Volume 7, Issue 2 / February 2003

Stan Brakhage Dossier

In this issue

Two issues ago Offscreen published a special issue dedicated entirely to Michael Snow. The event was inspired by the presence of Michael Snow in Montreal as part of a major retrospective of his work by the FCMM. Before the issue was even completed I had envisioned doing a companion follow-up special issue on Stan Brakhage. I felt it would only be natural, given how they are two contemporaries who have, since the 1960’s, formed the twin pillars of experimental/avant-garde cinema. It comes with sad realisation, however, that the eventual motivation for this Brakhage Dossier is his recent death to an illness which he had valiantly staved off several years ago, cancer. So while the Snow Dossier was both a look back and a celebration of an artist still actively pursuing and stretching his art, the Brakhage Dossier can only celebrate what was a brilliant star in the cosmos (although, and not surprising for someone with 300 films to his credit, Brakhage was working on ‘making’ right up until his final breath). Hors Champ organized a four day program to celebrate the work of Stan Brakhage on January 25-28, 2001. Brakhage was invited to come and present his films, and graciously accepted. He attended and participated on three nights, January 26, 27, and 28, by introducing the films and staying after the screenings for long, hearty Q & A’s. Offscreen presents the full transcription of the final two nights, January 27 and 28, which, sadly, mark Brakhage’s final public appearance in Montreal, a city he was particularly fond of, and which, in turn, was very fond of him. As the center piece of the Snow Dossier was an interview with Michael Snow, the Brakhage Dossier is also built around Brakhage’s own words –some 20,000 of them – as he introduces and comments on his art and life, and responds to audience questions. Forming perfect bookends to the Brakhage transcriptions are two extensive essays which approach Brakhage from similar start points – sound and music – and veer off into distinct concerns with regard Brakhage and other forms of artistic expression. Brett Kashmere’s wide-ranging essay places Brakhage within the broader context of a newly forming postwar American avant-garde expression, characterized most strikingly by jazz music, principally John Coltrane, Beat writers, and abstract expressionist painters. Randolph Jordan’s essay underlines how Brakhage’s seminal works represent not only a challenge to filmmaking practice, but to the very notions of representation and thought. Brakhage’s films and theory force us to ‘re-learn’ how we see, think, and hear, and engender an aesthetic where ‘seeing’ ‘hearing’ and ‘thinking’ become total sensorial experiences. Rounding out the issue are two brief introductory pieces of a more personal nature by Peter Rist and Donato Totaro.

For all things Brakhage, the place to begin is Fred Camper’s invaluable Stan Brakhage on the Web.

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