Stan Brakhage: Boulder Blues and Pearls and... (1993) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
23Jan/150

Stan Brakhage: Boulder Blues and Pearls and… (1993)

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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.

Boulder Blues and Pearls and... - 1992As I've gone through this second collection of Stan Brakhage films I keep thinking how well his work would synch up with music but could never think of the right style.  A lot of the black and white portions of his films seem like they would work well with industrial, but Brakhage is rarely that overtly violent with his images.  It wasn't until the low electric hum of Boulder Blues and Pearls and... kicked in along with rigidly lined paints that I realized industrial is only a fit on the surface.  The rhythm of most Brakhage films would better fit experimental electronic artists like Aphex Twin or, more recently, Juan Atkins.

They're such great fits for each other because of the way each takes a genre with already uncertain borders and create rigid spaces to fight against.  Boulder Blues dips into what could be considered some of the most conventional imagery Brakhage has implemented in his films.  But conventional here works in the same way Aphex Twin, along with fellow unconventional composer Philip Glass, used a popular song, David Bowie's "Heroes", and made it into a dangerous romantic's anthem to insanity.  Brakhage takes familiar images like pinball machines, clocks, and the nature he's returned to time and again, then funnels them through a nervous system on the verge of imploding as it tries to comprehend its own existence.

Much like the best electronica blends the limits between genre, experimentation, original music, and quoted passages - Brakhage's Boulder Blues blurs the lines between the organic, artificial, the human need to organize and define, and the unfathomable entirety of existence.  If there is one representative image of all this it is when the hum of the soundtrack settles over a pool of darkness interrupted by the occasional wave of color.  It does not seem to have a specific form then, as though hearing my thoughts as I attempted to piece the image together, a single milky eye began blinking out from the darkness.  This was a representation of consciousness struggling to make sense of its surroundings.

Our minds have evolved to funnel emotions and sensations so we need them when processing needed information, a useful trick when we were first learning to survive attacks from predators.  Boulder Blues has few associations that "make sense" to our higher brain functions but still connect images in a way that appeals to this instinct.  Every time Boulder Blues looks about ready to define its surroundings again it introduces an image that jars us from complacency.  One sequence has Brakhage photographing pillars through a blue filter, which is a calming an image of strength.  But he immediately follows this up with what looks like a coffin, wedged between the grass of two homes.  The cool strength of one image, the pillar, leads to another similar image, the brick home, but is still separated by the final destination, death.  With this comprehension Brakhage's film again returns to paintings and that lovely darkness to regain strength before trying to comprehend existence again.

This attempt at artistic reflection the self also results in one of Brakhage's other most direct images.  Late in the Boulder Blues Brakhage shoots a distorted figure in a mirror.  This, we assume, is whoever is holding the camera, but just as quickly as we recognize the figure in the mirror the person flees from their reflection.  However, the camera just hovers there, watching until there is no one reflected in the mirror any longer.  The consciousness that recognizes itself may flee from this knowledge, but that doesn't stop the world at all.

Boulder Blues is a stunner from the unexpectedly great use of sound to the successful implementation of Brakhage's most direct yet suggestive images to date.  It made me wonder just how many of his films would synch up with the dark surprises of Aphex Twin or similar artists - something I'll have to consider when I finally lay this Brakhage project to rest.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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