Stan Brakhage: The Machine of Eden (1970) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: The Machine of Eden (1970)

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

The Machine of Eden - 1970Today’s Stan Brakhage film, The Machine of Eden, has repeated images of a fabric material that sum up my feelings of the film quite well. Between expressive and sometimes polarizing shots of nature Brakhage cuts to a large weaving machine creating clothing. Brakhage’s camera makes the clothing and its individual “hairs” stand out against the blue-tinged darkness of their surroundings. Even when the camera settled on a landscape as it starts to snow my mind returned to this image of the clothing, like it was keeping me warm against the other images in The Machine of Eden.

This sense of warmth is what makes The Machine of Eden unlike much of Brakhage’s work. I have felt reassured by some of his other films but never comforted to this degree. This is likely because Brakhage’s focus is primarily on the machinations of paradise, the moments either microscopic in nature or based in senses like a child hugging a puppy, and how those express themselves even in the supposed harshness of nature.

Brakhage does this by first establishing a mental rhythm in the film between the luminous qualities of nature and the raw material ready to be made into clothing. We watch clouds become wool, wool become clouds, then clouds blend with the land as the wool becomes clothing. The comforting effect this provides is nicely juxtaposed with images that might make nature seem threatening in another context. Brakhage’s films in this collection have frequently used polarization to disorient the viewer but in one stunning shot we see a sky hiding the sun that is as polarized as any black and white photo but the frame leaves enough room to see the beautifully colored landscape just below.

The editing is leisurely, letting us register and regard each image on its merits as opposed to dealing with only the lingering after-images Brakhage usually burns into our retinas. This gradual emotional reveal through the images warmed my heart as the clouds and landscape are shown to be the machines that built our lives. One great sequence of shots starts with those clouds, goes to a tangled web of foliage, then to that comforting image of the completed clothing, and from that pile of clothes we see the arm of a child reach out and hug a puppy that entered the frame.

I love the argument that these images make – that Eden is possible on earth because of the natural processes that occur every day. Our intellect has allowed us to shape these elements gradually over the course of many years and made it possible for a single life to be secure in warmth with a loving companion. There is nothing supernatural to these images and the weather conditions that produced many of the landscapes seen. But that’s part of the beauty of the film, that these conditions present themselves so often that we could be working toward a mortal Eden every day.

It’s a reassuring and lovely thought that Brakhage sometimes struggled with in his work. But when he was able to step away from the chaos of existence and find breathing space like this he came up with some beautiful ideas. The Machine of Eden may seem slight at first, but quickly grows into a magnificent achievement.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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