing with trauma in their lives, be it going to the doctor or letting go of mother. Brakhage’s images show this concept in motion, of kids acting out different aspects of themselves to cope with the real violence and darkness that is glimpsed at in the periphery. The sudden change from light play to heightened emotion disturbed me – but how many times have I been playing a game and with one unintended bump the affair grows violent?

As I noted in Star Garden, it’s rare for Brakhage to offer so direct a narrative to his films and in this case it’s clear the children are acting out different parts of themselves for a crowd. I was grateful for the moment in Duplicity III when Brakhage finally stepped back from the violent juxtapositions that characterize the middle parts of the film and revealed a crowd in front of a red curtain. It’s not a storyline in the strictest sense, but it’s a clear enough image that the metaphor is easily understood, and I was emotionally relieved to find that all the violence was an act.

It’s a necessary act though, and I’m glad that Brakhage interrupted the idyllic home environment to show the developmental chaos at play. I thought I would have to swear off Brakhage’s home movies, but Duplicity III shows me what intrigue I’d miss.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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