Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

On Canadian Painting and Cinema

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

On Canadian Painting and Cinema

Article excerpt

Editor's Note: In March 1988 the Saskatchewan Film Pool brought Stan Brakhage and Bruce Elder to Regina for screenings and discussions of their and other avant-garde filmmakers' films. The event was organized by Richard Kerr. Brakhage presented his lecture, illustrated with slides and films, on 12 March 1988. In the transcript of the lecture presented here, a few digressions and exchanges with audience members have been deleted (indicated by ellipsis marks) in order to maintain the lecture's focus on Brakhage's observations on Canadian painters and filmmakers. At the same time, the occasional verbal slips, incomplete sentences, ambiguous references, and the like have been retained in an effort to reproduce on the printed page (as far as it is possible to do so) the "voice" of the speaker. A complete transcript of the lecture is on file at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, Concordia University, Montréal. My thanks to Brett Kashmere at Concordia for providing a copy-edited version of the transcript, and to Marilyn Brakhage for granting permission to publish it here.

When I was a child and I first heard the term "to bring coals to Newcastle," I was very puzzled by it because as a child I didn't know Newcastle. I didn't know it was the coal centre of England. AH I knew were the words "new" and "castle," so I had this picture of a prince bringing a lump of coal to a new castle, which was very white up on the hill with spirals and so on, fluffy cloud bits here and there in it, bringing this piece of coal up to this shiny new fairytale book castle. It was a compelling image, so I was persuaded. I recognized by the way adults were using the phrase that they knew it was something you weren't supposed to do. But very early I began to question things that adults automatically said you weren't supposed to do, and I thought it was a compelling image. Later I learned more about Newcastle and "coals to Newcastle," that it would be absurd to be bringing coal into the coal centre of England. I had to rethink my attitude, but essentially I came back to an even more strengthening favouring of this interpretation, because then I had been fortified by my childhood emotions. (I'm telling you, by the way, a lot about how I work and live as I spin off this yarn.) I knew by then that people grow so habitual in their attitudes towards something that they are like fish in water. As Newcastle people must be with coal. I thought that there would be nothing more wonderful than someone who would bring incredible complexity and crystalline wonder of a hardened black (but multi-shaded black) and sudden glistening piece of coal to Newcastle people, and show them in all senses the wonder of something that they were producing for the world.

So that's my only excuse, by way of apology, as you do have this "Stan Brakhage presents Canadian Film Art" which otherwise is utterly presumptuous. Ordinarily, people born and raised in Canada have told me that they have the Group of Seven presented to them so continually and constantly, in such an assumption of Canadian culture in public schools, that by the time they are in the sixth grade they are entirely sick of them. The public schools have reproductions (and I have not been in any of them so I don't know what the quality of reproductions they are) and no doubt they have the problems of all reproductions of paintings. These are presented so steadily to the Canadian populace that they have become bored. The problem of hanging a picture on a wall, particularly in a public institute, is that very quickly it disappears there. Your first day of school, something to the left of the clock that's a glorious sunset of a reproduction of a Canadian landscape painting, might be very intriguing to a child, but by the sixth grade the clock has totally triumphed over it for many years. These pictures do tend to disappear into the walls where they are, unless people absolutely lie to themselves that they are blinded by some of them. …

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