1960's Archives - Page 2 of 11 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
4Dec/140

Stan Brakhage: Scenes From Under Childhood, Section One (1967)

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Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues.  You can watch Scenes From Under Childhood, Section One here.

Scenes From Under Childhood, Section One - 1967Before I dig into today's Stan Brakhage - a couple of notes.  Today's film, Scenes From Under Childhood, Section One (which will be referred to as Scenes from this point on), is part of a larger series that I have been unable to watch.  Second, Scenes has two options on how to view the film; with the originally intended soundtrack and without.

Considering the range of quality his sound films has been tiring to passable, I opted to watch this without the soundtrack.  Brakhage came to a similar conclusion when he decided Scenes should be released without the soundtrack.  Those two things established, if any readers feel I'm missing out on some crucial context by missing either the rest of the series or watching this without sound I would be happy to revisit Scenes (though if the rest of the series is needed, a bit of direction on how to find it would be most welcome).

Now, all that said, my decisions on how to watch the film were sadly more interesting than watching Scenes.  This second volume of Brakhage films had, until today, avoided the home movies that were the least interesting films of the first volume.  Scenes is a Brakhage home film, which typically means that his usual experimental flourishes are kept to a minimum and picks a single distorted viewpoint.  In the case of Scenes, this mean incorporating some of the solid color transitions from 23rd Psalm Branch and distorting the lens slightly to focus on his child's awkward growing phase.

2Dec/140

Stan Brakhage: 23rd Psalm Branch parts I (1966) and II (1967)

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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.

23rd Psalm Branch - 1966 to 1967Stan Brakhage’s films question so many notions of what cinema is that I’ve started to wonder just what it means for something to be feature-length. I ask because today’s film, 23rd Psalm Branch parts I and II, is just a shade over an hour in length. This puts it on the short side for a typical feature-length film, but long enough where I could reasonably define it that way. But Brakhage’s films sometimes convey an entire cinematic world within seconds and his films of this length are rare. So we settle on terms defined by award-giving bodies, such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which will not nominate a film for their feature-film awards if it is less than 40 minutes long.

Yes, 23rd Psalm Branch meets the length criteria, but so many of Brakhage’s films that could have penetrated a wider audience failed to do so just because of their length. The subject, as is the case with 23rd Psalm Branch, does not help either as Brakhage is defining his feelings on the Vietnam War as the ‘70s approached in America. Unlike fellow artists such as Ingmar Bergman, whose Persona is as definitive an expression on the violence and confusion of that period as I can think of, Brakhage is not conflicted about his feelings. In perhaps the first time since I started watching the film I was keenly aware of Brakhage’s eyes on the audience, at one point literally manifesting onscreen to glare at us, to make sure there is no ambiguity about his rage.

27Nov/140

Stan Brakhage: Two: Creeley / McClure (1965)

Please join the Twitch stream at Can't Stop the Kittens. Andrew's writing is on hiatus, but you can join the kitty stream at night with gaming and conversation during the day.

Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues.  You can watch Two: Creeley / McClure here.

Two - Creeley-McClure - 1965Stan Brakhage's films have helped to keep my mind fresh and aware of the nearly infinite possibilities of film.  Through his lens I've looked at new techniques and been able to put different literary knowledge in a new context.  But I sometimes have trouble with his films when they are delving into a specific subject.  That is why today's film, Two: Creeley / McClure (which I'll refer to as Two from this point on), did not connect with me beyond Brakhage's considerable cinematic talents.

Two functions as a moving portrait of the two poets Robert Creeley and Michael McClure.  Creeley was the one who hired Brakhage to make The Wonder Ring in 1955 after quizzing Brakhage in a unique way.  An abstract arrangement would be placed in front of Brakhage and Creeley would ask which artists work it reminded Brakhage of.  Since Brakhage guessed correctly, he was awarded with the job of filming The Wonder Ring.  So Brakhage and Creeley, at least, were of a similar mind and unfortunately I am not familiar enough with McClure to comment on his association with Brakhage.

24Nov/140

Stan Brakhage: The Dead (1960)

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

The Dead - 1960One big mistake the religious bodies of the world have made is the decision to personalize and make human their respective deities.  God, at least in terms understood by Abrahamic religions, was once a formless voice that commanded unlimited power and authority which made his will known in impossible ways.  Then he was made human, and with humanity comes frailty, weakness, and death.  What was once a powerful and mutable symbol with no specific backing in language and comprehensible only through associative imagery became just another human on a planet infested with them.

There's a certain power in taking this course of action intentionally as personifying or making plain the mysterious is one step toward removing its universal appeal.  Stan Brakhage understood this ability when it came time to film The Dead.  It's undeniably powerful, and another early example of his ability to layer distinct realities on top of one another to comment on them all.  Here Brakhage is mixing the uncontrollable reality of death with the hubris of controlling nature and the people who walk around having to be blissfully unaware that they can do nothing about either.

1Jul/140

Stan Brakhage: Mothlight (1963)

Please join the Twitch stream at Can't Stop the Kittens. Andrew's writing is on hiatus, but you can join the kitty stream at night with gaming and conversation during the day.

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

Mothlight - 1963While I still have many films to go, I've been able to draw a few different conclusions from Stan Brakhage's work so far.  Enjoyment is a prickly beast, sometimes born from catharsis and other times from a good laugh at a well-timed joke.  But in watching Brakhage's films I've noticed that my enjoyment has come from two different wells of experience.  Either I am in deep awe at the ability of his cinema to try and force an emotional reflection that I've found myself previously incapable of, or I find myself in an emotionally neutral stance with some intellectual appreciation and not much else.

Window Water Baby Moving is firmly in the former camp, and it's fitting that Mothlight, which Wikipedia helpfully informs me is one of his other "best-known" films, is in the latter.  I am more interested in the technique of Mothlight, and Brakhage's mindset when he was making it, than in watching it again.  Truth be told, I can't think of a single other film like it, nor can I think of another well-known cinematic persona who would take dead moths and affix them directly to film stock.  This gives the film an especially physical touch, and combined with Brakhage's rapid collage once again tries to replicate an impossible experience with less impact.