The most important living avant-garde filmmaker – Stan Brakhage
Brakhage’s films are usually silent and lack a story, being more analogous to visual poetry than to prose story-telling. He often referred to them as “visual music” or “moving visual thinking.” His films range in length from just a few seconds to several hours, but most last between two or three minutes and one hour. He frequently hand-painted the film or scratched the image directly into the film emulsion, and sometimes used collage techniques. For Mothlight (1963), for example, he taped moth wings, twigs, and leaves onto clear film and made prints from it. In the 1960s and 1970s especially, his life with his first wife Jane and their five children was frequently shown, though in a fragmented and interior way rather than as documentation.
Brakhage’s work covers a variety of subjects and techniques. Window Water Baby Moving (1959) is a record of the birth of his first child, while 23rd Psalm Branch (1966-67) is a meditation on war that intercuts footage of Colorado, where he lived, with shots of World War II. Dog Star Man (1961-64), perhaps his most famous work, features a man climbing a mountain, shots of stellar objects and more footage of his wife giving birth. It is usually read as addressing the unity of creation. The same footage was also made into a much longer film, The Art of Vision. Works from his later periods include the four-part “Faust Series” (1987-89), the four-part “Visions in Meditation” (1989-90), “Passage Through: A Ritual” (1991), and “The Vancouver Island Quartet” (1991-2002). One of his last works was the thirty minute hand-painted film, “Panels For the Walls of Heaven”, the last of the four Vancouver Island films. He also completed several more collaborations with musicians, including two more works with music by James Tenney, “Christ Mass Sex Dance” (1991), and “Ellipses #5” (1998).
Brakhage began working in 1937 when he trained as a singer and pianist until 1946. He performed as a boy soprano on live radio and for recordings. In 1952 he dropped out of college and began to make films; he was nineteen.There were some of the avant-garde people that would influence him in the next few years. In 1954 Brakhage went to New York where he met the composer John Cage. He then studied informally with another composer, Edgard Varese. In New York he became acquainted with avant-garde filmmakers, including Maya Deren, Marie Menken, Willard Maas, Jonas Mekas and Kenneth Anger. In 1955 he met and shot a film for Joseph Cornell. In 1956 Brakhage worked for Raymond Rohauer in Los Angeles. Brakhage also did his first public lecturing on film in Rohaver’s theater. Between 1956 and 1964 Stan Brakhage worked on many commercial film projects, including television commercials and industrial films.