Stan Brakhage: The Cat and the Worm's Green Realm (1997) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: The Cat and the Worm’s Green Realm (1997)

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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 Cat of the Worm's Green Realm - 1997Last week's Stan Brakhage film I Take These Truths emphasized longer takes in a painted format.  This week's The Cat and the Worm's Green Realm stretches Brakhage's live-action films through lengthier shots of the natural landscapes he edits together.  I'm curious how the remaining films in this collection will treat time as the years progress.  They're calmer, more contemplative, less emotionally intense and more willing to embrace the small moments between the frames instead of leaving images burned into our retinas.

I have to wonder how much this relates to his health.  Doctors diagnosed Brakhage with bladder cancer just a year before The Cat and the Worm's Green Realm was released, and with Brakhage facing his own mortality he must have been in a mood to slow his compositions down just a tad.  With a few films to go I suppose I'll get answers to my hypothesis sooner rather than later, but with The Cat (shortened title from this point on) Brakhage portrays a threat of experience throughout all of existence.

He begins with what feels almost like non-existence which, with the presence of color, is a contradiction as there is something for us to see if not necessarily experience.  But it grows slowly, and not always in ways which make perfect sense, into closeups of lush green colors and web-like material spread out over another dark expanse of space.  Gradually the camera reveals more of this existence, a leaf here, a splash of water there, showing how the supposed non-existence that started all creation slowly yields life.

All this leads to one of the most stunning smash-cuts in all of Brakhage's work.  Just when we get our bearings and begin to understand that we have gone from the darkness into the barely recognizable building blocks of life - his camera pulls back in the clearest, most vibrant, and dense view of a healthy tree against the sky.  Our perception is so tiny compared to that of existence or, to borrow a key phrase from the title, a worm trying to grasp the enormity of the universe / tree it will spend its lifetime.

Whatever Brakhage's reasoning, and however his diagnosis played into this film, it's a wonderful meditation on the entirety of life.  There is no "nothing", no spark that's forever extinguished as the universe will forever embrace the bit that makes each creature unique.  It's another wonderful insight from Brakhage, and one I'm curious to see evolve as we enter the final stages of his life.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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