Stan Brakhage: The Domain of the Moment (1977) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: The Domain of the Moment (1977)

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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.

The Domain of the Moment - 1977We live in the time where advertising the reality of the ever-annihilating now is more popular than ever.  Sure, there hasn't been a generation in all human existence that hasn't felt the creep of seconds on the clock.  But how many Buzzfeed articles or Upworthy links reminding you that every moment you don't spend reading their text or watching this video is another moment that you aren't living?  I don't mention this as a negative, just an illustrative example of what existence for humans means today, and I'm thinking about that because today's Stan Brakhage film is all about the constant death of the moments that build life.

There's definite resistance to those pieces of ever-annihilating consumption, most curiously in those videos where someone just rubs styrofoam for an hour.  But The Domain of the Moment forces self-contemplation by examining the sensory input of non-humans.  Brakhage has done this before, most notably in Mothlight, I just haven't been as moved as the results.

It's the variety that helps The Domain of the Moment achieve better results than Mothlight.  There are at least four different layers of film used at any given time to add lights, closeups of various animals, longer shots establishing the setting, and finally a welcome return to Brakhage's painted work.  Brakhage does not add the layers all at once, preferring instead to use an internal logic of wider shots for the setting, then closer shots of the creature being studied, before going into the subjective paintings of their world.  The combination of conservative formal compositions and the experimental subjectivity of the paints enhances the experience of both.  In the rare moments where all four layers were used at once I felt calmed by what I could easily identify from the film, but drawn to different corners of the screen as the creature went about their business.

The most effective sequence comes from Brakhage's comfort with death.  We watch three different cycles of life as a small bird, a guinea pig, and a raccoon.  When entering their worlds we primarily see the bright paints as they experience their surroundings.  But then we see a close up that is at first confusing then, as the screen comes into focus, we see a snake tightly coiled around what looks like a squirrel.  Brakhage still enters the subjective realm but now its a sea of deep black with white scratches clawing down the center of the frame.  The white does not look to be struggling in the field of view, just existing violently for a time and then disappearing.

What better way to capture life and death?  It may not be the most original expression in art, and it's a familiar one for Brakhage's career, but The Domain of the Moment communicates the experience of other beings in a transcendental way.  Language will not suffice for those walks through the forest, or those last moments of life, and we could learn to appreciate each more through this kind of art.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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