Academic journal article Chicago Review

"Another Way of Looking at the Universe" (1997)

Academic journal article Chicago Review

"Another Way of Looking at the Universe" (1997)

Article excerpt

"Another way of looking at the universe" (1997)

STAN BRAKHAGE: There are some who would caution us about our use of language, who would say that there's no point in saying things like "primordial," that it's ridiculous to talk about a camera that's invented in the late nineteenth century and a projection mode and so on, and then to talk about how its touching the primordial mind-- they'd tell us it's absurd.

RONALD JOHNSON: Well, we've still got at the base of the spine that reptilian brain, so everybody's brain still goes back to the beginning of time. I don't see why we can't use "primordial."

SB: And I could make the case that film-just by the very fact that it was invented within the last century, or just a century ago-is beginning at a beginning, is fit to begin where anything began. And its closest kinship is cave painting. It's at a cave painting stage at best in its development.

RJ: That's one of the reasons that Guy Davenport is so fascinated by the cave paintings. Suddenly we realized that art itself was a human thing, that went all the way back. It's always been there. Man has always been gifted to articulate his perception of the universe in a very graceful and perceptive way from the very beginning.

SB: Why do you suppose?

RJ: I don't believe necessarily in God; I believe in a transcendence or something. I believe that brains were made to communicate with the universe. Life was always tending towards the human brain, so that the universe could start talking to itself. And the cave paintings make that very clear, because they're very technically agile and can handle certain things very well. Of course they were looking at animals, and lived in an animistic universe. And art became a conversation with their world.

SB: I don't want to overstate this case, because I'm living and enjoying much and appreciating nature, and my films show how much I deeply care. I'm paying homage to and re-presenting nature as one aspect of my work, and creating anew in thanks for what's been given to me. But also there is that thing I have-my sense of those cave beginnings, or any kid making a collection and storing it somewhere in the attic, hiding it, showing it maybe to his or her closest friend: all that is the anomaly of being human and being at odds with the given phenomenological world. So that's my feeling of it.

JIM SHEDDEN: Stan, you were talking last night about incomplete literary epics, and suggesting that incompletion was part of the form. How about film cycles or film epics-have you finished any of yours?

SB: Yeah. Dog Star Man, and it's fulsome spread as The Art of Vision. Scenes from Under Childhood is unfinished. It cost so much, and the grant was taken away, so I had to back up and kind of put an ending on it, and abandon it, so it's unfinished.

JS: You once divided your work into "The Book of Film," "The Book of Family," and so on.

SB: People always made the mistake of labeling me as the mountain-- hero-family man. And even across that period when Jane and I were together, when I made so many of those films, only a third of my work had anything to do with family. The rest of it-two thirds of it-was about many other subjects, about things that I was encountering on the road, or even up there. So at some point I had a sense of what could be called a book-in the sense that you can call a cathedral a book-what could be called "A Book of Family."

"The Book of Film" is where film presents that that only film could present, that's not leaning on picture or reproduction or anything, that by grace of thanks for all that's been given to me, for all the pictures that I've had across my life, that there come from me things that could only come from me that's given back in thanks like a little bouquet in the night, of the unnameable, the ineffable. And so in that sense, all of what other people would call my abstract films, which as you know I don't regard as abstract at all, are the most concrete pieces of my making, because they come most directly from my synapses and my thinking. …

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