Program notes for Stan Brakhage collection screening (10/11/1977)

WONDER RING (1955) 16mm. 4 mins. Color. Silent CAT'S CRADLE (1959) 16mm. 5 mins. Color. Silent SIRIUS REMEMBERED (1959) 16mn. 12 mins. Color. Silent WECHT FILM (1971) 16mm. 3mins. Color. Silent EYES (1970) 16mm. 36 mins. Color. Silent
"On a theme suggested by Joseph Cornell. A sharp change in Brakhage's work, we see New York's Third Avenue El (since demolished) as though through the eyes of a child on a merry-go-round." -Cinema 16
During the years (1961-1964) when Brakhage was working on his major work DOG STAR MAN, the family dog (who appeared in mythic form in DOG STAR MAM, together with the rest of the family household, a mountain, a tree and the stars) was "Brown Dog" Brown Dog's predecessor had been Sirius, named of course after the "Dog Star."
When Sirius had died, Jane Brakhage had insisted that he be layed out in the woods beyond the meadow, to disintegrate in the natural order of things. That winter and spring, Brakhage shot the loving and lyrical footage of which SIRIUS REMEMBERED is comprised.
Meanwhile, the arrival of spring brought a pungent, often overwhelming odor to the house. Sirius himself was far too decayed to be the sole source, prevailing winds notwithstanding, and the possibility of a dead squirrel or other creature rotting in the wall was gradually eliminated. Eventually the Brakhages realized that Brown Dog had been performing a fundamental canine ritual: he had been rubbing
against, rolling on, and generally covering himself with the smell of, SIRIUS.
Thus through ritual one dog perpetuated another.
By the time of this realization, SIRIUS REMEMBERED was completed, and the relationship of the film to Brown Don's ritual dance was immediate and striking to the Brakhaaes. With characteristic hand-held camera, Brakhage had generally filmed Sirius with panning, tracking, twisting shots in a variety of tempos, and these shots were edited to suggest a particular relationship of stasis and movement, of darkness and light. Like Brown Dog, Brakhage had re-membered Sirius.
-Bill Judson
Filmed in a Vermont farmhouse where Brakhage went to introduce Jane, with whom he was recently married, to his close friends Jim Tenney and Carole Schneeman — Tenney, Schneeman and the cat, Kitsch, later appeared in Schneeman's FUSES, the editing in this film stands in great contrast to that of the WONDER RING and gives one a sense of the various editing stratigies Brakage has at his use.
-Bill Judson
One roll of film "edited" in camera (memory of what has already been shot --no splices), a portrait of Allegheny County Coroner Scyril Wecht filmed at the same
EYES was filmed in Pittsburgh on September 25 and 26, 1970 in cooperation with the #2 Police Station.
"On-the-spot" coverage of unrehearsed action is a genre that newsreels and "cinema verite" ("direct cinema") have been making increasingly familiar to filmgoers for a long time.
EYES appears superficially to belong in this category. Repeated viewings, -how-ever, reveal that Brakhage has used the reporter's technique only as a point of departure. Something quite other is going on in this film none of his lyrical gift, his almost musical approach to vision, has been sacrificed in his treatment of a subject that would seem to resist any such approach.
In September of 1970, through the efforts of a Pittsburgh newspaper Photographer bide Chikiris, who had reacted sympathetically to a previous Brakhage film show at Carnegie Institute, an opportunity became possible to record the workings of the local nolice force. Chikiris knew some of the inspectors. They responded favorably and one of Brakhage's long time wishes came true- --"to handle cinomatonraphically, one of the 'mystical' occupations of our times"(I am quoting from a note he 'wrote 'for the Film-makers' Cooperative Catalogue)some of the more obscure Public Figures which the average imagination turns into 'booqeymen'-viz: Policemen, Doctors,
Soldiers Politicians."
"Police is a clear etymological derivative of 'polis' - (he goes on to say, quoting the poet, Charles Olson). "'Polis' is 'eyes' ...the police, then, are the public eyes, and they are, thus, expected to be Specialists of the ability-to-respond which most of the rest of Society has lost all Metro sense-of."
What Brakhage has come up with were is a small masterpiece of dispassionate compassion. Armed with his lightweight 15 inch, lense and shooting on extra sensitive stock he was able to take an inconspicuous, if not actually invisible place in the squad car, or behind it or in ill-lit corners of station houses and jail corridors. For several days he accompanied the members of the Pittsburgh Police Force on their rounds of duty. The main events that he treats are in critical focus. Each subject that the police deals with is a complete figure,'screen size, a bleeding corpse in a nutter, a battered bum, an annoyed prostitute, traffic violators, young vagrants.
The emotional impact of each "mission" is intensely felt. The I-Thou relationship is total the "I" being Brakhage - and consequently the viewing public, the "Thou" being suffering humanity.
But what of the policemen themselves - the protagonists? They, of necessity, (being between the camera and the subject) are fragmented, abstracted and depersonalized- the subtle potency of Brakhage
s camera viewpoint results not in his catching
most of the full figrues and faces (the usual vehicles of expressiviness) of the office officers, but their midriffs, - their pelvic regions, complete with belts and holsters handcuffs and wrist watches - and their hands, - hands familiarly at rest, thumbs hooked into pocket tops hands caressing fire-arms, lighting cigarettes, writing out summonses, polishing visors, giving directions- adjusting rearview mirrors and an array of such identifying details as nameplates, chevrons, wrist watches, tattoos, code cans, and countless other details.
Structurally monolithic, EYES is set in a parenthesis of clouds and waves,-sky at the start, sea at the finish. There are less than thirty splices in the whole film, Many scenes begin with the tell-tale single over-exposed frame then the entire shot has been used. Leaving these in is illustrative, of Brakhag's stated intention to downgrade the role of the -editor, - "that man,with the green eyeshade who makes everything look OK later at the cutting table", as he puts it. The material rolls out on the screen ostensibly, as it passed through the camera.
-Jerome Hill
time as ACT OF SEEING and given to Sally Dixon in appreciation of her assistance in making the Pittsburgh Trilogy possible, --Bill Judson
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