Stan Brakhage: Creating "A World of Love" through Poetry and Film

Year

2005
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When the experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage died in 2003, he was mourned not only by visual artists, but also by poets. In the summer 2003 issue of the Chicago Review, poet Lisa Jarnot wrote, "Stan taught me a new way of seeing, and when I look at the shadows of the tree tips as they rhyme across the night sky, I think of him, in all of his indestructible primal being."

Born in 1933, Brakhage was adopted by a couple hoping to stabilize their failing marriage; he eventually spent much of his childhood with his mother in Denver, Colorado. His first artistic ambition was to become a poet. However, his focus shifted after seeing Jean Cocteau’s Orphée in high school and coming to the realization that film had the potential to be a poetic medium. He left Dartmouth College after only two months and used his tuition money to buy filmmaking equipment.

Brakhage began to make films that discarded linear narration and focused instead on perception. Sometimes he painted directly onto the film; other times he organized his films around concepts, rhythms, or light. Fred Camper, a film critic for the Chicago Reader, wrote: "The sheer virtuosity of his work, the sensual beauty of his films' shapes and colors and textures, his creation of a unique and complex kind of visual music (most of his films are silent because the music comes from the screen), his appeal to the viewer as individual rather than as a member of a crowd, the ecstatic unpredictability of his spaces and rhythms, all assure the monumental importance of his close to 400 films, both individually and as a body of work."

Through his insistence on exploring the bounds of perception, poets and other artists felt deeply connected to Brakhage’s work. In his relationships he expressed a giving nature and a magnetic personality, and over the course of his life he developed friendships with poets such as Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and Ronald Johnson. The letters between these poets and Brakhage provide such insight into writing and poetry that the Chicago Review devoted an entire issue to them and other essays about or authored by Brakhage, titled Stan Brakhage Correspondences.

Jarnot wrote, "Stan’s history, like mine, included early violent disappointments in family and love. His solution was courageous—to insist on love, to imagine love, to build a world of love, and to leave record of that love in an epic body of creative work." Poets found solace in his work, and in turn he relied on the creative energy of poetry and his conversations with poets when conceptualizing his films.

Brakhage’s extensive oeuvre includes the films Wonder Ring, Anticipation of the Night, The Text of Light, Dog Star Man, Murder Star, Black Ice, and The Lion and the Zebra Make God's Raw Jewels.