Stan Brakhage: Murder Psalm (1980) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: Murder Psalm (1980)

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

Murder Psalm - 1980The accompanying quotations from Stan Brakhage that attempt to explain what each of his films is about are oft-times counterproductive.  Take today's film, the elliptical and intense Murder Psalm, as an example of how the writing informs the images to such a degree that the images no long speak for themselves.  For Murder Psalm, Brakhage quoted Dostoyevsky's The Diary of a Writer to say he was trying to show the complex motivation behind the most naïve folks when they contribute to violent crime.

There are violent images throughout Murder Psalm, some of them joking and some not.  The joking half comes from the spliced of an old cartoon featuring a mouse occasionally being hit by pedestrians on the road.  The more serious come from footage of an autopsy where a body is cut open and the brain removed and these images are edited with a girl who is having a seizure.  The same girl seems to appear in other footage just walking through the woods, an standing near a fountain while getting splashed by an orb thrown into the shot.

Loosely speaking, I suppose these images form a thought process for violence.  The brain, generator of everything we experience, is introduced to sudden sensations of violence via a neural pathway that is not understood, and these impulses are seemingly supported by the culture around the brain.  Bodies become just another source of material, cages to cut up and take the matter within.  It's easy to commit to a violent act when art will spring up in sympathy with it.

My issue with Murder Psalm is that by attempting to provide concrete images that explain the thought process for violence Brakhage moves away from images that get to the core of violence.  Murder Psalm is a structural thought process, not an evocative one, showing Brakhage trying to piece together his thoughts about violence without really getting to the core of it.  A Brakhage film like Rage Net (which is growing in my esteem every day) gets to the reasons behind violence because it's such a brutal display of violence.   The stable core that's ripped apart at the center of Rage Net speaks higher of the disgust and self-loathing that led Brakhage to violence.  This carefully arranged series of images is logical, if imprecise, and doesn't illuminate the reasons for violence at all.

Curious, then, that Brakhage's attempt to explain led me to further disappointment.  Had Brakhage not provided that description I would have just considered it a puzzling tone piece.  With the explanation, it's him creating unsatisfying information for questions is work already answered.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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