Stan Brakhage (1933- )

Filmography (partial)

Interim (1952), 25.5 minutes

The Way to Shadow Garden (1954), 11.5 min.

The Wonder Ring (1955), 6.5 minutes

Anticipation of the Night (1958), 41.5 minutes

Window Water Baby Moving (1959), 13 minutes

The Dead (1960), 11 minutes

Dog Star Man (1961-64), 79 minutes

The Art of Vision (1961-65), 4.5 hours

Scenes from under Childhood (1967-70), 140 minutes

The Machine of Eden (1970), 11.5 minutes

Sexual Meditations (1970-72), 29.5 minutes

The Pittsburgh Trilogy (1971), 103 minutes

The Riddle of Lumen (1972), 14.5 minutes

Sincerity (1973-80), 181.5 minutes

The Text of Light (1974), 70.5 minutes

Tragoedia (1976), 39.5 minutes

Duplicity (1978-80), 61.5 minutes

Roman Numeral Series (1979-81), 46.5 minutes

Arabics (1980-82), 165.5 minutes

The Garden of Earthly Delights (1981), 3 minutes

The Egyptian Series (1984), 18.5 minutes

Night Music (1986) 30 seconds

The Dante Quartet (1987), 8 minutes

Babylon Series (1989-90), 12 minutes

Visions in Meditation (1989), 18 minutes

Vision of the Fire Tree (1990), 4.5 minutes

Trilogy (1994-95), 77 minutes

The "b" Series (1995), 15 minutes

Ellipses ("...") Reels 1-5 (1998), 10 minutes

Stan Brakhage’s films, which number in the hundreds, are central to the consideration of the works in this series. During the first decade of his film-making, in 1958, he made a film which is a pivotal achievement marking both a turning point in his cinema, and that of avant-garde film generally. Anticipation of the Night provoked controversy (Cinema 16 declined to distribute it – which led to the formation of the Film-maker’s Cooperative distribution service) and a new aesthetic. In chapter five of his Visionary Film, P. Adams Sitney writes that the film is "the distillation of an intense and complex interior crisis into an orchestration of sights and associations which cohere in a new formal rhetoric of camera movement and montage." Camera movement, Sitney proposes, "challenges the integrity of the shot as the elementary figure of filmic structure." This concentration on movement, on shadows, on lights in the night, flattens and abstracts the image. Drama, and recognizable imagery fall away from Anticipation, which proceeds dreamlike in a "quest for an absolutely authentic, renewed, and untutored vision." For Brakhage this was crucial: "I would say I grew very quickly as a film artist once I got rid of drama as prime source of inspiration." The door was thus opened for so much later work, including The Text of Light, the Arabics and Roman series, The Riddle of Lumen, The Dante Quartet, and more. –R. Haller


Brakhage on the making of The Text of Light: photographing this ash tray for instance, I’m sitting for hours to get 30 seconds of film. I’m sitting watching what’s happening and clicking a frame, and sitting and watching, and further than that, I had shot several hundred feet and they seemed dead. They didn’t reflect at all my excitement and emotion and feeling. They had no anima in them, except for two or three shots where the lens which was on a tripod, pressed against the desk, had jerked. Those were just random, but what gave me the clue. What I began doing was always holding the camera in hand. For hours. Clicking. Waiting. Seeing what the sun did to the scene. As I saw what was happening in the frame to these little particles of light, changing, I would shoot the camera very slightly. If you want to know how slightly you have to realize I was never photographing in an area bigger than this fourth fingernail. You couldn’t tap the camera. It had to be moved by a quivering attention of the hand. That took maybe 13 or 14 moves over a period of ten minutes. Then to get that in mind: what it was doing and changing and how I was dancing with it had to be extended in memory; one, how would that come out at 24 frames a second and two, as to, was the dance real?

And all the time I was doing this I had to have a friendly argument in my mind with Jordan Belson who I knew would hate just exactly this. He would say, Oh, wonderful what it is, but why is it jerky? Or why not centered? Or, you know...and to hold myself together I would say, No, Jordan, it has to be this way. So I, I owe him very much. He sustained me in that way a beautiful argument can, because it was very much in his territory. I mean this film is very much on his side of the street.

Though there is another man. I want to mention that the film is dedicated to Jim Davis. I suddenly one night had this overwhelming feeling...I got mad because someone had written another article on many people working with so-called abstract film, which term I don’t believe in anyway. But they had not mentioned Jim Davis, and he has always resisted being mentioned. It is true, he’s a very shy man. He had lived all his life, the last 20 years at 44 Wiggins St., in Princeton, N.J., very ill with diabetes and with a lot of back trouble and in bed the last decade. With his great construct before him, so that from his bed he could photograph whenever his constructs created a light pattern that seemed real to him, refracted light. He was literally the first man who had shown me refracted light on film. So I called him up and asked him if I could dedicate the film to him. And I was surprised that he didn’t say no; but I’m so glad I did because he was dead a week later. (1974)

Brakhage on his painted/scratched films:

I now no longer photograph, but rather paint upon clear strips of film – essentially freeing myself from the dilemmas of re-presentation. I aspire to a visual music, a "music" for the eyes (as my films are entirely without sound-tracks these days). Just as a composer can be said to work primarily with "musical ideas," I can be said to work with the ideas intrinsic to film, which is the only medium capable of making paradigmatic "closure" apropos Primal Sight. A composer most usually creates parallels to the surroundings of the inner ear – the primary thoughts of sounds. I, similarly, now work with the electric synapses of thought to achieve overall cathexis paradigms separate from but "at one" with the inner lights, the Light, at source, of being human. (1996)