Stan Brakhage, 1933-2003
March 9, 2003 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Influential experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage died in hospital today after an operation for a long illness. If he is known at all, he is known as the director of short films like "Dog Star Man" and the controversial "Window Water Baby Moving", whose graphic portrayal of his first son's birth incited feminist ire and inspired the spoof "Misconception". Those who have no exposure to his work should mourn the loss of a filmmaker whose collagist, primarily non-camera work was colorful and revelatory. (more inside)
posted by pxe2000 (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
this news came through a well-regarded source on scott stark's experimental film listserv, frameworks. because of his relative lack of renown, obits will be a while in coming.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:07 PM on March 9, 2003

ouch. he'll be missed. thanks for the news.
posted by dobbs at 8:28 PM on March 9, 2003

Stan was my professor for two semesters at the University of Colorado in Boulder. It was an absolute pleasure and privilege to hear the man speak. He was an incredible influence on my life and he'll be sorely missed.
posted by ghastlyfop at 8:50 PM on March 9, 2003

"Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, and eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception. How many colors are there in a field of grass to the crawling baby unaware of 'Green'? How many rainbows can light create for the untutored eye? How aware of variations in heat waves can that eye be? Imagine a world alive with incomprehensible objects and shimmering with an endless variety of movement and innumerable gradations of color. Imagine a world before the 'beginning was the word.'" (from

Sad news.
posted by psychoticreaction at 9:07 PM on March 9, 2003

Stan Brakhage once recalled a debate he had with director Robert Wise about Hollywood "co-opting" the term "independent film". He wrote:

"What we mean is someone who makes something because they're compelled to, has no strings attached to anybody or anything else, and that's what we always meant by independent. I've come to like the term 'poetic film.' Now there are dangers in it. Poetry is a totally different art than film. But it separates what my contemporaries and I do from the Hollywood movie, in a way that doesn't assume that one is greater than the other. Novelists and poets have existed side by side forever. The Hollywood movies are more like novels, and the kinds of films I make are more like poems."
posted by bclark at 5:59 AM on March 10, 2003

SB was cool. We made a scratchy Super-8 film in his style while drunk one night in 1st year University.
posted by Fabulon7 at 7:15 AM on March 10, 2003

hey, thanks for the Criterion link, ed. Great news that you can finally look at his frames one-by-one on DVD. Sad to hear of his passing.
posted by Vidiot at 8:18 AM on March 10, 2003

Shit. This is truly saddening; the man was still evolving, still making great work. I saw him just... last year? Not long ago, anyway. A number of years ago they did a near-complete retrospective at the American Museum of the Moving Image in my very own Astoria, and I took time off from work so I could see some of the rarer stuff. I pre-ordered the Criterion from Amazon and have been eagerly awaiting it (they recently sent me an e-mail saying it wouldn't be available till May, dammit); I wish I could have viewed it without the pall that will be left by news of his passing. Thanks for posting this, pxe2000.
posted by languagehat at 10:05 AM on March 10, 2003

I had the pleasure of seeing Stan Brakhage speak at Wayne State University back in the early '90's when I was a film student there. He showed several of his past and present works then, and he struck me as one of th emost passionate filmmakers on the planet. He will be sorely missed. Mothlight is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
posted by greengrl at 12:39 PM on March 10, 2003

In case anyone's still paying attention, here's the NY Times obit (a good one, by A.O. Scott).
posted by languagehat at 7:52 AM on March 12, 2003

Crap, I just found out about this. I too had the pleasure of seeing him speak, in Minneapolis when the Walker did a retrospective. I was inspired by him. For being an art filmmaker, he was completely unpretentious - just wise and gentle, if a little rough around the edges. I learned film from Bruce Cooper, a friend and longtime understudy of Brakhage. Day One: watch some Brakhage films, then scratch and paint on film. "You are all now filmmakers," he said.

One more memory: Watching "Window Water Baby Moving" at the MOMA in NYC - perhaps the most graphic film i've ever seen though it simply depicts the way we all come into the world. There were a handful of people in the theater, and of course it's completely silent. I was in awe of how powerful this silence was, and how uncomfortable. I was acutely aware of being with this handful of people, sharing this intense filmic experience. Just as Brakhage wanted me to feel. As Speed Levitch said recently at a SXSW film, feeling uncomfortable is a way of knowing that yes - something is actually happening.
posted by Dok Millennium at 1:50 AM on March 18, 2003

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