Monday, June 24, 2013

#517: By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volume Two

(Stan Brakhage, 1955-2003)

Volume two of Criterion's most significant collection of experimental films is twice as long as volume one and considerably more challenging. The set lacks the lineup of high-profile pieces like Window Water Baby Moving, The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes and Dogstar Man that made the first anthology so significant, but the combination of the two volumes represents one of the most significant collections of experimental film available on blu-ray in the US (a market that is extremely lacking - note that Maya Deren, arguably the most significant American experimental filmmaker in history, lacks any films that have been made available on the newer format).

Still, with substantially more lengthy pieces on volume two, this collection is much more difficult to wade through. I loved the first volume, but I am not a huge experimental film fan and the genre is not really made for home viewing, where slow works mean more distractions have the chance to seep in and you being to wonder how much more time is left in this one before the next one comes on and maybe you'll just check your email again real quick and oh, is that a link to a new article about, etc. I blazed through the first set in under a week - this one took me nearly six months.

That shouldn't discourage fans of the first set from seeking out this one (and really, if you have a blu-ray player, why not buy the whole box?) but it does indicate that most of what is here feels more like minor Brakhage. There are certainly some great pieces, whether it's the kinetic climax of The Domain of the Moment or the sprawling politics of the multi-part Visions in Meditation. But too often these films feel like they were meant to be seen in bits and pieces rather than in one continuous viewing. Although it makes me feel like a classic American, anything over fifteen minutes here had me wondering at one point or another how much longer it was going to be. Perhaps I want to like experimental film more than I do, or perhaps I just resist something lacking any semblance of a narrative when it moves beyond a short piece into something resembling acts. Either way, I was much less taken by this volume, even if I continue to be grateful that Criterion dedicates itself to project like this.

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