Stan Brakhage II

film 6 of 27


Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 18, 2015

Wonderful idea! Brakhage mounts moth wings and flower petals between strips of splicing tape, and transfers the whole thing to film. The resultant projection is not an illusion or a metaphor. It’s the thing itself. In some ways Mothlight is like the story Jean Renoir tells of hanging his dad’s paintings in that barn, as he and Paul Cezanne Jr. escaped from occupied France. At first you’re horrified, alarmed, or at least discomfited. Look though. You wouldn’t normally think it, but these priceless images absolutely belonged there. Here Brakhage is saying, pretty well demonstrating and proving, the same idea. Art shouldn’t be restricted to museums, or always entrapped in a frame. Art should be in your life, right in that space with you, like a frescoe.

Only this time, with this film, Brakhage is not thinking completely about art. We’re to add science to the mix, or maybe zoology.

So far so good. But we’re new to these films, and they are challenging us! The mounted moth wings are striking, made unfamiliar, made new in this context. They made me think of those hermetic specimen mountings at the museum, transformed into action and accessibility. That’s fair, isn’t it? Or is it just plain wrong? The film goes on, and in fact divides itself into three reasonably separate sections. You’re aware of the division, but then it might all be getting shapeless or undifferentiated. Is it just celluloid running through a projector?

Well, if you’re watching this on the Criterion disc, there’s a commentary that will reveal your mistake and clear things up. Mothlight is actually intended as a mournful reflection on futility and death and failure. You’re happy to be informed and corrected, and it plays way better with the explanation He’s right, and we’re wrong. But there’s the avant-garde challenge/solution encapsulated. What are you saying to me, Mr. Brakhage?

That will tend to go for the avant garde entire. It’s okay to ask that question, though it’s not okay just to check out before waiting for, before figuring out an answer. Still the experience of these films can be difficult, and their meaning elusive. A commentary from the artist (if we’re interested in intent) or a discussion between viewers (if reception takes precedence) brings all sorts of substance and meaning. Or, we should say, substance beyond meaning. (Form!) But what if you can’t access such supplementary material, or you don’t credit it when you hear it? Viewers, vulnerable. (Stick with it though! The light bulb goes on…)