Working completely outside the mainstream, Stan Brakhage has made nearly 400 films over the past half century. Challenging all taboos in his exploration of "birth, sex, death, and the search for God," Brakhage has turned h... more »is camera on explicit lovemaking, childbirth, even actual autopsy. Many of his most famous works pursue the nature of vision itself and transcend the act of filming. Some, including the legendary Mothlight, were made without using a camera at all. Instead, Brakhage has pioneered the art of making images directly on film itself??starting with clear leader or exposed film, then drawing, painting, and scratching it by hand. Treating each frame as a miniature canvas, Brakhage can produce only a quarter- to a half-second of film a day, but his visionary style of image-making has changed everything from cartoons and television commercials to MTV music videos and the work of such mainstream moviemakers as Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and Oliver Stone. Criterion is proud to present 26 masterworks by Stan Brakhage in high-definition digital transfers made from newly minted film elements. For the first time on DVD, viewers will be able to look at Brakhage's meticulously crafted frames one by one.« less
J. W. Kennedy | Richmond, VA United States | 07/24/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I'm reluctant to air my disappointment amongst so many glowing 5-star reviews, but honestly, I felt a little cheated after watching this collection. According to the copy on the back of the box, Brakhage made "nearly 400 films" over the last fifty years. I'm sure more than half of those films were brilliant and fascinating. Unfortunately, this anthology is heavily weighted towards the last fifteen years of Brakhage's career, when he developed an almost unhealthy obsession for abstract painting directly on film stock. These works are, as I said, abstract. They are formless, kinetic, and actually quite fascinating ... for the first 2 minutes. But after that you start to get the feeling that you are watching static. Slight variations in color sheme, speed, and direction of movement do not save these pieces from all looking the same. And 17 of the 26 films in this collection are Brakhage's "painted static." Three would have sufficed, leaving room for more variety of Brakhage's earlier work. I made the mistake of trying to watch disc 2 all in one sitting, and I could not. The painted pieces are hypnotic, and let's face it, BORING. I could not keep my eyes open. I recommend it for insomniacs.Before you start objecting that I "just don't get" these films: I went to art school, I know all the B.S. that artists use to justify such work, and I don't believe any of it. Artwork should be able to stand on its own, and most of these painted films do not. If you have to explain your art, and make excuses for it, then you have failed in conveying your message, and you have failed aesthetically. Don't get me wrong. Brakhage was a genius. I actually saw him in person at a festival back in 1996. At my first viewing of "Mothlight," I thought it was brilliant - and I still think so. The first disk of this set is excellent. "Dog Star Man" is unarguably a masterpiece, a true work of genius. "Wedlock House" is fascinating in the way it uses a moving light source to establish a rhythm, to shift instantly from abstract to representational and back again, to separate characters from background, and define action. And of course, the grisly autopsy film "The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes" is compelling not only due to its subject matter, but also the elegant way in which it was shot, and the gradually increasing pace of the editing.If this had been a single disc, I would have given it 5 stars. But the second disc takes away from my overall impression and I must, unfortunately, give Brakhage a mere 3."
Essential experimental films
James L. | Virginia, United States | 10/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I rented this and watched it carefully over a period of days. Now I'm going to buy it from one place or another. It's one of the few DVDs I'd call essential, for me at least. To answer the one-star reviewers who thought these films are just "pretentous," "boring," or "huh?," I have this to say. "Meh." If this isn't your type of thing at all, then who cares what you think? I won't bother to read your reviews of Xenakis CDs either. Go back to watching "An Officer and a Gentleman" or something. One reviewer who had something intelligent to say was miffed at the lack of mid-period Brackage films. That's a good point. I didn't get much of a sense of what he was trying to do in the 70's. There's just two from that decade in the set and it's not enough. But I disagree with this guy about the value of the later films, which do dominate the second disc. I think that they're all very different and intensely fascinating in different ways. I wouldn't recommend watching more than 5 or 6 in one sitting. But if you watch a few in a dark, completely silent setting (I like my noise-blocking headphones), I think you might find that these are some of the most interesting films you could hope to see. These aren't just random paintings on film strung together. There are specific patterns, colors, shapes and movements that dominate each film, as well as the underlying images on the film, all of which give a definite identity to each one. Looking at some of them a second time after a few days I found myself saying, "Oh yeah, that one!" That wouldn't happen if there wasn't some shape or character to the films. Dog Star Man, the main item on disc 1, is a great film, and lots of people have thought so, for lots of reasons, for a long while. Not much more to say about that. In the interviews and comments on the disc, Brakhage can sometimes come across as overly arty, referential, and yes, pretentious. But his films aren't at all. Because in the films Brakhage was putting his considerable talent, insight and energy into what he really knew how to do, making something he hadn't seen before, but wanted to see. That's just real explicative-deleted-by-Amazon art, folks."
Excellent release by Criterion
Ted | Pennsylvania, USA | 11/20/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Before seeing this anthology, I had never heard of Stan Brakhage. The Criterion Collection did a great service to the experimental film community be releasing 26 of his nearly 400 films. Sadly, he died a few months before this was released and never got a chance to see the finished work. He has been called the Jackson Pollock of filmmakers. Many of his films are hand painted. He would take blank film stock and paint directly on the film.
This release has interviews with Brakhage and audio commentary on selected films. The liner noted contain a description of each film featured.
Disc one contains the following films: "Desistfilm," "Wedlock House: An Intercourse," the "Dog Star Man" quintilogy, and "The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes"
Note that "Wedlock house" contains an explict sex scene and "act of seeing" contains extremely graphic footage of a real autopsy.
Disc two contains the others. "Cat's Cradle," "Window Water Baby Moving" (Brakhage filmed the birth of his first child Myrrena. The film has graphic content and may offend some people.) "Mothlight" (moth wings glued to the film stock) "Eye Myth" (Brahage's shortest film at 9 seconds) "The Wold Shadow" "The Garden of Earthly Delights" "The Stars are Beautiful" "Kindering" "I...Dreaming" "The Dante Quartet" "Nightmusic" "Rage Net" "Glaze of Cathexis" "Delicacies of Molton Horror Synapse" "Untitled (For Marylin" "Black Ice" "Study in Color and Black and White" "Stellar" "Crack Glass Eulogy" "Dark Tower" "Commingled Containers" "Love Song"
This is a must buy for those interested in some of the most unique films ever made. His widow is still living and many of his other films are available for rental in 16mm format."
Brilliant, but dear God it's boring...
Too many movies, too little time | Washington state, USA | 07/28/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"If you are a serious film buff, you will want to see this. If you are not, don't waste your time. I can sit through long shows that most people would find tedious (hey, I've watched Wagner's 'Ring' cycle live three times), but it was a real stretch to make it through 'Dog Star Man.' I kept looking at the timer on my DVD's read-out to see how much time was left (something I've never done while watching 5-hour operas), and it's only about an hour long.
Why is Brakhage important? For reasons similar to James Joyce; he believed in using the inner narrative to tell a story. Does that mean either one of them is something you'll really want to sit down with for an enjoyable evening of entertainment? Only if you're in the right mood, and have 'worked up' to it, so to speak. Brakhage's work is meant to think about, not to like or dislike.
I admire how he looks at film in ways other than most people. However, that doesn't mean I'd want a steady diet of his work. I borrowed this from my public library, and am glad I did for two reasons: a) I finally got to see his work, and I really wanted to see 'Dog Star Man,' because it's on the National Film Registry; and b) because now I realize that I don't want to actually buy this DVD. Before buying, you might want to do the same thing, if you can.
Kudos to Criterion for putting the effort into the compilation. They did a great job. Thank you for putting in the interviews and voice-overs. Otherwise, this work would have been rather incomprehensible."
A Haunting Overview of a Life's Work in Film
Nicholas Croft | New York | 04/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This two-disc DVD set contains twenty-six experimental films by Stan Brakhage. The total playing time is approximately two hundred and forty-three minutes. Three short video encounters of the filmmaker are included on disc two, and a 24-page booklet, of supporting documentation by Fred Camper, is supplied in the deluxe DVD case.Disc one consists of four films, shot mostly before 1964, with Brakhage in his role as a mountain dwelling family man. Here he photographs a drunken party, scenes of himself making love to his wife and uses extended shots of himself as a woodsman chopping logs. The first three films are mostly edited in an abstract manner, with a generous use of multiple exposures. The fourth film, "The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes", is a more literal exploration of the facts surrounding bodily death. It is shot with a sense of reverence and distant objectivity towards the remains of the human body.Disc two consists mostly of silent films. The first two consist of representational images and deal with both sex and childbirth. Most of the next twenty films were made by hand painting film stock and then using a range of optical printing techniques to achieve an amazing spatial/temporal image sequence variety. The highlight of this set of films is "Untitled ( For Marilyn )" [ 1992 ]. This film intercuts existential poetry, Brakhage's hand film painting techniques and haunting processed photography of a local church.Much as in the reading of good poetry texts, one should perhaps watch these films a few at a time, in order to savor the nuances available in each work.The short video "encounters" with the artist suggest, that even with his retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, Brakhage wonders whether pursuing a life as a filmmaker might be considered to be madness. One can clearly see the wisdom of his life's choice, however, in the act of viewing these captivating experimental films."