Stan Brakhage: Persian Series 1-3 (1999) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: Persian Series 1-3 (1999)

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Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues.  You can watch 1-3 of The Persian Series here.

Persian Series - 1999Only one frame into the first film of the Persian series and I knew I was in for something special.  The look of Stan Brakhage's painted films always looks like a powdery watercolor to me.  Considering he hand-painted each frame which then had to be run through a projector the consistency of his painted films made sense.

But there was an oily, almost pastel-like cohesion to the colors as soon as the first Persian film started.  There are few dominant colors and they mingle together like organisms in a pond.  The threat comes from the darkness, coming in suddenly to cut through the color, and overwhelms the color to thrust the frame into darkness.  While the text accompanying the Criterion release says these films are about Brakhage's thoughts about Persian philosophy and art, it's difficult not to see this as an ongoing representation of his struggle with cancer.

This is why the way the first film ends is so uplifting.  Just when the darkness seems to overwhelm the screen explodes into white and the frame shares its time with the darkness, light, and flashes of color.  The existences are in harmony with one another, and this harmony continues into the second Persian film, which may be the most gorgeous Brakhage has produced.

I rarely feel a sense of movement within Brakhage's compositions but we seem to be moving along a tunnel of brilliant oily colors.  It felt wonderful to watch, and I imagine someone who comes back from a near-death experience might find a special connection with this film.  When the momentum slows the film explodes into white before moving on.  The viewer of this film is on a journey, destination unknown, but potentially brilliant.

The third and final, at least for this collection, Persian film puts this duality of life and death front and center.  Each image is mirrored, or painted in such a way to look as mirrored as possible as many of the sequences aren't exact.  But the duality is there, this time with stronger defined lines and structures for the paints.

Credits are similarly rare in Brakhage films but when I saw that this Persian series was another collaboration with Sam Bush it all began to make sense.  The Brakhage / Bush collaboration produced two other exquisite films in the two collections, one of my personal favorites Black Ice and the great Stellar.  Those films still had a mystery to them, but that mystery seems to have been solved by the time these Persian films were made and they just want to take us on the ride along with them.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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