Watched bits and pieces of this anthology, but never all the way through before – which I guess is sad given how much I’d been looking forward to its release. I put on a shuffled playlist of instrumental albums, soundtracks, ambient and other strange sounds since Brakhage films tend to be silent. I know you’re supposed to watch them silent, As The Artist Intended, but you’re also supposed to watch them projected off 16mm film in an art gallery with fifty other people all shifting uncomfortably in their folding chairs, instead of at home on a comfy couch accompanied only by birds. I prefer my way.
The Wonder Ring (1955)
Brakhage nerding out on photography in a train station, then on the train itself, shooting through its warped windows. Not knowing in advance where the movie was set, I kicked off the music with Sqürl’s I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, a song that prominently mentions trains. After the Sqürl, iTunes offered 75 Dollar Bill and a peaceful John Zorn number from The Mysteries. I first saw this movie at a Film Love screening of Joseph Cornell works – supposedly he codirected, but the onscreen credits say “by Brakhage.” Fred Camper only says Cornell commissioned this film, a record of a New York elevated train before it got decommissioned. Camper credits Brakhage with the finished work, says he’s “finding a real-world version of the superimpositions Brakhage would later create in the lab.” Elsewhere are mentions of GniR RednoW, a film Cornell made from Wonder Ring outtakes.
The Dead (1960)
Paris cemetery, in positive and negative, overlapped upon itself – the superimpositions mentioned above, making this a great follow-up to Wonder Ring. Heard a long, ambient Per Mission song, worked beautifully. The few living humans on screen are not shot in any great detail, but internet rumors claim Kenneth Anger was one. Doesn’t have much in common with the John Huston/James Joyce version.
Two: Creeley/McClure (1965)
This and the next film were part of the thirty-one Songs series. This one’s technically separate from the Songs, but was edited into the 15th in the series, the 38-minute 15 Song Traits. Portraits of poets Robert Creeley and Michael McClure. Again with some reversed footage. Final section is jittery mania. I watched twice, and the second time Guano Padano’s story-song Dago Red came up, inappropriate since it makes the audio the main focus, turning Brakhage’s film into a music video, but interesting.
23rd Psalm Branch (1967)
Watched on the plane home from a trip. Images of war, wreckage and parades, remixed, with black and brief colored frames. Something Brakhage wouldn’t have expected: myself in place of the blackness, reflecting in laptop monitor in the overlit cabin. Something else: he shoots clouds out a plane window, I look to my left and see clouds out a plane window. A couple of long songs that worked very well: The Nymphs by Zorn and Recks On by Autechre. Prefuse’s Infrared was lyrically appropriate. The film’s second half contained more black than my Dramamine-drowsy state could handle, had to restart some sections. As Film Quarterly puts it, “he has used black leader so brutally this silent film gives the impression of roaring, booming sound,” and part two specifically is “abstract and full of private symbols, difficult to absorb and to watch.” Music by Sqürl, Per Mission and Morricone. Written letters and section headers. Kubelka’s Vienna, then Brakhage’s Vienna, all dim red figures disappearing into the blackness, a few shots of fire recalling Frampton. Marilyn Brakhage called it an attempt “to reclaim person and personal vision from the onslaught of television news.”