Stan Brakhage: "..." Reel Five (1998) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
17Feb/150

Stan Brakhage: “…” Reel Five (1998)

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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.

... Reel Five - 1998Over the last few weeks I've wondered how Stan Brakhage would be continuing his word as he entered the final years of his life.  The last few films have seen Brakhage in a contemplative mood.  I Take These Truths is a slow-burn look at the variety in his painted styles, The Cat and the Worm's Green Realm looks at the immensity of existence from the perspective of the tiny and how they can't see the whole from the pieces, and Yggdrasill: Whose Roots Are Stars in the Human Mind is an attempt to cinematically portray all of existence rather than its bits and pieces.

But these films are all a Brakhage I'm most familiar with - paints, extreme close-ups of the natural and artificial, scratches interacting with each other.  The film I watched for today, "..." Reel Five may not be the most esoteric title of Brakhage's films but it's certainly one of the most unique.  The film following that title is just as interesting, and is another one of Brakhage's films to utilize sound.  Usually the presence of sound is a harbinger of a poor film, but this is definitely not the case with Reel Five.

The closest analog is Boulder Blues and Pearls and... which had a soundtrack which recalled the works of Aphex Twin or Juan Atkins.  The piano plinking that accompanies Reel Five sounds like a tune a composer like Philip Glass would work his way through while trying to get ideas for a larger piece.  There's a barely discernible rise and fall then sudden stop to the keys but they form a creepily reassuring synergy with the images.

Those images show that Brakhage, even with his cancer diagnosis, is not ready to stop experimenting.  Conceptually speaking, Real Five is similar to Boulder Blues, but the execution is unlike any other Brakhage I've seen.  The introduction sets a tone of nervous anticipation as the music starts over a black screen and it's not until a minute and a half into the film that another color joins the screen.  But that color is a blast of white, replacing the nervous anticipation with sudden shock.

What follows is a delightful interplay of snake-like black tendrils and splashes of color that resemble an interpretive dance.  The way the piano rises and falls accompanies the inclusion of different colors, yellows and blues, each putting their distinct mark on the frame as the piano continues on and the black tendrils continue their dance.  I'm never at ease watching Reel Five, but still somehow reassured that this energetic vision of color and darkness at play is in tune with Brakhage's spirit.

Brakhage, at this point, has five years to go in his life.  No matter the hundreds of films he had created or contributed to he was still experimenting with the art form that gave him so much transcendent job.  Me, I'm just happy he finally found a way to intertwine sound into his films that forms a nervous whole, instead of lonely fragments.

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Brakhage with text

Posted by Andrew

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