Watched The Criterion Collection DVD, By Brakhage, which featured some of the more well known films of this avant-garde filmmaker. While some interesting shots, it once again shows how limited most avant-garde films are. Recently, with the death of painter Andrew Wyeth, I was reminded how so many portions of his paintings, taken by themselves, are as abstract as anything the Ab Exers painted; except that these were portions of his work, which were subsumed into a greater work of art, one not dependent upon the total imbuement of the viewer.
Similarly, Brakhage's films are often interesting ideas, mostly silent, that could work as portions of a larger film- interludes, or credit sequences, or even old fashioned internissions. Compared to someone like Chris Marker, who played not only with visuals, but narrative, and actually engaged his audience, Brakhage comes up short, well short. His influence can be seen, though, in many films. The most famous is the end of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was clearly modeled on portions of Brakhage's Dog Star Man. But, Kubrick does the very same thing that Wyeth did on canvas- he takes the experimental imagery and motion, and puts them to a higher purpose in his art.
That so few of Brakhage's films have sound shows his dedication to the image, but also his lack of true artistic push- to actually communicate something. His films are, in a sense, tools for hire, not the things those tools could make. Having seen many Warhol Factory films, and the like- going back from the silent era to modern Internet videos, much of Brakhage's work does not hold up. There's a juvenile quality about them, in the worst sense. I'll write a longer piece on this soon, but, for comparison, here is a film that shows just how short Brakhage's films fall. It is a film by a director who's name is unknown, but that I saw as a child on Sesame Street. Note how much more evocative it is than the several Brakhage shorts that follow. And it's not because there is a discernible narrative, but how the film's images build and open up the imagery to several interpretations. Brakhage's films- like the worst Modernist poetry, is open to almost limitless interpretation, therefore, it has no real meaning, and is not trying to communicate anything of intellectual heft. He wants you, the viewer, to declaim the film's 'genius,' rather than provide anything to actually erect that claim.
Here is the Sesame Street film:
Now, here are some Brakhage clips.
Now, is this film closer to the phosphenes you see when you rub your eyes, or is there anything that engages you, like the weeping flower?
Now, here's a clip from Dog Star Man:
And, just as a comparison, here is La Jetee, by Chris Marker:
Marker's film simply is FAR more inventive and daring, on multiple levels, than any of the films in the Brakhage DVD. Watch all of the above, and see for yourself.