Stan Brakhage: Star Garden (1974) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: Star Garden (1974)

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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.

Star Garden - 1974Star Garden is one of Stan Brakhage’s most easy to follow and overtly pleasing films. There’s a narrative of sorts that may not have dialogue, or even characters with names, but it starts as day breaks and closes as the moon rises to send the house’s inhabitants to sleep. It’s a simple setup, family gets up, they go about their business and enjoy each other’s company while Brakhage observes the way light travels through the home and on his children. The vivid color and disorienting visuals that typically punctuate Brakhage’s work are not present, replaced instead by an apple brown that keep the home pleasant to look at.

All of this, while pleasant, is tedious to watch. I’ve made no secret of my dislike for Brakhage’s home movie productions in previous installments but here it reached a bland nadir. Aside from some initial confusion as the sun rises and we get our bearings in Brakhage’s home there is little of the experimentation or steady craft that is a hallmark of his films. Normally I want to slow down the playback speed so that I can luxuriate in the intricate detail of each frame. Here, once I realized the direction of the film a couple of minutes in, I just wanted to fast forward through the rest so that I could get on to something more fulfilling.

But Star Garden did put me in a bit of an ethical pickle. I may dislike Brakhage’s home movie productions, but in the forward for Star Garden Brakhage is upfront about explaining just what the film is. For Brakhage, the film reflects one of those days where everything at the home was perfect and he got to watch the light play alongside his children. This is certainly a beautiful sentiment, and he was upfront about what the film is about, so criticizing the approach feels a bit unnecessary.

Then I remembered other famous examples filmmakers glorifying their families either through immaculate cinematography or outright nepotism. A good example of the former is when Judd Apatow got Janusz Kaminski to create perfect portraits of his wife and children in Funny People – the latter when Will and Jaden Smith teamed up for the sci-fi dud After Earth. The familial indulgences of each film do not negatively impact the experience in the same way, but adds little to the experience.

With that in mind, it’s hard for me to give Star Garden a pass as anything other than a home film that is taking up space in a collection which could go toward other films. Pleasant isn’t engaging, and I hope that the remaining Brakhage films have a bit more to share than a nice day with the family.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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