Stan Brakhage

David Sterritt

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
Stan Brakhage

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Stan Brakhage (b. 1933–d. 2003) is widely considered to have been the most innovative and prolific avant-garde filmmaker of the 20th century, exerting powerful influence on the field of nonnarrative cinema known variously as avant-garde, experimental, or poetic film. Although he initially planned to be a poet, he decided that his visual proclivities were stronger than his verbal ones and set about developing new forms of cinema that embodied what he later called “moving visual thinking.” His early works were emotionally fraught expressions of youthful anxiety, but after his marriage in 1957 he settled with his family in the Rocky Mountains. He then embarked on the mature phase of his career, having a series of artistic breakthroughs that culminated with his epic Dog Star Man (1961–1964), in which images of a man and dog scrambling up a mountain are intercut with a vast array of other material so as to evoke the intertwined themes of “birth, death, sex, and the search for God,” which subsequently dominated his work. In all, Brakhage made nearly four hundred films, ranging from nine seconds to several hours long. Many are photographed with a handheld camera, which he used as an extension of his body, engaging with his subjects in a sort of intuitive dance; others were made by painting on film, etching or scratching shapes into the emulsion, and otherwise breaking the rules of “correct” cinematography. Some observers have objected to what they see as sexist and patriarchal elements in Brakhage’s work, and many critics find the very idea of avant-garde film to be irrelevant in a culture where Hollywood movies reign supreme. Brakhage’s career amounted to a lifelong affirmation of poetic cinema, however. A self-described romantic who referred to his philosophically dense, structurally intricate films as “home movies,” he remains an important influence on younger generations of filmmakers and visual artists as well as critics and theorists of the moving image.

Article.  9979 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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