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By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two(1954-2003)
Working outside the mainstream, Stan Brakhage made nearly four hundred films. Challenging all taboos in his exploration of “birth, sex, death, and the search for God,” Brakhage turned his camera on explicit lovemaking, childbirth, even autopsy. Many of his most famous works pursue the nature of vision itself and transcend the act of filming. Some, including the legendary Mothlight, were made without using a camera at all. Instead, Brakhage pioneered the art of making images directly on film—drawing, painting, and scratching it by hand. His visionary style has influenced everything from cartoons and television commercials to MTV music videos and the work of such mainstream moviemakers as Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and Oliver Stone. This is the definitive Brakhage collection—fifty-six of his works in high-definition digital transfers, spanning his almost fifty- year career.
For more about By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two and the By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two Blu-ray release, see the By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two Blu-ray Review
By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, May 29, 2010
"By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volume One and Two" arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. This three-disc collection includes a total of 56 films Brakhage made from 1954-2003. Amongst the supplemental features in the collection are "For Stan", a 2009 short film by Brakhage's wife Marilyn Brakhage; video clips from the conversations Brakhage had about his films at Sunday salons he hosted between 1993 and 2002; the "Brakhage on Brakhage" series; audio recordings of two lectures by Brakhage, and more. The collection also arrives with a 94-page illustrated booklet. Region-A "locked".
The films of Stan Brakhage could seriously alter one's perception about cinema and its purpose. They lack a conventional narrative and redefine form and movement in a way that is practically impossible to describe with simple words; in them, color and light become key ingredients of an energy canvas of sorts, which Brakhage masterfully manipulates.
Brakhage referred to his films as "moving visual thinking", and many of the filming techniques he developed during the years reflected his passion to explore human subjectivity. Naturally, Brakhage focused on the relationship between seeing and reacting – especially the conventional types that are closely linked to our perception of "reality".
Life, death and nature are the three constant themes in Brakhage's films. Typically, they are visualized through the innovative use of light, color and rhythm. These three themes, however, never evolve into anything even remotely resembling conventional characters .Their existence is what creates characters – normally, unique objects and forms which Brakhage loved to experiment with.
The overwhelming majority of Brakhage's films lack sound, perhaps because he saw it as a distraction, and perhaps because there is little that he could do with sound that had not already been done. Rhythm, within the image, became to Brakhage's films what sound is to conventional narrative films.
Brakhage's most rewarding films are his most radical ones. Some, such as Murder Psalm, were inspired by horrific dreams which Brakhage could not discard. Other, such as The Dead, were inspired by intense fear of losing touch with "reality" and a nagging inner feeling that death is near.
Different viewers will react differently to Brackhage's films. For example, those who have never before been exposed to avant-garde films will likely struggle enormously with the concept that film as an art form could resemble something even remotely similar to what is stored in By Brakhage. However, so long as one approaches these films with an open mind and willingness to endure and experiment with what would surely look and feel foreign, at times even incomprehensible, one is likely to gain an understanding of what Brakhage was trying to accomplish through his experimentations.
Finally, as Fred Camper rightfully suggests in his essay "The Act of Seeing...", included in the massive booklet offered with By Brakhage, Brakhage's films are indeed most rewarding on multiple viewings. They take time to absorb as well as an educated mind to appreciate.
Disc 1 (An Anthology: Volume One):
-- Series 1
-Desistfilm (7 min).
-Wedlock House: An Intercourse (11 min).
-Dog Star Man (75 min).
-The Act of Seeing with one's own eyes (32 min).
-- Series 2
-Cat's Cradle (7 min).
-Window Water Baby Moving (13 min).
-Mothlight (4 min).
-Eye Myth (12 sec).
-The Wold-Shadow (3 min).
-The Garden of Earthly Delights (2 min).
-The Stars Are Beautiful (19 min).
-Kindering (3 min).
-I...Dreaming (7 min).
-The Dante Quartet (7 min).
-Night Music (32 sec).
-Rage Net (37 sec).
-Glaze of Cathexis (3 min).
-Delicacies of Molten Horror Synapse (9 min).
-Untitled (For Marilyn) (11 min).
-Black Ice (2 min).
-Study in Color and Black and White (2 min).
-Stellar (3 min).
-Crack Glass Eulogy (7 min).
-The Dark Tower (3 min).
-Commingled Containers (3 min).
-Lovesong (11 min).
Disc 1 (An Anthology: Volume Two):
-- Program 1: 1955-67
-The Wonder Ring (6 min).
-The Dead (11 min).
- Two: Creeley/McClure (4 min).
- 23rd Psalm Branch (64 min).
-- Program 2: 1967-76
-Scenes from Under Childhood, Section One (24 min).
-The Machine of Eden (11 min).
-Star Garden (22 min).
-Desert (11 min).
-- Program 3: 1972-82
-The Process (9 min).
-Burial Path (9 min).
-Duplicity III (23 min).
-The Domain of the Moment (15 min).
-Murder Psalm (17 min).
-Arabic 12 (18 min).
Disc 2 (An Anthology: Volume Two):
-- Program 4: 1989-90
-Visions in Meditation #1 (17 min).
-Visions in Meditation #2 (Mesa Verde) (17 min).
-Visions in Meditation #3 (Plato's Cave) (17 min).
-Visions in Meditation #4 (D.H. Lawrence) (17 min).
-- Program 5: 1982, 1992, 1994
-Unconscious London Strata (23 min).
-Boulder Blues and Pearls And...(23 min).
-The Mammal of Victoria (33 min).
-From: First Hymn to the Night - Novalis (3 min).
-- Program 6: 1995-2003
-I take These Truths (18 min).
-The Cat of the Worm's Green Realm (15 min).
-Yggdrasill: Whose Roots Are Stars in the Human Mind (18 min).
-"..." Reel Five (15 min).
-"Persian Series 1-3" (7 min).
-"Chinese Series" (3 min).
Note: Certain films arrive with optional audio remarks by director Stan Brakhage.
By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (except Chinese Series, which is presented in 1.85:1), encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volume One and Two arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The Following text appears in the booklet provided with this release:
"The twenty-six films in volume one were selected by Marilyn Brakhage and Brakhage friend and film scholar Bruce Kawin, with the advice and approval of Stan Brakhage. They were transferred from newly minted interpositives and fine-grain masters manufactured exclusively for that collection by Stan Brakhage's lifelong collaborator John Newell of Western Cine in Denver. For each film, the new elements were struck in the film gauge of the original printing negative. The high-definition digital transfers were made on a Spirit Datacine under the supervision of scholar Fred Camper, who was selected by Stan Brakhage to ensure the accuracy of the recorded images.
The thirty film in volume two were selected by Marylin Brakhage, in consultation with Fred Camper, R. Bruce Elder, and P. Adams Sitney. They were transferred from Brakhage's original printing negatives, newly minted interpositives, and preservation prints. The high-definition digital transfers were on a Spirit Datacine under the supervision of Marilyn Brakhage and Mark Toscano of the Academy Film Archive.
No filtering, noise reduction, or other restoration tools have been applied to any of the picture elements."
I suppose this is the best these curious films could look without any additional work being done on them. Contrast, clarity and especially color-reproduction are, obviously, superior here when compared to the SDVD transfer(s). Additionally, with some of the films grain is also a lot more prominent. As clarified in the quoted text above, there has been no restoration work performed on these films, which is why some of them have retained a variety of different marks and scratches. Finally, I cannot say that there are any serious stability issues, or at least I believe that there are none, aside from what is obviously inherited from the original printing negatives, interpositives, and preservation prints. All in all, I believe that anyone interested in the work of Stan Brakhage will be delighted with Criterion's Blu-ray release. To me, it looks mighty impressive. (Note: The Blu-ray discs in By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volume One and Two are Region-A "locked". Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access their content).
By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The majority of the films in By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volume One and Two have no soundtrack. According to the booklet provided with this release, "the sound for eight of the nine that do was mastered at 24-bit from 16 mm optical and original full-coat magnetic tracks. The audio for "..." Reel Five was remastered from the same CD of James Tenney's Flocking used by Brakhage in his original transfer; it was captured and speed-corrected to match Brackhage's original track frame for frame." For the record, there are no optional English subtitles for any of the films provided in the collection.
By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Booklet - a 94-page illustrated booklet containing a statement by Marylin Brakhage; "The Act of Seeing..." by Fred Camper; "About the Films: Volume One" by Fred Camper; "Some Notes on the Selection of Titles for By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volume Two" by Marylin Brakhage; "About the Films: Volume Two" by Fred Camper; and "The Hair in the Gate: Preserving Brakhage" by Mark Toscano.
Disc 1 (An Anthology: Volume One) - this disc contains four segments in which Stan Brakhage discusses his work, what influenced him to shoot many of his films, how his work evolved during the years, etc. "Brakhage on Brakhage I" (10 min, 1080i), "Brakhage on Brakhage II" (9 min, 1080i), "Brakhage on Brakhage III" (9 min, 1080i), and "Brakhage on Brakhage IV" (10 min, 1080i). In English, not subtitled in English.
Disc 1 (An Anthology: Volume Two)
-- Salons - three video clips and a text - "On 23rd Psalm Branch" (4 min, 1080i), "On Scenes from under Childhood, Section One" (6 min, 1080i), "On Murder Psalm" (3 min, 1080i), and "About Brakhage's Salons" (in text format) - excerpted from conversations Stan Brakhage had about his films at Sunday salons he hosted between 1993 and 2002. Held in the fine arts building at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the weekly salons included screenings of both his own films and those of others, and were followed by group discussions. The clips were shot by filmmaker Phil Solomon. In English, not subtitled.
-- Interview - a segment from a 1990 interview with Stan Brakhage, conducted by film critic and writer Marilynne Mason and produced by the Boulder Arts Commission. Here, Stan Brakhage talks about the role of the artist in a contemporary society, his fascination with art and film, etc. In English, not subtitled. (37 min, 1080i).
-- Lecture - an audio piece recorded during a lecture Stan Brakhage gave as part of the Beckwith Lecture Series at the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston on October 7, 1996. Here, Stan Brakhage addresses a variety of different topic, from his "moving visual thinking" theory to consumerism and capitalism. In English, not subtitled. (51 min).
Disc 2 (An Anthology: Volume Two)
-- Salons - two video clips and a text - "On Boulder Blues and Pearls and..." (2 min, 1080i), "On the Cat of the Worm's Green Realm" (2 min, 1080i), and "About Brakhage's Salons" (in text format).
-- For Stan - a fifteen-minute film by Marilyn Brakhage assembled from observations of Stan Brakhage at work on his Visions in Meditation - on location at Mesa Verde and the sands of Colorado and New Mexico in 1998. (16 min, 1080p).
-- Brakhage on Brakhage - three new additions to the series - "Brakhage on Brakhage I" (7 min, 1080i), "Brakhage on Brakhage II" (8 min, 1080i), "Brakhage on Brakhage III" (8 min, 1080i). In English, not subtitled.
-- Lecture - an English-class lecture Brakhage gave on Gertrude Stein's poem Stanzas in Meditation at the University of Colorado at Boulder on March 20, 1996.
By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It took me nearly three weeks to go through this massive collection of Brakhage films, but I wanted to see every single one of them. I also wanted to see all of the supplemental features Criterion have provided before I wrote my review. I think that it was the right thing to do. When you begin watching these films, you will know exactly what I mean. By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volume One and Two is a tremendous release! VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Criterion Blu-ray in May: Brakhage, M, Stagecoach, Walkabout - February 13, 2010
In May, Criterion will take Blu-ray viewers on wild rides—way out west with John Wayne, to the Australian outback with an aboriginal guide, to the darkest corners of the outlaw mind and the outermost regions of experimental film. On May 11, the studio will release ...
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