Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Stan Brakhage and The Way to Shadow Garden (1954)

"How many colors are there in a field of grass
to the crawling baby unaware of green"

- Stan Brakhage

Stan Brakhage (1933-2003) was an American non-narrative filmmaker who is considered to be one of the most important figures in the 20th century experimental film.
He was born in a home for unwed pregnant women in Missouri, and was adopted to the name of James Stanley Brakhage.

During his childhood years Brakhage featured as a boy soprano on radio. During high school in Denver, Colorado he met filmmaker Larry Jordan and the musicians Morton Subotnick and James Tenney. Together they formed a drama group called The Gadflies.
Brakhage briefly attended Dartmouth College on a scholarship, but dropped out during his freshman year to make film.
He later became a distinguished professor of film studies at the University of Colorado.

Brakhage made film during no less than five decades, experimenting with different techniques: handheld camerawork, painting directly on to celluloid, fast cutting, in-camera editing, scratching on film and the use of double exposures. (Wikipedia)

You see, I'm a young player in the game and, at this stage, almost all my movements and reactions are instinctive and geared towards finding something out rather than stating something already discovered. In this context, all my films (and poems) are experimental. Naturally, some of the experiments blow up in my face; but in the creative mind, unlike the scientific laboratory, the explosions are not deadly.
From a letter to a distributor, 1954

During the years Brakhage came to do nearly 380 films, lasting from nine seconds to four hours. His films often treated the subjects of life, mortality, sexuality and innocence.

Brakhage died 2003 from bladder cancer.

The Way to Shadow Garden

The Way to Shadow Garden
Director: Stan Brakhage
USA 1954
11 min

This experimental short contains a young man returning to his apartment, only to realize that something is very wrong. Objects seem to move by themselves, but only seing it in the corner of his eye he's not sure whether he is crazy or not.
The paranoia digs deeper. Is there something under the blanket? Did I put my glass there? He takes a cigarette and picks up a book, tries to calm down. But he can't avoid it.
When the craze becomes too much, he pokes his eyes out and escapes into something that looks like a garden of shadows (the way to get to Shadow Garden, huh?), expressed with inverted colours.

The film is made with no dialogue or music. The only thing besides the moving picture is a strange, scratchy sound. Sometimes it sounds like someone walking on gravel, sometimes it sounds like the wind or a tea kettle. Sometimes the sound pulsates, sometimes it is lengthy, sometimes it is just quiet.

When I read about The Way to Shadow Garden I often stumbled over the words "psycho-sexual awakening". I don't know, to me it seems to portrait a guy becoming paranoid and mentally fucked up.
Anyway, what ever way you choose to interpret the film, I like it. It's like a dream sequence (or perhaps a nightmare?), eerie and beautiful at the same time.

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