Stan Brakhage  

Stan Brakhage is one of the most notable and well-known experimental movie-makers who made almost 400 films in 50 years, most of them shorts ranging from a length of seconds to minutes. His interests, experiments and trademarks progressed and changed gradually over the years:

His first early shorts in the 50s were mostly minor experiments involving small human dramas or people doing normal things while Brakhage played slightly with the negative, cinematography, sounds, soundtracks or filters. Gradually he started experimenting with different ways of looking at the world. He made many shorts that show real objects via different viewpoints, filters, colors, effects, etc. trying to give the viewer a different experience of the world through impressions, filters and montages. He also made several personal shorts that attempt to capture his own experiences and thoughts as visual pieces in all their intimate, graphic or personal detail. These montages grew in their frenzy in the 60s, using super-impositions, dynamic camera movements, negative or filtered images, rapid cutting, and many more techniques to create visual experiences based on themes like intimacy, family, death, pets, etc.

He dropped sound for the most part, focusing on visuals, drawing and painting on the negatives themselves to create his trademarked rapid- moving, sometimes headache-inducing patterns and impressions. This barrage of images is what he calls 'moving visual thinking', which attempts to capture the process of receiving, absorbing and processing images on film complete with inner brain-feedback. This focus on visuals gradually became more and more abstract, although in the 70s, he was still sometimes basing the experiments on personal experiences, or images of his family.

Even this was dropped gradually, and he would increasingly try to explore the action of seeing, deconstructing images or presenting new experiences for the eyes as pure visual exercises, showing normal objects with different colors and filters, or from a completely different viewpoint (e.g. viewing moths by putting moth wings on a camera lens and experimenting with their effects on colors and light). This approach of presenting fast montages of images mixed with experimental colors, lighting techniques and hand-painted negatives continued for the most part of 40 years, always finding new subtle techniques for playing with light and colors and discovering new visual patterns or effects. He continued using film as his canvas in many experimental ways, etching his signature ("By Brakhage") physically on the negatives. In short, an avant-garde abstract painter that literally uses film as his medium.

This page only lists the more unusual or notably pioneering works from his early years. His later works feature a wide variety of experiments, the majority of which are purely visual barrages of images, lights and colors. Died in 2003.

Of Some Interest

Dog Star Man Series            
Brakhage's most famous work in several parts explores man's place in the universe, nature, his family, etc. The Prelude is a hypnotic, intensely frantic, but eventually tiresome montage of images of nature, the sun and the universe, the elements of fire and water, sex and family, and various impressionistic colors and patterns etched onto the negative. The rest of the series features more palatable but abstract imagery like a macho man and his dog climbing a mountain under a massive natural universe, mixed with shots of the micro-cosmos in the human body, then some erotic imagery, scenes of a baby and family, biological footage, birth, religion and death, all spliced together with Brakhage's patented hand-drawn barrage of patterns and colors. Both a hypnotic and unique, epic experience as well as a tiresome bore, and is best appreciated for its intense effect on the mind through the eyes.

Window Water Baby Moving  
Pregnancy and birth in explicit detail, the camera capturing the beauty of a pregnant woman's body as she bathes, the contractions, and the complete messy birth, all with graphic close-ups, but artfully edited together to capture the amazing experience. Groundbreaking and shocking for its time.


Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes, The  
This extreme short film/documentary is from a middle period in Brakhage's career during which he was exploring hard visual subjects in graphic detail as simple exercises in visually experiencing aspects of life that we don't normally see. For example, Deus Ex explored hospitals and surgery, and Lovemaking explored various forms of hardcore sex and nudity. This movie explores dead bodies and autopsies in grisly detail for 30 minutes. There is none of the Brakhage barrage of colors and artsy montages with these movies, only a moving camera that looks and looks.

Anticipation of the Night  
An early experimental montage and visual experience by Brakhage. We experience a day in the life of a developing baby through it's eyes and mind, watching discombobulating images as it is taken to the park, for a drive, etc. An interesting concept, but I felt more aware of jerky camera movements than the intended goal, and at 40 minutes it's too long.

Reflections on Black  
Marital drama and tension is explored experimentally through facial expressions and gestures, a misleading shadow, a heated kettle overflowing, etc. And in an early Brakhage trademark of drawing on negatives, eyes sparkle and see through star-burst scribbles. Don't ask me why.

Thigh Line Lyre Triangular  
An alternative take on Window Water Baby Moving featuring explicit pregnancy and childbirth, only this time we get possibly the first appearance of extreme negative manipulation by Brakhage, drawing colors, scribbles, patterns, and distortions into the images to presumably convey his emotional or subjective experience and memories of the events. I didn't find this experimental approach successful however.

Way to Shadow Garden, The  
Accompanied by human-made sound effects, a man goes into his house, slowly goes crazy over random objects like sheets and glass of water, gouges his eyes out then goes out to his garden amidst much over-acting and film-negative cinematography.

1999- by The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre Table of Contents