A Director Who Painted on Film ; A New DVD Set Highlights Some of Stan Brakhage's 400 Abstract Films, Which Offer Rapidly Shifting, 'Dream-Like' Impressions of Life

By David Sterritt Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

A Director Who Painted on Film ; A New DVD Set Highlights Some of Stan Brakhage's 400 Abstract Films, Which Offer Rapidly Shifting, 'Dream-Like' Impressions of Life


David Sterritt Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Stan Brakhage, the subject of a superb new DVD set from the Criterion Collection, is hardly a household name. Comparatively few people have seen his movies, and no movie will ever show up at a multiplex near you.

This is odd, considering that Mr. Brakhage made more than 400 films before his death last March, ranging from nine seconds to six hours long.

He also wrote several books, lectured around the world, and - most important - dreamed up radical new theories of what movies can, could, and ought to be doing with the tremendous technical and artistic power at their disposal.

With all this to his credit, why isn't Brakhage a household name? One large reason is the far-reaching gap between his movies and what Hollywood has trained viewers to expect from film. His pictures rarely have stories or characters in the usual way.

Instead they are "pictures" in the most radical sense - rapidly shifting, frequently abstract, usually silent images that have less in common with the world we commonly look at than with the "closed- eye vision" that comes upon us when we're drowsing in our darkened bedrooms.

Brakhage found deep-seated emotional, intellectual, and spiritual wisdom in these dream-like apparitions, which tap into parts of conscious and unconscious thought we (literally) overlook in the course of our everyday lives.

The other big reason Brakhage is known to relatively few is his longtime dislike of video. He was concerned that its inferior image quality - compared with film - would dilute his colors and reduce the eye-dazzling impact his pictures have on a larger-than-life movie screen.

DVD has changed this equation, still falling short of film but offering images far more vivid than cassettes can provide. Moviegoers looking for adventure should welcome "by Brakhage: an anthology" with open arms, open eyes, and open minds. …

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