For the second part in this series of monthly guest curated screenings held in conjunction with the exhibition The Renegades: American Avant-Garde Film, 1960–1973, Minneapolis-based visual artist Cameron Gainer selected a program of short films by his mentor, Stan Brakhage.
Brakhage is one of the most important and prolific figures in American avant-garde film, with a career that spanned five decades and includes more than 350 films. While his early works explored psychological themes and concepts borrowed from the Surrealists nonlinear narratives, Brakhage’s films soon became more metaphysical and shifted by the late 1950s and 1960s toward a more personal and romantic form. Breaking completely away from a linear narrative, his work often employed gestural camera movements, multiple layers of imagery, and physical manipulation of the material’s surface. Similar to many experimental filmmakers of this period, Brakhage supported himself by teaching. From 1981 until his death in 2003, he taught classes and hosted salons on art and filmmaking at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Gainer initially sought Brakhage as an instructor by enrolling at UC Boulder, only to find the legendary filmmaker on an extended medical leave. During this time, however, Brakhage continued to engage with students by hosting salon-style screenings called First Person Cinema. Gainer attended these events with great interest, building a friendship with Brakhage that included a mentorship exchange and studio visits. Though Gainer eventually changed his major to fine arts with an emphasis in sculpture, Brakhage’s influence is evident in his practice and alluded to in works such as the video piece Luna del Mar (2011), on view in the exhibition Midnight Party.
For this program, Gainer selected five short films from the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Collection made between 1959 and 1970 that trace Brakhage’s shift away from psychodrama and toward a more abstract, personal form. The screening features all new prints purchased with generous support from the Bentson Foundation.
Program length 55 minutes.
Window Water Baby Moving*
Quick shots of loving hands on a pregnant stomach, joyful eyes, smiles, and the silhouette of an expecting woman give way to a raw, graphic, and visually stunning document of Brakhage’s first child being born. 1959, 16mm, 13 minutes.
Sexual Meditation: Motel #1*
Part of the Sexual Meditation series, this film is a rhythmic and abstract exploration of light, hand-painted textures, and the possibilities of two nudes in a room. 1970, 16mm, 6 minutes.
Sexual Meditation: Room with a View
This “sequel” to Sexual Meditation: Motel #1 is a playful film of three nudes in a room that incorporates such techniques as jump cuts, double exposures, and hand-painting.
1970, 16mm, 4 minutes.
From a larger series of 31 short silent films, Songs 1–7 capture scenes from Brakhage’s life using his intense first-person perspective. 1966, 16mm, 28 minutes.
One of Brakhage’s best-known films, Mothlight was created without the use of a camera by simply pressing moth wings, leaves, and other organic objects between two strips of Mylar tape and then rephotographing it by running it through an optical printer. 1963, 16mm, 4 minutes.
* Denotes titles donated to the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection by Sally Dixon.