Cover image for Film at wit's end : eight avant-garde filmmakers
Film at wit's end : eight avant-garde filmmakers
Brakhage, Stan.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Kingston, N.Y. : Documentext, [1989]

Physical Description:
183 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Jerome Hill -- Marie Menken -- Sidney Peterson -- James Broughton -- Maya Deren -- Christopher MacLaine -- Bruce Conner -- Ken Jacobs.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN1995.9.E96 B74 1989 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order


Author Notes

A major figure in American avant-garde films, Stan Brakhage made his first film, Interim, at the age of 18, after having a nervous breakdown and dropping out of college. Most of his experimental films since then have been shorts that explore the film medium, offering a modernist critique of Renaissance realist space. He frequently alters the strip of film itself by making scratches in the emulsion after recording images on it, disrupting the effect of the real by recalling the two-dimensionality of what appears to be three-dimensional.

Mothlight (1963) was made as a collage of bits of leaves, seeds, ferns, flowers, and moth wings, attached not onto film celluloid but onto splicing tape, which was then run through an optical printer. Mothlight is therefore a film made without a camera and even without film. Because the objects in the film were not photographed, they appear more as abstract shapes than as natural things.

Other aspects of Brakhage's short films include accelerated and slow motion shots, optical distortions such as tinting, alternation between monochrome and color stock or negatives and positives; and the presence of film leader and the dots that end a roll of film, as well as frames marked by the flare that results when film is exposed as the camera is being loaded or unloaded. These techniques, too, may have a symbolic or visionary dimension. For example, The Wonder Ring (1955) includes some surrealist effects of superimposition achieved very simply while filming in a subway car: Sometimes the viewer can see both the reflections on the window glass and what is behind the glass in the landscape through which the train passes.

Many of Brakhage's films do have characters and stories; however, they are not realistic. Dog Star Man (1965) has no coherent narrative, with continuity achieved instead through recurring patterns and motifs. The dog star man of the title climbs a snow-covered hill with a dog, occasionally falling. At the end he chops wood. In between, there are repeated shots of the sun, trees, different seasons, an infant, and sexual organs, all linked metaphorically through juxtaposition and repetition. Such a film constitutes what Brakhage called an adventure of perception, one in which the eye sees reality outside the convention of realism, with its laws of composition and perspective. Such adventures are always his guiding principle in filmmaking.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Adapted from classroom lectures, Brakhage's profiles of eight avant-garde filmmakers have a conversational, relaxed flow. If the tone is chummy and the frequent superlatives annoying, the narratives are nevertheless coherent. Among those we meet are Maya Deren, Voodoun priestess of Greenwich Village and well-known personality of the 1940s and '50s; Christopher MacLaine, chronicler of San Francisco's Beat movement; and Ken Jacobs, whose films include Soft Rain , Blonde Cobra , and Little Stabs at Happiness . Himself a filmmaker, critic ( Brakhage Scrapbook , etc.) and professor of film studies at the University of Colorado, Brakhage has been friends with all eight subjects. His personal insight into their lives deepens his understanding of their aims and techniques. Also here are Jerome Hill, Marie Menken, James Broughton, Bruce Conner and Sidney Peterson. Photos. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

One of experimental cinema's best-known filmmakers offers a series of individual portraits about his friends and mentors among the San Francisco and New York avant-garde art scenes in the two decades after WW II. Based on lectures that Brakhage gave at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago between 1969 and 1981, each portrait weaves biography, anecdote, and personal remembrance into stories that are as much about the storyteller as about the lives he encountered. Brakhage writes in a conversational style, telling tales and making myths about filmmakers Jerome Hill, Marie Menken, Sidney Peterson, Maya Deren, James Broughton, Bruce Conner, Christopher MacLaine, and Ken Jacobs. He filters his biographical materials, impressions of their films, and personal memories through his strongly held belief in the importance of the artist as a romantic visionary. The chapters on Marie Menken and Ken Jacobs are especially good, contributing rare glimpses into the lives of filmmakers about whom little has been written. The book includes complete filmographies, an index, and film stills. All libraries. -L. Rabinovitz, University of Iowa