Throughout his entire career, Stan Brakhage has struggled to remain true to his personal vision of filmmaking. Jim Shedden has captured the details of this remarkable journey in his seventy-five minute documentary "Brakhage". It is the captivating story of a filmmaker who goes inward in order to find the existential meaning of his art.
The documentary weaves observations by film critic Bart Testa, filmmaker Phil Solomon and film historian P. Adams Sitney around both recent and historical interviews with Stan Brakhage and his family. It shows just enough of Brakhage's original film art to whet the appetite for the Criterion Collection's "By Brakhage" DVD set. Brakhage originally shot his early works in an economically demanding 16mm film format, but later, also worked extensively with the more frugal 8mm. He wanted to "live with his films" in order to be able to work with and contemplate them as an integral part of his domestic life.
There are two major arcs to Stan Brakhage's career. The first involves his years of marriage to Jane and the many autobiographical films that were made in the setting of their Colorado mountain home. The second body of work was generated after his second marriage to Marilyn. It involves the hand painting of clear film stock with colored markers and dyes. Many of these films, from both periods, are intended to be viewed in silence in order to help heighten the viewer's sense of sight.
The "Brakhage" documentary does, however, contain an audio score by James Tenney. Tenney is an experimental musician who has done pioneering computer audio research, with Max Mathews at Bell Labs, back in the early 1960's. In this film, Mr. Tenney's sparse sound work infuses an air of bittersweet mystery into both new and archival film footage.
For fans of avant-garde cinema, the experience of encountering "Brakhage" will be one of quiet inspiration, gentle surprise and welcome education. This is an important film to add to any personal library on contemporary art.