editorial essays


Stan Brakhage in Montreal

Nicolas Renaud (translated from French by Donato Totaro) nic@horschamp.qc.ca

2001, January 10

Hors Champ presents

Films d'Action at la Cinémathèque
335 De Maisonneuve East
Montreal, Quebec

The Films of Stan Brakhage (Program II)

24 films, 230 minutes of silence !

January 25 at 5:00pm and in the presence of Stan Brakhage on January 26-27-28 at 9:00pm

Documenting the Act of Seeing

From 1952 onwards the American filmmaker Stan Brakhage has made more than 250 films, most of them silent, and varying in length from 9 seconds to 4 hours, that continue to investigate the act of vision in its multifarious forms. His remarkable oeuvre escapes conventional discourse into film categories that we can safely assign to him. We pass from lyrical film to documentary, to abstract painting "scratch" films, to the category known as "home movies" elevated to a most monumental level. Watching a Brakhage film, with its particular pulsating images, is to seize the act of perception itself, to make and remake the look, and, to use a Brakhage term, be touched in the very "flesh of our eyes." His films are an exacting and intense experience where structure and rhythm appear as words in poetry rather than narrative form, and in which the unifying medium is no longer the scene or the shot but the frame. Stan Brakhage will be present to introduce and discuss his films.

This event has been realised with the support and contribution of Concordia University, Faculty of Fine Arts, The Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, and the gracious and essential collaboration of Concordia University professor's Richard Kerr and Mario Falsetto. And also the participation of The University of Montreal, Department of Art History (thanks to Michel Larouche) and the Festival international de nouvelle danse de Montréal.

Program Note
(P) Denotes "Hand-Painted Films" For these last few years Stan Brakhage has concentrated on making films painted directly on film, often image by image, and has developed compositions of movement through the optical printer. He explores that which he refers to as "the visual movement of thought." These films without soundtrack are necessarily created in silence, precisely because they are so close to music.


January 25 5:00pm

Canada, 1999, 75 min.
Director/Writer: Jim Shedden
A documentary on Stan Brakhage.

Dog Star Man Prelude
27 min. col. sil. 1961
First part of what is considered Brakhage's major work, in which he develops with perfection the forms of visual expression so particular to and characteristic of his films. "This film's themes are as vast as its subject matter and techniques: the relationships between man and his surroundings, of the personal to the general, of seeing to perception." (Fred Camper)

January 26 9:00pm

Night Music
30 sec. col. Sil. 1986 (P)
"This film (originally paint on Imax) attempts to capture the beauty of sadness, the closed eye vision that meditates on pain." (S.B.)

Window Water Baby Moving
13 min. col. sil. 1959
Brakhage's partner, Jane, gives birth to their first child. The documentation of birth renders an experience of rare poetic intensity. One of the most remarkable and striking films in the history of avant-garde film.

Wedlock House : An Intercourse
11 min. col. sil. 1959
Brakhage organises a montage of images filmed by him and Jane during an argument.

Dog Star Man Part I
31 min. 1962

7.5 min. col. 1988 Music: Joel Haertling and Stephen Foster
"The recurring musical themes and melancholia of Foster refer to 'loss of love' in the popular 'torch song' mode; but the film envisions a re-awakening of such senses-of-love as children know, and posits (along a line of words scratched over picture) the whole psychology of waiting." (S.B.)

Three Homerics
6 min. col. sil. 1993 (P)

Black Ice
3 min. col. sil. 1994 (P)

January 27 9:00pm

Sirius Remembered
11 min. col. sil. 1959
Rather than burying their recently dead pet dog, the Brakhage family deposits the dog's corpse in the forest. Brakhage returns periodically to film the decomposing corpse with his camera. A representative film from the period where Brakhage was strongly influenced by the prose style of Gertrude Stein.

Dog Star Man Part II
7 min. 1963

Self Song / Death Song
4.5 min. col. sil. 1997
Self Song documents a corpse besieged by cancer, but suggests victory over as much as submission to death. In Death Song, the play with form and color pose different visions of death.

The Machine of Eden
11 min. col. sil. 1970
"Sun disks on the lens, blots, through the emulsion grain... These "mis-takes" give birth to "shape" (which in this work is "matter", subject and otherwise)... In its own light the "dream" will speak for itself..."

4 min. col. sil. 1963
The first experiment with collage on film; moth wings, flower petals, and blades of grass are pressed in-between two clear film strips and rephotographed through an optical printer. "Mothlight is a paradoxical preservation of pieces of dead moths in the eternal medium of light (which is life and draws the moth to death) (...) It is on one level a parable of death and resurrection..." (Ken Kelman)

The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes
32 min. col. sil. 1971
Brakhage brings his camera into our culture's most forbidden and terrifying space: the autopsy room. The title recalls the origin of the word autopsy, from the Greek autopsia, "the act of watching with one's proper eyes." Hence confronting our fear of death, when the skin can no longer assure us of the symbolic order of our vision of the body, and the human form is reduced to the organic essentials of tissue, organs, and blood.
*Warning: For some viewers, this may be an extremely difficult screening, as the film contains very explicit autopsy footage and may not be suitable for all spectators.

January 28 9:00pm

5 min. col. sil. 1957
The camera nears a couple in embrace, and involves itself with their movements, offering multiple points of view on the bodies, seen among trees, through rays of sunlight. The young Brakhage begins to complicate the structure of the film's gaze, sometimes offering a flurry of shots in a second or assembling twenty shots to compose a single movement.

Dog Star Man Part III
8 min. 1964

Dog Star Man Part IV
7 min. 1964

Murder Psalm
18 min. col. sil. 1980
"In my novel The Possessed I tried describe the complex and heterogeneous motives that can drive even the most pure heart and the majority of naive people to take part in the most monstrous of crimes." Dostoyevsky, The Diary of a Writer.

Garden of Earthly Delights
2.5 min. color silence 1981
Film made with mountain vegetation pasted onto the film. The title indicates perhaps an homage (although maybe also a conflict with) a triptych by the 15th century painter Hieronymus Bosch. An homage also to the painters J.E.H. MacDonald and Emil Nolde.

2.5 min. col. sil. 1993 (P)

5.5 min. col. sil. 1994 (P)

4.5 min. col. sil. 1999 (P)

Cloud Chamber
4.5 min. col. sil. 1999 (P)

The Dante Quartet
8 min. col. sil. 1987 (P)