Stan Brakhage: The Process (1972) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: The Process (1972)

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

The Process - 1972When I was eight or so, I spent the better part of an hour trying to convince my patient neighbor that I used to be able to float.  Not fly, float.  I described - in detail - about how I was able to hover far off the ground and felt the grain of the ceiling against my back.  She was a sport about humoring me and in time I realized the experience was just the way my young mind built a memory around my dad throwing me in the air then catching me.  Funny thing is, even with that realization, I remember what it was like floating above the ground on the ceiling and hiding on top of the dressers.

Today's Stan Brakhage film, The Process, sent this all flooding back.  I've described films as hypnotic before, but Brakhage's use of quickly interchanging solid colors and distorted images was about as close as I've come to actually being hypnotized by his films.  I had little control over my thought processes as the screen switched from purple, red, green, black, then back to a figure who evolved from an adult cowboy to a child playing a game and back again.

Is the child dreaming he's a cowboy or is the cowboy remembering playing when he was young?  It's unclear, and Brakhage shifts and slowly allows different colors to seep into the frame.  Earlier this year I watched The Giver and was extremely disappointed in the flat way that color returned to the frames as the protagonist got access to more memories.  In The Process the greens, purples, and reds fade in and out of each memory violently.  At one point green will be visible, then the solid color frames will flash quickly, and the green will no longer be in the frame.

Brakhage's film watches a memory trying to reconstruct itself, using different colors and slowly remembering what goes where while forgetting other details.  Memory is not a straightforward process of returning forgotten details, something that The Giver takes for granted.  Instead it's a swirl of new and old information fighting against your senses and consciousness as each tries to be the strongest hand in forming what you will remember.  The child dreams of the man he might become by playing with fire and smoke while wearing a nice hat.  He hopes that the dream will become a memory.  The man remembers the dreams of the child, and how that shaped him.

Neither is correct, and the child is every bit the man as the man is the child.  Part of The Process' success is that it recognizes no identity as dominant.  Identity and memory appear as a maelström but those changes are just different points in a healthy evolution from cradle to grave.  I would love to have more people watch The Process just to see what memories shake loose.  Maybe we could all remember how to fly.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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