The Visions of Stan Brakhage

Experimental Response Cinema presents three nights of his work

"We could go for weeks. He has 400 films, so it could be quite an endeavor." Filmmaker and Experimental Response Cinema founder Scott Stark on the work and legacy of Stan Brakhage.

When looking at any filmmaker's career, especially one that lasts over 50 years, it can be hard to know where to begin. With experimental pioneer Stan Brakhage, whose work stretched from experiential documentaries to hand-crafted celluloid collages, even dipping a toe in can feel like a deep dive into an ocean of innovation.

Austin-based filmmaker and installation artist Scott Stark first saw some of Brakhage's work when he was at film school in Madison, Wisconsin, but it was a series at UCLA that really exposed him to his work. In short order, he said, "I saw a bunch of it, and it was really amazing." Later, he attended the San Francisco Art Institute in the early Eighties, where Brakhage had taught film history and aesthetics. "He came there several times to show his work, and he was definitely in his prime at that point. I saw a lot of work from different filmmakers, including his. I was finding my own work as a filmmaker at that point, and it was very good to see his work and be inspired by it."

This weekend, Stark and the Experimental Response Cinema he founded in Austin present three different programs of the experimenter's work, each at a different location: AFS Cinema and grayDUCK Gallery in Austin, and the Masur Gallery in Lockhart. Three shows may sound like a lot, but the bigger question is, how to curate only a few hours out of the hundreds that Brakhage shot, assembled, re-assembled, handpainted, glued, re-shot? His massive catalog is still being archived and maintained by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film Archive, with films varying from the four and a half hour The Art of Vision to micro-shorts like his Roman Numeral quintet and "Hell Spit Flexion." Stark said, "We could go for weeks. He has 400 films, so it could be quite an endeavor."

“It’s really about the visual structure, and these punctuations that start to happen in your head that are musical in many ways. It takes some training to get used to that, but I think it’s a very rich experience.”
However, the guiding light is the recent republication of Brakhage's 1967 book Metaphors on Vision, after which the series is named. After being out of print for almost four decades, New York's Anthology Films Archive and publisher Light Industry collaborated with author and editor P. Adams Sitney to create a new and definitive edition. With the book published, Stark said, "They approached me, and I thought this was really exciting. Brakhage's work hadn't really shown here too much, so I put it back to them. 'What do you suggest we show?'"

That's where the three program format originated. The first includes four of his earliest works, which Brakhage wrote about in the book. "The second," Stark said, "[Light Industry] had done something with what they call the Pittsburgh trilogy, one of his trilogies that he shot in the early Seventies, and they said, 'People seem to really like it.' Then we thought, what do we do for the third program? And we thought, why don't we do something different? Not just him, but maybe something of his influences. One that came to mind was Marie Menken, who was a filmmaker from the late Forties through the mid Sixties, who apparently was a big influence on him, and we've been looking to do a Marie Menken series for a long time as well."

For Stark, the selection (including the Menken work) shows the evolution of Brakhage, from the initial, more dramatic projects to "what he's known for later, the more personal, silent films."

Brakhage's films were beautiful, but also often extremely visceral. The first night includes "Window Water Baby Moving," his intimate capturing of the birth of his first child, Myrrena: at the other end of life, volume two includes "The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes," which includes actual autopsy footage. Unlike many experimental filmmakers. "We may even have to preface that a little bit in the show for people who aren't familiar with his work. You aren't going to hear any sound in these films. So you'll hear people making noise next to you, but it's really about the visual structure, and these punctuations that start to happen in your head that are musical in many ways. It takes some training to get used to that, but I think it's a very rich experience."

Metaphors on Vision 1: Early Stan Brakhage. Feb. 11, 7pm, AFS Cinema, 6406 N. I-35.

Metaphors on Vision 2: Brakhage in the 70s. Feb. 12, 7:30pm, grayDUCK Gallery, 2213 E. Cesar Chavez.

Metaphors on Vision 3: Stan Brakhage and Marie Menken. Feb. 13, 8pm. Spellerberg Projects, Masur Gallery, 119 W. San Antonio, Lockhart.

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Experimental Response Cinema, experimental film, Scott Stark, Stan Brakhage

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