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This article was originally written as program notes for the Boston-area premiere of The Art of Vision at the MIT Film Society, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in May 1966, when I was 18. I had co-founded the MIT Film Society the previous year. The showing was successful; as I recall, about 150 people attended, and those who left did so quietly and respectfully, and about half stayed until the end. One person phoned in advance from New Hampshire for directions; when I asked if he wanted to know anything about the film, he said that wasn't necessary: "It's The Art of Vision, isn't it?"

These notes were written in the space of about three hours, just before the show, typed directly onto mimeograph stencils without revision, and are less a critical appraisal than a kind of viewer's guide, based primarily on Brakhage's own comments at showings of the film. I don't necessarily stand by every statement today, and much of this was written assuming a relatively naive viewer perhaps hostile to even abstract painting. Some of the notions below that don't come from Brakhage are expressed rather fuzzily at best. I have left the running times as listed in the article, but they are more accurate in my Brakhage Filmography. At the time I wrote this, I had seen the film five times, including once at the premiere at Yale in 1965, and three times in New York, all on trips I had made to New York entirely for the purpose of seeing it. I had the idea that the film could genuinely change people's lives, and wanted to try to make it more accessible. I never thought anyone would want to publish them. Someone who came to the show sent the notes to Brakhage, who wrote me asking if he could send them to Jonas Mekas for publication in Film Culture; he as pretty sure Mekas would want to publish them. I was surprised, but agreed, and they were my first publication, printed in Film Culture 46, Autumn 1967, which appeared in 1968. Fred Camper

The Art of Vision, a Film by Stan Brakhage

by Fred Camper

Beware: I was 18 years old when I wrote this. It includes fuzzy thinking and flabby writing. See the longer note on it above. I post it anyway as there doesn't seem to be anything similar on this film on the 'Net. — FC.
The two strips below are from Part II and Part IV respectively, and are reproduced by permission of Marilyn Brakhage .

Brakhage is the most "abstract" of the major experimental filmmakers. His films, particularly since Anticipation of the Night, have proved difficult to watch for many people. He has completely rejected continuity of space or time: that is, real spatial dimension does not exist in his films, and events do not follow each other with relation to any time sequence. There is no "base" that one can approach his work from. His films are dreams, without the Freudian symbols that made earlier attempts in this direction more immediately understandable; they are visions, but with too many unrecognizable objects to be directly related to one's daily experience. The trouble that most people have on first viewing a Brakhage film is that his textures and motions, while taken from the world around him, do not relate to any ordinary kind of experience. One cannot view the shots of Paris in The Dead and say, "Oh, Paris." He films his objects so as to violate the possibility of the viewer making any connection with his direct experience. One cannot understand Brakhage in terms of what you see, or the way you view the world; you must understand his work by trying to understand the way he sees the world.

Music is a form of art which has no relation to direct, everyday experience in the listener. True, there is "program" music, which attempts to musically describe nature, or a story of some kind; but the merits of such music lie only in its abstract construction and not in the degree to which it is successful in duplicating everyday sounds. The fact that music has been accepted for so long as a valid form of art and medium of personal expression would seem to validate the possibility of "similar" abstract art existing in other media. But in painting, the abstract expressionists immediately ran into trouble when they began asserting that a painting was shapes and colors, rather than old grandfathers and flower pots. And Brakhage has had an even rougher time of it, asserting that film is the motions of shape and light and texture rather than what happened around the corner yesterday afternoon.

But film, or good film, has always been form, light, and texture. What is good in a Dreyer, or a Renoir, or a Hawks, is the abstract quality of the images themselves — the effect that the forms presented on the screen have on the viewer's mind. Dreyer projects his personality and viewpoint through his frames. Objects in a Dreyer film have no more relevance to objects in everyday life than do objects in a Brakhage film. The landscape is merely easier to find one's way in, because we know we can expect that the characters will be standing on two feet, that the spatial relations will be presented with sufficient clarity so that if we don't understand Dreyer's art we can at least say, "That is a house." In Brakhage, we cannot count on our knowledge of everyday objects to help us feel our way around. In many of the frames, the objects are not recognizable, and those objects that are filmed in a manner which des­troys their more familiar identity. Every object, every single scratch, in The Art of Vision is there because Brakhage felt it was vital to his structure; nothing is there in the interest of "realism." Every object in a Brakhage film is a vision from Brakhage's mind, a ghost from his subconscious.

I do not wish to imply that The Art of Vision, although fine on an abstract level, has no relevance to our daily lives. I am only saying that it does not try to be a copy of our daily perceptions. It has all the relevance of a great and revolutionary work of art. The Art of Visionis a film that can change our whole ideas about the relationship of seeing, perception, and emotion with the preoccupations of the mind and the subconscious. The immediate effect of seeing the film for the first few times is to discover oneself infinitely more sensitive to the meanings inherent in our perceptions of the physical qualities of everyday objects. To put it bluntly, Brakhage has shown the value and meaning of real seeing. The manner in which we perceive the physical structure of the world around us determines our view of that world. This is the principle on which all great films have been based. But it has never been clearer than in The Art of Vision.

For Brakhage, there is no distinction between perception and vision. When he photographs his wife, or child, or the mountain, this is merely a more fully developed way of seeing these objects than the way Brakhage perceives them in his everyday life. It is a quantitative, not a qualitative, difference. The film is so close to perception that the placement and organization of its objects (the editing itself) resembles an ordered, organized way of discovering through seeing. In Prelude (about the first 1-1/4 hours) the major objects in the universe are placed in a structured framework. But the framework does not constitute a dogmatic argument for certain set places and meanings to be ascribed to plant and animal life, or to the sun; the framework places these in a form similar to everyday perception. Brakhage cuts from one to another with the logic of a dream, violating spatial continuity or dramatic flow. The entire film, and most particularly Prelude, might be seen as Brakhage's organized perception of his dreams of the universe. His forms so closely resemble his feelings that the perception becomes vision.

Brakhage's art is "non-engaging." The audience is not supposed to be sexually aroused while watching Part III, for example. He finds an "enclosed" form, which keeps a certain distance between his feelings and the final form. This is not to say that emotions are not expressed. But they do not determine the form (Tchaikovsky, Berg): rather, they are visible through it. Brakhage is somewhat mystical in discussing the creative process; and to an extent, he feels that he is only a vehicle for the passage of inner vision to its external form, his films. He is not explicit about where the "inner vision" comes from. But he has developed a mys­tique, probably vital to his creative process, which allows him to maintain a certain distance between himself and his art. The violent feelings expressed in his films (he came close to committing suicide as part of the filming of Anticipation of the Night) perhaps make this necessary. His wife Jane works with him closely, shooting most of the footage of Brakhage that appears in The Art of Vision. He has said that "by Brakhage" should be taken to mean "by way of Stan and Jane Brakhage."

Before the twentieth century, nearly all musical forms were conceived along some pre-planned pattern: the sonata form, for exam­ple, was divided into sections ("exposition," "development"). Even the variation form had many of its elements and its overall outline determined by the dictates of tonality. In this century, these "pre-conceived" forms have been violated and new ones established. The music of Webern, which dominates the musical climate, is based primarily on the variation form. But there is no explicitly determined beginning and ending. Each segment, or group of notes, grows out of the previous one organically. Every note springs out of the cluster that had preceded it. Brakhage represents a similar breaking away in film. Before his first real masterpiece, Anticipation of the Night, all important films followed the dictates of narrative convention. Most plot­less films, then and today, either applied the techniques of narrative cinema to movements like surrealism (Cocteau, Deren), or attempted to illustrate other arts, like music (MacLaren) or painting (Resnais's Guernica). Brakhage has given the plotless film a truly filmic form. As with Webern, each shot grows and springs dynamically and organically out of the previous group of shots. Frequently, a small cluster of shots of a single (or related) objects will be placed close together (a number of shots of the baby, a section of Prelude that is all brown). But there is a constant sense of the previous few minutes dictating, and creating, what is to follow.


The film that was originally to be Dog Star Man has become two films, very closely related: Dog Star Man and The Art of Vision. The definition of the relationship between the two films can be stated in terms a computer would understand: Dog Star Man: A film in five parts: Prelude, Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV. Prelude consists primarily of two layers of superimposition. Part I is generally a single image, Part II two layers of superimposition, Part III is three levels, and Part IV four levels.

Prelude was originally made on two separate reels, "A" roll and "B" roll. The rolls were then superimposed (Brakhage had edited them with specific regard to the superimposition) in the printing to give Prelude: Dog Star Man. Part II was edited onto an A roll and a B roll, Part III onto an A roll, B roll, and a C roll. Part IV was edited onto A, B, C, and D rolls, which were then all superimposed to give Dog Star Man: Part IV. The running time of the complete Dog Star Man is about one hour and ten minutes.

The Art of Vision: Brakhage makes no division between the separate parts of Dog Star Man as they appear in The Art of Vision. For' the purposes of discussion in these notes, I will refer to each section as if it is a part of Dog Star Man. Every frame in Dog Star Man appears in The Art of Vision, and in a sense, vice versa. The Art of Vision consists of the fullest development of the material in Dog Star Man. DSM states the outlines of the situation and the story, The Art of Vision>consists of the following rolls of Dog Star Man, shown without the titles and without a break, in the following order:

    Prelude A roll
    Prelude B roll
    Prelude AB (AB signifies the superimposition of A roll and B roll. This is the same Prelude that appears in Dog Star Man.)
    Part I
    Part II AB (Again, AB signifies the superimposition of A roll and B roll; this is the Part II that appears in Dog Star Man)
    Part II A roll
    Part II B roll
    Part III A roll
    Part III B roll
    Part III C roll
    Part III AB (This signifies the superimposition of A and B roll of Part III only.)
    Part III AC
    Part III BC
    Part III ABC (This is the same Part III that appears in Dog Star Man.)
    Part IV ABCD (This is the same Part IV that appears in Dog Star Man.)
    Part IV ABC
    Part IV ABD
    Part IV ACD
    Part IV BCD
    Part IV AB
    Part IV AD
    Part IV AC
    Part IV BC
    Part IV BD
    Part IV CD
    Part IV A roll
    Part IV B roll
    Part IV C roll
    Part IV D roll
Approximate running time of each of the parts: In Dog Star Man:
    Prelude, 25 minutes
    Part I, 30 minutes
    Part II, 5 or 6 minutes
    Part III, 7 minutes
    Part IV, 5 minutes

In The Art of Vision

    Prelude, 1 hour, 15 minutes
    Part I, 30 minutes
    Part II, 18 minutes
    Part III, 50 minutes
    Part IV, 1 hour, 15 minutes

The film runs about four hours and fifteen minutes. It is necessary to see the complete The Art of Vision in order to fully understand the narrative significance of many of the objects in Dog Star Man. It is also necessary to see The Art of Vision in order to fully appreciate the beauty of many of the parts of Dog Star Man, particularly Part III.

The reason for beginning with the separate reels of Prelude and Part III and building up to the composite, and beginning with the composite reels of Part II and Part IV and breaking them down is not immediately obvious. First, Brakhage felt it was a successful way to balance the film. Second, it relates specifically to the contents of each of the parts. When Brakhage made Prelude, he thought of A roll as being the "chaos" roll, edited very quickly, frequently using chance operations. He thought of B roll as being more carefully conceived, planned as an extension and development of the subconscious ideas that came out in A roll; it made A roll "make sense." It is then logical to show the rolls in the order which they were conceived in, the AB com­posite being the final synthesis. Part III he thought of as being on three rolls: A roll was the "him" roll, B roll the "her" roll, and C roll the organs and handpainting roll. It is natural hereto slowly build up the connections between his organs, her organs, the inner bodily organs and closed-eye vision, rather than to state it at the outset. Part IV, dealing as it does with the Fall of Man, is best shown in a breaking-down, disintegrating form: showing Fall, it hardly builds up to a climax; rather, it should fade off.

The development indicated, breaking each part down into all its permutations would appear to be tiring. In reality, the parts are never exhausted, despite the apparently exhausting manner of projecting them. There is so much material crammed into the five minutes of Part IV that it needs the fifteen projections it gets for all the images and themes to be properly expounded. This is the general effect of showing all the possible permutations of Parts III and IV: a full expansion of all the material, in all possible forms.

III (Plot Synopsis)

A woodsman attempts to climb a mountain. He struggles with a dead white tree, throws it down and chops at it. That is quite literally the narrative of The Art of Vision. For four hours and fifteen minutes, we are shown every bit and piece of the man's environment. So much is shown that it is often difficult to see what is important to the direct progress of the man's struggle to throw down the tree (we are not sure where exactly he finally succeeds getting it down) and what is dream-material, or additions to the seeing the film is.

All of the techniques which Brakhage had been developing to this time were brought into play for The Art of Vision. Rapid cutting, multiple superimposition, out-of-focus, color filters, distorted lenses, painting on film, cutting into the frame, the use of zoom, rapid camera movement, the use of negative footage and the mixing of color and black and white: most of these had been used by Brakhage in previous work. But never had more than a few been used at a time. Never before had he achieved such a total syn­thesis of all the ways he had of making seeing. The techniques are never ends in themselves, only important as a way of visualiz­ing. The technique becomes the viewpoint.

Prelude is a film about and of the entire universe. The images range from the telescopic (the sun, moon) to the microscopic (blood vessels, cells). Brakhage shows everything that could have relevance to the central character in the film, and his view of the universe. (The central character, the "Dog Star Man," is played by Brakhage himself.) The film is of sweeping scope, includ­ing nature, civilization, and man in one immense dream of "the creation of the universe."

Prelude begins with darkness, and a few vague flashes and colors appear on the screen. Slowly, objects are brought into focus. But for a few crucial seconds we recognize nothing, only out-of-focus shapes becoming more clear. It is the beginning of the film, the beginning of the dreamer's (the dreamer is the Dog Star Man) dream and perception: it is the beginning of the universe. Out of a few opening images of ice (water, frozen in the winter), light, and fire springs the whole rest of Prelude, the whole world, the whole of The Art of Vision.

Prelude, like all of Dog Star Man, is surprisingly violent and sensual. Few people know the value of color and texture as Brakhage does. His shapes and motions create a strange world. It is powerful, painful, and beautiful. One of the sources of vio­lence is the cutting style. He juxtaposes flat blocks of color, cutting from a large red shape to a blue one; from yellow to brown; and to blue again. The most striking cut is the frequent rapid breaks from blue into red, the most violent contrast of all. The cuts do not work as abstract transitions, the way Eisenstein's do; Brakhage is concerned with contrast rather than smoothness. The structure is dictated by his way of feeling and seeing.

There are several images that recur continually. One is of a country skyline, with mountains and trees, being twisted and distorted out of perspective by an anamorphic lens. The rhythm is fairly regular, and the skyline curves up and back. Brakhage is using distortion here to give a sense of the world being created; one almost feels his hand, twisting the landscape. Later in the film, we are shown more shots of forest, not being twisted; some stability has been achieved. There are many images of the sun, more than in any other part, and of cells. There is also a frequent image or set of images of a bluish sphere, perhaps resembling the earth; but through the blue sphere we are shown many of the objects of the film. Through the world we see its objects, the objects of the film are in fact the world.

But most of the footage is material which takes on its principal narrative meaning in the four parts of the film. Prelude is, first, a "prelude" in the traditional sense: it consists of material drawn entirely from the rest of the work. Prelude creates the world in which the drama takes place. And Prelude is also a dream, the man's dream before he begins his day, before he begins climbing up the mountain in Part I. Brakhage's idea was that one's dreams while sleeping structure the following day, and he wanted to create a sense of the dream of Prelude creating, or structuring, the rest of the film. Prelude is the most independ­ent of the sections, and all of The Art of Vision must be seen in terms of it.

Many people are annoyed by the fairly long segments of black leader which Brakhage uses: after a lot of images, suddenly we see black leader, and the immediate reaction is one of "impatience." In a sense, this is what Brakhage intended: he was concerned with these "visual silences" as "something becoming." He was not interested in black leader for its own sake, but for what follows. But impatience should not be confused with boredom, and the visual silences fit beautifully into the rhythm of the film.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Prelude and the rest of The Art of Vision for most audiences is that it is not possi­ble to distinguish many of the objects. Much is blurred and indistinguishable. Further, the double superimpositions make the objects more difficult to distinguish. Brakhage here is emphasizing the physical qualities of the objects themselves, rather than trying to make things easy for the audience. The superimposition and blurring is merely his way of seeing the texture. Ice is more beautiful when thrown a little out-of-focus than when shown in focus.

The most significant of the techniques used in Prelude is the painting and scratching directly on film. (The color splotches and scratches were generally put by hand onto each frame by Brakhage with paints.) These represent for Brakhage "closed-eye vision," the shapes and colors we see when our eyes are closed. They do appear in the film like spots before our eyes, coming in spurts and bursts. There are times when Brakhage will paint color over a whale frame, giving nearly the same effect as a color filter. The color filters in The Art of Vision are to an extent extensions of, the "closed-eye vision" principle: adding to the objects a kind of subconscious, or more accurately, unconscious, element. What is important is that in fact, the whole of The Art of Vision has the structure of closed-eye vision: the way he sees each of the objects, the way he cuts between shots (instinctively and dramatically, for visual impact but not pre-calculated movement) are all similar to the dots and images we see when we close our eyes. The really amazing thing is that after sitting through all of The Art of Vision, if one closes one's eyes, one can see what appear to be images from the film, recurring before the closed eyes in a truly haunting fashion. This is how closely The Art of Vision resembles our closed (and open) eye seeing.

Part I
Part I establishes the basic situation of the film. The film begins with long-held white shots of snow and the mountainside. The basic context is established but now shown clearly. Then, in the first color shot, we see the Dog Star Man (Brakhage) on a mountainside, trying to climb up. The shot is steady, and in focus, and held for quite a while. It is perhaps the most "objective" shot of the film. We are given the only real sense of geography in these few clear shots of Brakhage on the mountain.

Part I is relatively slowly-paced, slower than any of the other parts. About half of the material consists of shots of Brakhage on the mountainside, or the mountain itself. The rest is material directly related to the DSM's attempt to climb the mountain. Gradually, this other material is interwoven into the structure of the film. A few more subjective shots are used: there is a beautiful sequence of shots of trees and snow in slightly different colors, and soon we see footage of Brakhage with his wife. There is a continual mixture of varying degrees of subjectivity in Part I (from the least subjective — shots of Brakhage on the mountain; to the most subjective — the distorted, black and white shots of him); and one way to discover a shot's meaning in the context of the part is to ask the questions, "How subjective is it? How does it relate to Brakhage on the mountain?"

Brakhage is a woodsman, that is his occupation. Part I shows us the context `in which the single action of trying to climb a mountain exists for him.

In a sense, Brakhage's character is like the character in a myth. Certainly, the acting is not an element in Brakhage's films. His actors are objects: he is not concerned with their specific gestures, except as those gestures relate to the rhythm of the film. The story that is shown is treated like a kind of modern myth, shown as it is in the context of the entire world (a world created by the film-myth itself). The story is one of a very real and intense struggle. Though this is not particularly apparent in the objective shots of Brakhage, slipping down the mountain, more subjective shots in the film make this apparent. There is a shot of him writhing across the frame, flattened by an anamorphic lens, a shot of him writhing in negative: the struggle is cosmic. Black and white is used for a genuinely horrifying effect. At the end of Part I, the angle of the mountain's incline seems to grow steeper and steeper. We cut from a shot of Brakhage climbing the mountain (relatively objective) to a black-and-white shot of Brakhage on the side at a very steep angle. The mountain seems to be shooting past. Back to an objective shot, another shot at a steeper angle, and the screen goes white. Finally (the climax), Brakhage is shown climbing a ninety-degree slope. There can be no doubt now both of the immensity of the struggle, the subjectivity of it (climbing a mountain isn't so difficult, Brakhage only sees it that way), and of a certain absurdity in all the actions. (What is so difficult and cosmic about climbing a mountain?) The shots of the mountain at successively steeper angles are taken in profile (of the mountain's slope), giving the shot an almost analytical, documentary quality. The mixture of relatively objective shots with clearly subjective ones again provides a contrast, showing different ways of viewing the same action. It also gives the struggle some basis; we can understand its nature better if we have an objective framework (even if that framework is only one basic shot).

There is some trace of psychodrama, a form that Brakhage made some of his early films in (FLESH OF MORNING), in Part I. The use of subjective shots of the camera gliding across the snow, in place of Brakhage's eye, very close to it, have a horrifying, intense subjectivity reminiscent of ANTICIPATION OF THE NIGHT. He is using the subjective camera here not just to show what the character sees, but to show a whole state of mind. The camera moves a bit up the snow and two fingers enter the frame, grasping at the ice.

The natural world is analyzed and seen in relation to the modern world and to Brakhage's struggle in Part I. A shot of a single snowflake enlarges to turn the whole frame white, out of which comes Brakhage. This is followed by one of the many shots of animal guts in Part I — representing Brakhage's own insides. Out of the context of the mountain comes Brakhage, and by examining Brakhage we must see al I of him. This is also one of the times Brakhage uses cutting to establish a direct, immediate connection between a group of things. Most often, the objects in one of the parts are related because Brakhage sees them together, as part of the structure of the whole part. But here, they are related more directly. Another instance of this occurs toward the end, when he cuts from several pans across trees in the forest to static shots of Roman columns, instinctively relating the shapes in the forest to architecture. He also relates various shapes to prismatic forms, photographing them to produce spectrums around their edges (particularly with snowflakes), and then cuts to stained-glass windows. This impulse to relate everything in the man's climb to the mountain, and then everything in the mountain to the entire world, is one of the reasons why the film is so sweeping.

Part I analyzes all its material to the fullest possible extent. The mountain is shown in all possible forms, as is nature and the man. It is an exploration of a single action in its total context.

In Part I, according to Brakhage, the DSM's heart stops beating. (I assume in relation to the struggle that is taking place.) It is not revived until the sexual daydream of Part III.

Part II
Part II centers around images of Brakhage's baby. It is concerned with the child's untutored seeing, with the child as life-symbol, with the child as family-symbol.

It opens with tiny, doll-like forms dancing across the frame. Brakhage punched directly into the frame here, inserting objects. There follow shots of Brakhage climbing, and soon, a number of shots of the baby. We are shown the baby in black and white and in color, and Brakhage cuts between the two. The black-and-white shots resemble home-movie footage taken of the baby; the color is more lifelike. The contrast between the dirtyish, black-and-white footage and the real, flesh-like color tones emphasizes that the baby is, or can be seen as, a real living thing. In a way, he relates to all the cells and plants in Part I: he is the most organic, highly developed living being.

Originally, Part II was going to relate to Brakhage's family history. We would see the DSM in the context of his past. But this must have seemed too directly Freudian, too obvious for inclusion. The baby, however, is made in a way to stand (via B&W home movie footage) for Brakhage's whole family.

The primary content of the film relates to the baby's seeing. Children, for Brakhage, see with "untutored" eyes, their perceptions are simpler, less educated, and more beautiful. We see the baby squinting, opening his eyes, and in superimpositions of shots of minerals, shining with reflected light. These rocks belong on the mountain, they are from the mountain. The baby is beginning to learn to see his environment.

All the footage in Part II is directly related to the baby's seeing. The shots of the DSM fit in naturally: the child would be learning about what his father is doing. The film is edited with a staccato rhythm that is even faster than Prelude. Objects jump and dart before our eyes so that we, too, must strain to catch glimpses of them. The film ends with Brakhage sleeping, dreaming of his wife; shown nude in superimposition. This is a direct reference and link to the sexual daydream — Part III.

Part III
Part III is entirely a sexual daydream. Through sex and love, according to Brakhage, the man's heart is revived. The primary images are the two bodies — Brakhage and his wife Jane, and al l their parts. The bodies are rarely shown whole; what we see is abstract forms. Flesh is generally not shown in its natural color, but with filters of various colors — so that we see Brakhage and his wife in blue, green, and red. Parts of their bodies are disassociated from the whole: many times, we will see a shape that seems to be part of the human body, but we cannot recognize specifically what it is., Brakhage shows us each part of the human body and each sexual act with equal concern. To this extent, he is "objective," but the entire tone of Part III is totally subjective: bodies are twisted out of shape until they assume other forms, parts of bodies are superimposed over other parts, and the entire film is shot in eerie, bizarre colors. One should not be sexually aroused when watching Part III; the presentation is abstract, and arousal in the audience is not a concern of Brakhage's. For him the colors and textures that he sees in the bodies are more sensual and arousing than the bodies themselves. This is a kind of sublimation: violent or negative feelings expressed toward sex in his earlier films are here subjugated. He is able to find a filmic treatment (way of seeing for himself) of sex, so that the intense sensuality of the sexual act is represented by the colors and shapes.

But there are violent or scary moments in Part III. A face turns toward the camera, coming out of water, and the filming makes it seem like a strange, horrifying shape rather than Brakhage's face. An anamorphic lens twists and distorts bodies, creating a distortion and a sense of flow.

The "C" roll of Part III consists entirely of organs (heart, liver, etc.) — Brakhage is putting the sex in the total context of their bodies. He again cannot resist seeing everything in the film in terms of the general picture. There is also hand-painting on C roll; again the closed-eye vision, that which one cannot control in one's eyes when participating in the sex act. According to Brakhage, the "A" roll consists of mainly footage of himself, in which he distorts and twists his own body until it takes on some feminine characteristics; and "B" roll consists mainly of footage of his wife, in which her body is filmed in connection with male organs so that it takes on masculine characteristics. The superimpositions of all three, and combinations of two of them, provide full treatment and expansion of those ideas.

Part IV

Part IV is the final climax of The Art of Vision. Its intense beauty has rarely been equaled in film. It begins with a shot of Brakhage lying asleep, and multiple superimpositions of his lying figure in different colors appear. Soon, the screen becomes too cluttered with flashes and indistinguishable objects (this is true even in the separate reels) for us to distinguish more than a few dominant images.

The central image is of the DSM chopping at the tree he has dragged down (and of him struggling to pull the tree down). This is filmed against a deep yellow sky, and there have rarely been images as cosmic and as devastating in any film. The camera zooms in and out on the blade of his axe with the rhythm of his chopping, emphasizing the physical rhythm of the movement and the log and the axe themselves. The rhythm of zooming in and out to the axe coming down and up is the predominant rhythm. We see for the first time the farmhouse where Brakhage the woodsman was living. The relationship to the mountain is made clear, as a pointer moves on a relief map from the mountain town to a spot in the valley. Superimposed over the shot of the pointer pointing to a valley are shots of the farmhouse, and the connection is clear. We also see the baby again, this time at home, crawling before a fire in the fireplace. There is a bloody childbirth scene, ugly in its use of contrasting greys and reds.

The primary theme is the "Fall of Man." In Part I, we saw Brakhage attempting to climb a mountain. It was winter and there were signs of thawing. Part II showed us his baby and commented on perception and learning to see, paving the way for the intense seeing of the sexual daydream in Part III. The DSM's heart was revived, and he is ready to continue his struggle. But the chopping seems to lead to nowhere, it becomes absurd, repeated as often as it is. The whole struggle seems absurd and pointless. Eventually, we see a shot of Brakhage rolling down an icy mountainside, in greyish-blue. Superimposed over it are bodies in deep red, the familiar violent red-blue contrast. He seems to actually throw himself off the mountain. Then, he is left kneeling in the forest, in the rain, shaking his fist absurdly as the camera draws back and up from him in a devastating gesture emphasizing his powerlessness and the cosmic nature of his fall. There are a few terrifying black-and-white negative shots of clouds and a landscape, which seem totally devoid of any life, dead. This is what he has fallen into. We see, in superimposition, Brakhage flinging his head into the stars. (This is a mythological gesture, as are many others in the film; It is a natural response, in terms of the film, to his "death.") But continually, although in shorter fragments, we see shots of him still chopping at the tree. The very last visible image of the film is a two- or three-frame shot of the DSM chopping. The action is never completed. The tremendous absurdity is maintained. This last shot, although it can hardly be seen, is the most tragic — for despite all the cosmic gestures, he was unable to complete a simple action. At the same time, the chopping signifies a perpetual urge toward self-destruction.

Copyright © Fred Camper 1966

Stan Brakhage's films are available for rental from the Film-Makers' Cooperative, Canyon Cinema, and other distributors.

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