003550Reviews & Counting
By Brakhage: An Anthology, Vol. One and Two
BLU-RAY disk
A collection a 56 films by avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage (1933-2003).
Author’s note: The text found below should not be considered a “traditional” review. The words are merely the first-draft observations of an underpaid web critic who, hardly familiar with the works of Stan Brakhage, ignored his best judgment and requested this 11 ½ hour collection of experimental films.

Stan Brakhage was an experimental filmmaker/documentarian whose filmography extends nearly 400 works, shot in 16mm and 8mm stock. Seven years after the release of the two-disc By Brakhage: An Anthology DVD, The Criterion Collection unveils an add-on (compiled with the previous set) titled An Anthology: Volumes One and Two. The three-disc set holds 56 (approx. 15%) of Brakhage’s films, dating from 1954 to 2003, the year of his death.

Found here are his best known film, such as his “epic” Dog Star Man (‘61-‘64) and 23rd Psalm Branch (’66-’67) , an often horrifying two-part view of war made during the height of the Vietnam Conflict. There are also “travel films” like the four-part Visions of Meditation (‘89-’90), glimpses of nature and animals (‘94’s The Mammals of Victoria, ‘77’s The Domain of the Moment).

And then there are those shorts best left dusty and hidden, forgotten somewhere in one’s personal vault. There is Wedlock House: An Intercourse (‘59), which captures Brakhage and his first wife arguing and sexing; Window Water Baby Moving (‘59), a record of his first child’s birth; and the most disturbing inclusion, The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (‘71), which consists entirely of autopsy footage.

For hallmarks, Brakhage was one who toyed and tinkered with light and exposure, superimposition, rapid cutting, a handheld camera, no camera, skewed images, limitless color and shape, and painting and pasting on actual film (‘63’s Mothlight, ’81’s The Garden of Earthly Delights).

That is what he did and these are his films. And they’re groundbreaking and experimental and avant-garde...But, readers, it is all so boring and pretentious, really little more than a massive collection of blobs, blurs, scratches, flickers, scribbles, distortion, fuzz, and skat, found aesthetically something-or-the-other only to those who think it hip to do so.

Their favorite selection is not likely to be mine: Eye Myth, all of nine seconds.

Volume 1:
Wedlock House: An Intercourse
Dog Star Man
The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes
Cat’s Cradle
Window Water Baby Moving
Eye Myth
The Wold-Shadow
The Garden of Earthly Delights
The Stars are Beautiful
The Dante Quartet
Night Music
Rage Net
Glaze of Cathexis
Delicacies of Molten Horror Synapse
Untitled (For Marilyn)
Black Ice
Study in Color and Black and White
Crack Glass Eulogy
The Dark Tower
Commingled Containers

Volume 2:
The Wonder Ring
The Dead
Two: Creeley/McClure
23rd Psalm Branch
Scenes from Under Childhood, Section One
The Machine of Eden
Star Garden
The Process
Burial Path
Duplicity III
The Domain of the Moment
Murder Psalm
Arabic 12
Visions in Meditation #1
Visions in Meditation #2 (Mesa Verde)
Visions in Meditation #3 (Plato’s Cave)
Visions in Meditation #4 (D.H. Lawrence)
Unconscious London Strata
Boulder Blues and Pearls and…
The Mammals of Victoria
From: First Hymn to the Night - Novalis
I Take These Truths
The Cat of the Worm’s Green Realm
Yggdrasill: Whose Roots are Stars in the Human Mind
“…” Reel Five
Persian Series 1-3
Chinese Series
Disc One:

Encounters: Collected are four “video encounters” with Stan Brakhage. In I (9:07), the filmmaker reads from personal writings and discusses the idea of “chance operations” and his signature title cards. In II (8:42), he goes into his connection to poets/poetry and the lack of thought that stems from Hollywood movies. In III (8:54), he discusses working with an 8mm camera and the “truthful Xanada of mountain living.” In IV (9:35), Brakhage talks about the themes of his films and his works with paint.

Also included are Brakhage’s “audio remarks on selected films.”

Disc Two:

Salons: In this collection of excerpts from group discussions held at the University of Colorado (known as “Sunday salons”), three Brakhage films are focused on: 23rd Psalm Branch (3:53), in which the filmmaker reflects on Freud’s impact on his life; Scenes from Under Childfood, Section One (5:15), where he acknowledges the “dark side of [childrens’] existence”; and Murder Psaslm (2:06), in which he reflects on the three-day production done in a “fit…a sense of horror that came from a nightmare.”

Interview (36:58): In this 1990 interview, conducted by film critic and writer Marilynne Mason, Brakhage discusses the idea of “artist as litmus,” the art process being for “revelation,” the importance of integrity, and much more.

Lecture: This audio-only lecture, recorded at the Museum School of Fine Arts in 1996, is a thorough account by Brakhage, in which he passionately details his work, philosophies, and views on art.

Disc Three:

Salons: Here, two Brakhage films are focused on: Boulder Blues and Pearls and… (2:30), in which the filmmaker talks about the qualities of Boulder, CO; and The Cat of the Worm’s Green Realm (1:56), which he describes as a story that is “purely visual.”

For Stan (15:43) is a tribute made by his widow, Marilyn, that is highlighted by footage of Brakhage at work.

Encounters: There are three here. In I (6:13), the filmmaker discusses his history with Joseph Cornell. In II (7:16), he considers the terms “experimental film” and “avant-garde.” In III (7:02), Brakhage concludes that “life sculpts me.”

Lecture: This audio-only lecture, recorded in 1996 at the University of Colorado, has Brakhage discussing Gertrude Stein’s poem Stanzas in Meditation, which he calls “the most inspirational long poem to me in the 20th century.

Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 92-page booklet with a foreword and notes by Marilyn Brakhage; essays and film descriptions by Brakhage expert Fred Camper; and an essay titled “The Hair in the Gate: Preserving Brakhage” by Academy Film Archive preservationist Mark Toscano.
The Criterion Collection has undeniably put together a very impressive and extensive box set of the late Stan Brakhage's work. What is questionable is whether the works warrant a Blu-ray release, as "no restoration tools have been applied" for the video and the bulk of the titles are without soundtrack. As expected, this 689-minute set is strictly for die-hard Brakhage enthusiasts only.
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