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Experimental Filmmaker Stan Brakhage Has Passed Away

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

I’m not familiar with this man’s work, except by reputation, but maybe that will change thanks to Criterion this summer. In the meantime, our condolences to his friends, family, students, and fans.


Sad to report that experimental filmmaking legend Stan Brakhage passed away on Sunday.

The details are posted here.

Most of your readers probably don't know who Stan Brakhage is, or maybe they know him only from his acting turn in CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL. But they know - for instance - David Fincher, who was highly influenced by Brakhage's films in the credits of SEVEN, or Oliver Stone, who took Brakhage's layering of images and manipulation of film texture and ran with it. Or that tape in THE RING, which certainly bears some marks of Brakhage's style. Or the very ending of Scorsese's THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Or the many filmmakers, both experimental and narrative, who were influenced by Brakhage's modest means of production to attempt to make their own films in a similar manner outside the studio apparatus. Hell, even Lloyd Kaufman's been influenced by him (check out this interview).

Everything comes from somebody else, and a lot of things in contemporary cinema come from Stan Brakhage. We're all the poorer for his absence.

In May (unless they push it back), Criterion will be releasing BY BRAKHAGE on DVD, which will contain many (26, to be precise) Brakhage films from all phases of his career - from legendary films like DOG STAR MAN and MOTHLIGHT and WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING to recent hand painted films like the astounding BLACK ICE.

Even though it's a small fraction of his total filmography, considering that his films have basically been unavailable on video up til this point (with the exception of some very obscure VHS releases of a few films) this release is an incredible gift. I'm sure many people will discover Brakhage's genius for the first time this way. It's a shame the man himself won't be around to appreciate the recognition it brings him.

RIP, Stan.

Call me Mr. Ertia.

Thanks for sending that in.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • March 10, 2003, 8:14 a.m. CST

    That's too bad.

    by Some Dude

    He made some nifty flicks. I liked his childbirth stuff.

  • March 10, 2003, 8:38 a.m. CST

    An encounter with Stan

    by ChickenGeorgeVII

    When I was in film school, I ventured to the campus of University of Colorado in Boulder to see if I could run into Mr. Brakhage. I did. And for a few minutes, while he was on his way to a lecture, I had a talk with him in the hallway about some of his work (which I had been studying in school), what advice he could give film students that were not his own, and he told me about challenging my own instructors. Not to be afraid of being different. This from a guy that made a career of being different. It surprised me how humble and happy he was. He was the antithesis of anything in Hollywood. I was so happy to read of Criterion's decision on the DVD. And I find it absolutely tragic that Mr. Brakhage could not see the day his work became the most commercially available. He deserves the applause of every fan of cinema. And thus, I am sad. - - - George, The 7th Chicken.

  • March 10, 2003, 8:41 a.m. CST

    g-dspeed, dog star man...

    by duanejones lists 321 -- three hundred and twenty one, bitch!! -- films he directed over the course of five decades. that's 321 more interesting, challenging, artistic, &c., &c. works than kevin smith, brett ratner, michael bay, &c., &c. will make over the course of their individual and collective lifetimes. and all done on his own terms, without any consideration of fellating harvey weinstein, figuratively or literally -- THE once-living, and still much abiding, gold-standard for indie filmmaking, thank you. steve albini can make all the jokes he wants about canada as a wasteland, cultural and otherwise, and maybe even be 50% accurate (sort of like his guitar playing and production work...). but i strongly recommend anyone with an interest in stan the man to track down his series of essays on the canadian aesthetic and how it informed his own work in the sterling journal of experimental musical practices, _musicworks_, over the course of several issues in the late 90's. briefly, it's about the use of space, where so much of canada's space is...empty. openness of form = stan brakhage. emptiness of form = american filmmaking. it's a lonlier world without a maverick like sb showing the self-regarding losers making over-budgeted, over-test-marketed, over-committeed produkt at the turn of the century how it SHOULD be done. damn..._he was born, He suffered, he died_. the end. everuyone run out and buy a super-8 camera, RIGHT NOW, and start the counter-revolution in his name. peace.

  • March 10, 2003, 8:49 a.m. CST

    A moment of silence, or blank film, if you will.

    by The Gline

    Pick up Criterion's upcoming Brakhage retrospective. Not only will his family get some money from it, but his work should be seen by a new generation of filmgoers and -makers alike. It'll be a little like the first time people saw CITIZEN KANE and realized "where it all came from."

  • March 10, 2003, 9:29 a.m. CST

    also ran into him at CU/Boulder, sort of...

    by fuzzferatu

    In my film class, while I was a freshman there oh so long ago, some middle aged gent would sit in on our screenings and laugh during Goddard films. I kept wondering, "who is this guy?" It was Stan Brakhage, and we finally watched a few of his films before the end of the semester. Later, I'd see his name pop up in tributes by Stereolab...

  • March 10, 2003, 10:28 a.m. CST

    The Man the myth

    by sanjuro

    Met Stan Brakhage when he screened a new film in 1998. Was a deity of experimental cinema. Sad to hear about his passing, but, as it is, he's passing into legend. And thank that awesome company, Criterion, for doing what no one's had the vision to do: release his films on video or dvd, knowing there will be a market for them.

  • March 10, 2003, 11:38 a.m. CST

    Desistfilm and others

    by Looptid

    I first encountered Brakhage's work a few months ago in an experimental film survey class. I especially loved Desistfilm, for its complete breakdown (and disregard) of narrative structure in favor of creating a sense of immediacy and of being in the moment and Mothlight for its treatment of film stock as a sculptural element, not just a medium for conveying narrative. Brakhage is one of those rare artists like Ezra Pound or James Joyce - they just spontaneously appear, fully formed, like Athena from Zeus' temple. Their genius lies in the way they look at reality from a hitherto unknown vantage point, and their skill lies in their ability to take us there with them. Truly a loss, but we still have his work. It's nice to see him getting some notice on a site that reviews Willard like, what, three times?

  • March 10, 2003, 1:11 p.m. CST

    Do we know for sure?

    by Weezie-Fett

    Not to be disrespectful to his family and friends, as well as his fans, but I am not finding ANY other news about his death outside of this article. (Which is nothing more than a post on a message board. That seems like an odd place to put an obit for such a popular figure in cinema.) As of noon the next day, nor are saying anything about his death. Surely they would. Wouldn't they? Is this report for real?

  • March 10, 2003, 1:18 p.m. CST

    all too true

    by MrErtia For those not in the know, Fred Camper (whose site this is linked to) is a critic for the Chicago Reader and a major Brakhage advocate, including being the person who finally signed off on all of the transfers for the BY BRAKHAGE set. And the guy who posted the info to the message board originally was a publisher of Brakhage's book. (And I also received notice separately on another e-mail list from a friend of Brakhage's.) I'd love nothing more than to be wrong about this, but the probability is sub-miniscule. *** Regarding the comment about video, I know Brakhage resisted releasing his films on video for a long time because of the limited quality of video, so the companies alone aren't to blame. I don't know exactly what changed his mind, but I'm glad Criterion did.

  • March 10, 2003, 1:36 p.m. CST

    Thank you for clarification

    by Weezie-Fett

    Well...if it is true, which I find very possible considering the sources and this other post verifying it, it is terribly sad. I can understand that the family/webmaster at might be slow due to mourning. I hope that when the news does hit the wire, news organizations have the repect to make it headlines. They should know that Brakhage has more fans out there than realized.

  • March 10, 2003, 2:01 p.m. CST

    to further clarify ...

    by MrErtia

    ... has no official connection with Stan Brakhage. (Check the contact page.) So I doubt whoever runs it was contacted directly. (And, hey, people go on vacation or whatever, and I doubt that is an extensive operation.)

  • March 10, 2003, 3:35 p.m. CST

    South Park

    by unsane

    Hell, Matt Parker and Trey stone were influenced by him, as he was a teacher at CU while they (and I) were all there. An amazingly knowledgeable man. He knew his style, and he knew film, and he didn't care where anyone else drew the line between art, film, and a "flick." He'd take time to offer an opinion on it all. A sad loss.

  • March 10, 2003, 3:38 p.m. CST

    I look forward to discovering his work down the road.

    by a goonie

    I remember that bit at the end of Scorcese's "The Last Temptation of Christ." And of course, we all know Stone and Fincher. I'd love to get the chance to see some of this man's work. Hopefully, as Mori commented, Criterion will make that a possibility.

  • March 10, 2003, 4:50 p.m. CST

    brakhage and maya deren

    by johnquay

    In eerily well-timed fashion, Brakhage is featured in the recent documentary In the Mirror of Maya Deren (, wherein he discourses amusingly upon his personal acquaintance with that other trailblazer of truly independent film-making. He looked pretty healthy in the movie so I'm surprised and saddened to hear of his death. Remember, folks: seek out the obscure before it vanishes entirely. Good luck finding the Deren doc (unlikely to be screened outside big cities and/or academic sites); I look forward to the Brakhage DVD.

  • March 11, 2003, 12:56 a.m. CST

    While Fincher is the bomb, yo, credit for "Se7ven's" titles MUST

    by Schwarzkommando

    Kyle Cooper of "Imaginary Forces"-he actually has the original (kodalith?) sheets & detrius on display @ his office

  • March 11, 2003, 2:01 a.m. CST

    Knew the guy

    by kintar0

    I was a clerk at the Video Station in Boulder, CO when Stan was teaching at CU. He would rent everything. From the Princess Diaries to Citizen Kane. I wasn't a fan of his films, really, but I sure was a fan of the guy. I talked with him about Evil Dead 2 for half an hour once, during a shift.

  • March 11, 2003, 2:40 a.m. CST

    A debt is owed

    by Electric Tsunami

    This man was an experiemental filmmaker, exposed to art school students, and culture creatures who sought out his work but unknown to most others. The experimental film makers' techniques were stolen in the 1980s and 1990s by eMpTy V videomakers and now advertisers(some of whom have gone on to make features). Cartoonist Daniel Clowes has discussed his films as an influence in a Comics Journal interview. I've seen a few of his films (a handful screened theatrically and a couple on video from Mystic Fire). Facets had some expensive collections of his films on tape (about $100 a volume) and Canyon Cinema wanted even more. It is good to see an affordable DVD of his works coming out; I hope that it has complete works (Dog Star Man is about an hour). I knew the name and have read several books on the history of experimental film (3 movements: 1920s, postWWII, and the 1950s/1960s). I even found a cheap signed book at Half Price Books (the flunkies hadn't even cracked the cover to notice the signature). I would say that he would be missed (certainly he will not directly shape new students) but his work is largely underappriciated. His work WILL live on though.

  • March 11, 2003, 5:39 p.m. CST

    "He Was Born, He Suffered, He Died"

    by Fflewddur Fflam

    For anyone unfamiliar with Brakhage: you really ought to look for some of his films. They may seem strange at first, but if you give them a chance, they're likely to change forever the way you think about the movies. Venues like Anthology Film Archives (NYC) and the Pacific Film Archives (Berkeley) regularly screen his work, and you can sometimes catch it in other large cities. (Recently Lee Renaldo, William Hooker, Alan Licht, and Christian Marclay have been accompanying Brakhage's TEXT OF LIGHT.) And while video is no substitute for film (especially in Brakhage's case), the Light Cone release of the man's HAND-PAINTED FILMS is a good tape. Hopefully this summer's Criterion release will help establish Brakhage as one of cinema's greatest artists.