While Norman McLaren's work was utterly tasteful, I feel that Brakhage displayed an elegance rarely seen. One might say McLaren is to Mozart as Brakhage is to Beethoven. I want to know: is this why McLaren found such embrace in Canada, and Brakhage found such solitude in the States?
His work may be criticized as scientific, but his transcendence of inherent distinctions between art and science is exciting, even today. And what continues to be exciting is the anti-materialism of his work...
I was very centered on the American abstract expressionist movement. I was always interested in ineffable shapes that, if you were going to name them, would be biological rather than mathematical: shapes related to nerves, to cells, to the honeycomb of the bones, to the synapse system in the brain. Whether they were conscious of it or not, the abstract expressionists were always painting closed-eye vision, and I wanted to include that in film, since my impulse always was to include everything that you might see within the possibilities of filmmaking: closed-eye vision, daydreams, nightdreams, and so on.
And while anti-materialism is an aspect of all abstract work, it is interesting to consider the commodification of abstract expressionist paintings in contrast to Brakhage's struggle to find an audience.
Brakhage's work started out as (gorgeous) documentation - he abhorred the term abstract; but it applies to his films. I guess I say that because abstraction requires commitment of its audience, which is certainly true of his work. His compositions came to be based on light acting as a musical score in itself. His images immediately call to mind the sound of Cecil Taylor.
I feel Brakhage's distance from symbolism is what continues to make his films brilliant. And though this strays from the realm of animation, how could I discuss Brakhage without touching on Window Water Baby Moving? On further tangent, Brakhage and Bill Viola make an interesting comparison.
Only a ghost film could possibly break through thought-bonds of language and exist as, say, movement haunt, tone-texture haunt, ineffable-haunt. The sense of such a film might naturally exist within the spectator, very like the kind of passing image which prompts dreams that cannot be verbalized to one's breakfast companion or psychoanalyst. Such a film might eventually prompt whole new ways of recollection that are essentially free from language?indeed might prompt whole new definitions of what "language" might eventually come to be...an un-nouned, non-dichotomous series of light-glyphs available for arrangements of cathectic exchanges which directly reflect each person's synapsing inner nervous system.
Fred Camper said, "A narrative film creates an arc of expectation that sets up conflicts and tensions the viewer expects to have resolved — or at least, lead to some form of conclusion. Brakhage's films are organized according to a precisely opposite principle. There is no overarching or predictable form; his emphasis is on each instant of perception. One way he achieves this emphasis is by organizing his films around unpredictable changes in composition, subject-matter, and rhythm: each small pattern that a film sets up is violated just at the moment when you think you have finally apprehended it. The process of viewing a Brakhage film becomes part of the film's subject; in answer to the passivity encouraged by a mainstream commercial narrative movie, Brakhage requests active participation. Relaxing one's perceptions when the lights dim, as many movie viewers are accustomed to doing, won't work here: one must learn to see faster, more precisely, and more deeply."
Brakhage enabled this to exist.
A few of his films, which total at least four hundred (though the quality is... that of youtube, there is something to be gained from observing the timing and spacing of color and gesture):
post by eli