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This is a journal I keep to record all things I do within the realm of filmmaking.

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Sunday, March 4, 2007

Stan Brakhage

“Dog Star Man” is a reenactment of Brakhage's “artist”. In “Dog Star Man”, a bearded man and his dog are climbing up a dreary, snowy rock face with nothing more that an ax. The main character acts as an explorer, a conquerer even, as he climbs and chops his way up the mountain side. Parallels between the main character and the “artist” can be made; both are figurative trailblazers into the “fear” that Brakage claims blocks out “unlimited love”. The comparison could also be made between Brakhage and his “Dog Star Man” for the same reasons; Brakhage is an avant-garde filmmaker, forging a new path ahead for others to follow. “They create where fear before them has created the great necessity.” Through use of extreme cutting, dissolves, cross dissolves, and stock space footage, Brakhage creates a surreal, near hallucinogenic experience of one man's journey to travel through the “fear” and unknown towards some enlightenment or higher understanding.

“There is no need for the mind's eye to be deadened after infancy, yet in these times the development of visual understanding is almost universally forsaken.” Though “Window Water Baby Moving” may be considered too literal of an example, the philosophies in Brakhage's “Metaphors on Vision” mesh well with this work. The innocence of the child being born juxtaposed against the tainted eyes of Brakhage, Jane, and even the eye of the camera, can create a sense of empathy with the situation. Even though in today's society looking upon a woman in such detail during childbirth is considered taboo, Brakhage presents the birth in such a way that retains the credibility of the film rather than lowering the work into the realm of perversion. Though those who have lost that innocence of a child “can never go back, not even in imagination”, the immodest images in the film shows the reality and the joy of an innocent child coming into the world. Brakhage's exposure of the birth goes to such great lengths, that even Jane's genitalia are shaved so that the viewer can see even more detail of the birth. These images are not presented to offend, but rather to contradict the notion that what we see with our “prejudiced eyes” is anything but innocent.

Stan Brakhage was a visionary, and seemed to place his philosophies into his films. Not only do his characters forge their own paths into their own unexplored territories, Brakhage does as well by making these avant-garde films. Even though Brakhage's own eyes and his camera are not “innocent”, they beckon the audience to follow them on their journey to find that innocence again. Though Brakhage even states that no person can “go back”, the gesture towards this innocence is made worthy through these journey's that Brakhage creates, leaving a path for others to follow.

Sitney and Meshes of the Afternoon, by Jared Caldwell

Meshes of the Afternoon, a short film depicting one woman's journey within the context of a dream, is one of the first films to further explore where Buñuel and Dali left off within the surrealist movement at the end of the 20's. Though Meshes shares element with multiple styles, the film most closely resembles surrealism. P. Adam Sitney disagrees that Meshes of the Afternoon is a surrealist film because of the lack of the “standard function of dividing imagination from reality”. Instead of separating fantasy from reality, Meshes contains a double ending: one of which she shatters the mirror while in her dream state, the other with her throat slit with shards of glass.

Sitney considers Meshes of the Afternoon to be more of a personal trance film. Elements of the typical trance film are in scenes of Meshes; though the entire film takes place in or around a small condominium, the different parts of the house are presented in exotic ways to provide a pseudo landscape for the protagonist to travel through. Also, the protagonist “passes invisibly among people” due to the dream state she is in. These elements, along with the internal struggle the main character and the “quest for sexual identity” can also classify Meshes as a psycho-drama. “'This film is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual. It does no record an event which could be witnessed by other persons.'” Even though much of Meshes of the Afternoon is shot from a third person perspective, the internal and subconscious are shown externally through the dream. Daren used “a number of montage illusions which created spatial elisions or temporal ellipses for the sake of the psychological reality which informed their vision”. The way that Maya's character seems to almost float and dance around the house also adds to this feeling of some dream state. The use of dreams, montage, and the journey and struggle of the protagonist combine to create a unique perspective on the trance film.

For nearly the entire movie, a detailed dream sequence is used to illustrate the protagonists journey. The importance of dreams, a notion inspired by Freud, is heavily underlined in Meshes of the Afternoon. “The film-makers have observed with accuracy the way in which the events and objects of the day become potent, then transfigured, in dream as well as the way in which the dreamer may realize that he dreams and may dream that he awakes.” The use of the double person (or in the case of Meshes, the triple person), another element of Freudian thought, is shown during the dream sequence as the protagonist dreams of waking, spawning another clone of herself, and repeating the process.

Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon is an important film because this film started up a resurgence of thought in the direction of Dali and Buñuel amidst a smattering of “expressionistic, impressionistic, and realistic films” shown over a ten year hiatus. Meshes explores the subconscious through the use of dreams and symbols. As the protagonist delves into herself through these dreams, what she creates inside of her “dream world” is so powerful, she causes events to occur in reality. The power of dreams and the subconscious in this trance film, although it does not fit perfectly into any mold, is kosher with the thoughts and ideals of both the surrealist and Freudian “vehicles”, creating this work of the interior experience as opposed to the outward.

Jean Cocteau's Le Sang d'un Poete (Blood of a Poet), by Jared Caldwell

Jean Cocteau's “Blood of a Poet” is a film in the Surrealist vein. Some may argue that Cocteau was not part of the surrealist movement, therefore “Blood of a Poet” is more aligned with German Expressionism, yet there are so many undeniable similarities to Surrealism that one cannot ignore the influence of Surrealism in this work.

"'Thought expressed in the absence of any control exerted by reason, and outside all moral an aesthetic considerations.'" In “The Blood of a Poet”, Cocteau creates a sexual tension that is maintained throughout the film. When the artists is first introduced, he is shirtless, and is drawing some sort of androgynous form onto his easel. The shirtless man does not fit the stereotype of a disshoveled struggling artist; he is a masculine, fit, and confident-looking man. The appearance of the main character is just the beginning of sexuality in the film. After smudging out the mouth of the picture he drew, the hand appears alive on his hand, speaking to him. Soon after, the artist receives pleasure from the mouth, first with his own lips, his chest, and then the sexual foreplay escalates from there. The genderless mouth is then placed onto a nearby statue, bringing the statue to life. Not only are sexual boundaries explored, gender lines are also blurred. The statue, the artists drawing, and the painting in one of the rooms in the mansion all seem to have characteristics of both sexes. Even an angel, a male figure with feminine characteristics, makes slight homoerotic gestures towards a dead boy. These sexual themes are evident in nearly every scene of the film.

In the Surrealist fashion, Cocteau tampers with reality and fantasy to break “the shackles of logic and reason”. The mirror the artist encounters acts as a “barrier” between his world and this outer fantasy world he encounters. After going “into” the mirror, Cocteau changes what would be considered “reality” in the film. Even gravity is in a different direction on the other side of the mirror. When the artist “peeps” through the keyhole of the different rooms in the mansion, he is presented with these bizarre scenes on the other side of the door. In one room, a girl is levitating; in another room, an androgynous painting starts to come to life. After viewing all the rooms, the artists is persuaded to commit some sort of imaginary suicide. The logical progression in the film is skewed from the reality outside of the film.

The Dada love affair with the machine and the inanimate are countered with the “fear of the dehumanizing automaton”. As the artist is drawing in the beginning, the erased mouth becomes alive on his hand, and then the hand breathes life into the statue when the mouth becomes fixed as the living statues mouth. Other objects such as light fixtures, statues, other portraits gain different degrees of personification. These animated characters are a direct influence on the main character, coaxing him into alternate realities and even a pseudo-dream suicide.

Cocteau's “Blood of a Poet” is a surrealist film that deals with metaphysical and fantastical elements. The sexual innuendo and violent context of the film bring about an appropriately dark feel and mood onto the work. The surrealist notion of coming back to “art” after the Dada movement is prevalent in the film, thus giving “Blood of a Poet” if not a surrealist title, than at the very least a surrealist spirit.

Lynn Marie Kirby, by Jared Caldwell

Lynn Kirby, an avant-garde filmmaker, uses a wide array of film technology and philosophy when making her films. Kirby's films range in content from the feminine to the spiritual, political, and social. Kirby also uses a diverse toolset for creating her works. She originally began her work in film, but quickly switched to the video format when “editing for video” systems were developed. Later known for her work with digital video in the 90's, much of her work has been shown in a number of different forms, including the triptych. Kirby's body of work as a whole is diverse, with different messages and meanings conveyed in different settings and using different techniques of capture and editing.

When we were screening the “Time Dilations” series, the images she captures are not as pixel perfect as what can be achieved on newer consumer digital camcorder; rather, the images tend to become blurred and amalgamated together when there is a lot of motion, creating this “rare balance between austerity and playfulness” that Michael Sicinski of Cinema Scope mentions in his article “Incremental Framebusting: The Paragon Example of Lynn Marie Kirby”. When editing her work, Lynn relies on the manual controls of her digital editing deck to control the speed and direction of the film, as well as the sparadic crashes of her ancient editing computer to create some of her cuts. Lynn works within the limitations of her tools in order to create a “'way of looking at time and space both simultaneously and pulled apart'”.

A later work captured in a similar vein to “Time Dilations” is Kirby's “Twilight's Last Gleaming”. This latter work, which was originally presented on three separate screens in a triptych, uses Kirby's method of fast-forwarding and rewinding, computer “crash cuts”, as well as digital still frames created out of the colors of other images. What separates “Twilight's Last Gleaming” from her other digital video works is Kirby's use of music to shape the visual aesthetics of the film. The music Kirby chooses, not surprisingly, is the Jimmy Hendrix version of the film title. Kirby say that she “wants you to see the music of Jimmy Hendrix”. The images that collide across the triptych have a rhythm and a pulse that drive the work forward.

In Kirby's “Latent Light Excavations” series, Kirby uses film in unconventional ways. Instead of a camera, Kirby exposes the film on or near certain locations. An example of this film exposure technique is used in her film Golden Gate Bridge Exposure: Poised for Parabolas. Kirby chose to film the Golden Gate Bridge because of the number of people who have committed suicide by jumping off the bridge. These films attempt to capture what she calls “vibrations” from the surrounding area. The areas she chooses typically have a “social” or a “socio-spiritual” aspect to them. In essence, Kirby is trying to capture the “spirit” of these locations within these “Latent Light Excavations”.

Unafraid of venturing off in new directions with new and unconventional technology, Lynn Kirby presents new experiences within the constraints she places on her work (i.e. “crash” editing). The exploration of the temporal, the spiritual, and the social can be found throughout her work through her use of editing and capturing, whether that be through exposing canisters of film, using older editing systems, or using different mediums. Kirby plays these different forms of expression to her liking in such a way as to capture objects and events that could be everyday, and present them in new ways that add meaning.