Stan Brakhage: Scenes From Under Childhood, Section One (1967) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
4Dec/140

Stan Brakhage: Scenes From Under Childhood, Section One (1967)

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Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues.  You can watch Scenes From Under Childhood, Section One here.

Scenes From Under Childhood, Section One - 1967Before I dig into today's Stan Brakhage - a couple of notes.  Today's film, Scenes From Under Childhood, Section One (which will be referred to as Scenes from this point on), is part of a larger series that I have been unable to watch.  Second, Scenes has two options on how to view the film; with the originally intended soundtrack and without.

Considering the range of quality his sound films has been tiring to passable, I opted to watch this without the soundtrack.  Brakhage came to a similar conclusion when he decided Scenes should be released without the soundtrack.  Those two things established, if any readers feel I'm missing out on some crucial context by missing either the rest of the series or watching this without sound I would be happy to revisit Scenes (though if the rest of the series is needed, a bit of direction on how to find it would be most welcome).

Now, all that said, my decisions on how to watch the film were sadly more interesting than watching Scenes.  This second volume of Brakhage films had, until today, avoided the home movies that were the least interesting films of the first volume.  Scenes is a Brakhage home film, which typically means that his usual experimental flourishes are kept to a minimum and picks a single distorted viewpoint.  In the case of Scenes, this mean incorporating some of the solid color transitions from 23rd Psalm Branch and distorting the lens slightly to focus on his child's awkward growing phase.

Scenes started promisingly by navigating the terrain between these two worlds.  The blood-red screen transition pulses like a child breathing, and each "breath" brings more of the world into focus.  I love this idea that we emerge not from darkness, but from blood, as it binds Brakhage's human subjects as a single continuous organism that reproduces itself.  Like any newborn, Scenes takes a while forming an identity about its subject, showing the child as a bulbous creature among the other children.  Scenes is at its best during these moments as it's an artistic take on psychological development.  The film becomes more defined and less oblique as the baby becomes a toddler - becoming more rigid and confident.

But almost as soon as the toddler emerges the film stops experimenting.  The colorful transitions segue into long takes of the toddler standing around or playing with other kids.  It feels like just another home movie when the transition is complete.  Like any other narrative feature it's the conflict, that search for identity among the chaos, that is more interesting than the end point - especially when we spend about ten minutes observing this fully formed toddler at play.

Sure, the toddler will grow further, but Scenes doesn't convey that uncertainty about the future through its presentation.  The fragmentation of the blood transfer frames, or the distortion of the child's emerging image of itself, settles on just another clearly seen home movie. Scenes, despite my apprehension, at least gave me the last bit of crucial context I needed to explain the appeal of Brakhage's films.  When he is deconstructing the nature of cinema and reassembling it different ways, or examining the way familiar spaces can be alien and disorienting in a certain perspective, he's amazing.  But when the focus turns on what is familiar to him, such as his family or poetry, the world becomes too defined and dull.  Scenes doesn't work, and I'm at least a little closer in understanding why.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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