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Moilsome Toilsome (1999)

| Short

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Amateur night at the movies.
28 October 2002 | by (Toronto, Canada) – See all my reviews

This short is a rare sojourn into live-action filmmaking by the legendary Stan Brakhage, during a period when so much time is given to painting directly onto the emulsion, thus forgoing the camera entirely. This piece is an impressionistic study of Brakhage and his family looking for whales on the west coast. Basically, for anyone not related to Brakhage, it's simply a home movie that nonetheless is allowed to be shown in public simply because of its creator. It adds insult to injury, too, that in the Brakhage retrospective which programmed this in 2000 with the director present, the usual bunch of indie snobs praise it unconditionally.

Now this a problem that I have with experimental filmmaking. When we see these glorified amateur home movies that we're supposed to be admiring as works of art, at what point does the "home movie esthetic" become an artistic choice rather than just a display of technical incompetence? In other words, can anyone with a Bolex can just slap together any piece of badly shot dirge and somehow get it accepted as avant garde? And you would think that after 40-plus years of making films, Stan Brakhage would be more aware of this dichotomy than anyone. This self-reliant, highly opinionated pioneer of independent cinema has carved out a massive body of work... and on the basis of this film, it would seem that he is more concerned with quantity than quality. Just because of his reputation, does that mean we have to see every little piece of whim that he feels like putting together? Does that mean this piece is supposed to say something?

MOILSOME TOILSOME fails as diary film, or even personal cinema for that matter. There is nothing wrong with a filmed record being made entirely for oneself, because even these pieces have some recognizable universality. But here, that point is hopelessly obscured. Where is the romance in this? Why are we seeing this? As it stands, this clumsily shot opus doesn't have a worthwhile composition in it. Oh yes, you do see the whales, however way in the background, and out of focus. Or is that an "esthetic choice"?


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