Stan Brakhage (1933-2003) was possibly the most important filmmaker of the avant-garde and one of the greatest artists of our time. From 1952, at the age of nineteen, until his death, Brakhage created more than 400 films, ranging in length from several seconds to several hours, constantly and consistently redefining cinematic art. The film BRAKHAGE explores the depth and breadth of the filmmaker's genius, the exquisite splendor of his films, his magic personal charm, his aesthetic fellow travelers and the influence his work has had on generations of other creators. While touching on significant moments in Brakhage's biography, the film celebrates Brakhage's visionary genius and explores the extraordinary artistic possibilities of cinema, a medium mostly known only for its commercial applications in the form of narratives, cartoons, documentaries and advertising. BRAKHAGE combines excerpts from Brakhage's films and films of other avant-garde filmmakers (George Kuchar, Jonas Mekas, Willie Varela, Bruce Elder and others); interviews with Brakhage, his friends, family, colleagues and critics; archival footage of Brakhage spanning the past thirty-five years; and location shooting in Colorado and New York. BRAKHAGE was directed by Jim Shedden, produced by Alexa-Frances Shaw and executive produced by Ron Mann. An original score was composed for the film by long-time Brakhage associate and noted avant-garde composer James Tenney.
Adequate, unduly rushed documentary
The movie does a serviceable job of setting out the broad trajectory of Brakhage's career and the development of his interests (although relies too much on archival PBS and such footage in which Brakhage is apparently dumbing-down his theories for mass consumption), but seems unduly rushed; when it's asserted at the end that Brakhage stands as one of the two or three most important filmmakers of all time, it's impossible to agree on the basis of the evidence that's been presented. This gets especially difficult in respect of the later work, which looks here like a resort to primitivism and abstraction based on sheer exhaustion as much as on anything more cerebral. On a more straightforwardly curious level, one wonders about such missing elements as Brakhage's early life, or how he managed to finance what looks like a reasonably comfortable life out of such commercially marginal endeavours. Brakhage looks now like an avuncular figure, lumbering around with his (grandkids?), open about his bladder problems, at one point singing Old Man River - it's all pleasant enough but seems distinctly incidental, and the movie shows too little of the younger and allegedly edgier, more difficult Brakhage. The film whets the appetite reasonably well, but ultimately one can't help but think it would be a more appropriate metaphorical tribute to his work if it wasn't itself so conventional and straightforward.
- Sep 3, 1999
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