The recent death of Stan Brakhage was a great loss for American culture. Regarded by many as the most important experimental filmmaker of the 20th century, Brakhage endeavored to rescue film from the constraints of narrative--to prove that it can be an art. Attempting to replicate the qualities of light as perceived by the eye--especially closed-eye, or hypnagogic, vision--Brakhage's films expand the possibilities of the medium while presenting a highly personalized and subjective visual style. He often scratched or painted directly onto the film, and he employed sound sparingly, maintaining that the rhythm of the images was pronounced enough to render any added sound extraneous.
Film lovers and scholars should welcome the release of Criterion's two-disc DVD By Brakhage: An Anthology, which features 26 out of the more than 300 films he completed since he began making films in the mid-1950s. These include the epic Dog Star Man, which was named one of the 100 best films of all time by the Library of Congress; The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes, an incredible film featuring actual autopsy footage; and Window Water Baby Moving, a gorgeous and revolutionary document of the birth of Brakhage's first child. There are also a number of exquisitely gorgeous handpainted films, which can best be described as akin to witnessing a painting by one of the great Abstract Expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock, suddenly spring to life before your eyes.
Although the best way to see this work is in its original format, the high-definition digital transfers contained in this set were apparently prepared with great care.
By Brakhage includes interviews with the filmmaker as well as his commentary on some of the films. The interviews provide a fascinating overview of his aesthetics and include footage of the artist at work. Brakhage, a teacher who was well-versed in the history and development of all of the arts, succinctly labels his major concerns as "birth, sex, death and the search for God." The collection also includes an informative essay and written introductions to each film by Fred Camper, which should help to provide some context for the uninitiated.
Despite his status as one of the great thinkers and visual artists of the last half-century, Stan Brakhage never received the recognition he deserved. This collection should go a long way toward educating those who were previously unaware of his work while providing admirers with a unique opportunity for close study.