I was having a conversation today in which I was recounting a transcendent experience watching Nathaniel Dorsky’s incredible Song and Solitude at the Wisconsin Film Festival. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about the state of avant-garde (experimental, etc., call it what you will) film.
That led me to think about one my first real exposure to filmmakers that would become two of my favorites — Nathaniel Dorsky and Stan Brakhage. It was 10 or 12 years ago, and a filmmaker named Konrad Steiner was touring with some of his work, a recent film by Dorsky, and a Brakhage. I must admit that it was an incredible experience and really changed the trajectory my education and film viewing was taking. I found the Brakhage a bit baffling and underwhelming, yet very intriguing. The Dorsky, on the other hand, was absolutely riveting. I had helped organize the visit with a student group I was involved with, but I essentially sat down in the theater excited to speak to a visiting filmmaker, but not knowing what to expect to appear on the screen. (This was quite early in my film studies.)
It was such a transformative experience, but despite all of our work promoting the event, it was one shared with little more than 20 people. The number in and of itself is not really an issue, but it is troubling to think that so few, outside of academia, get or take the rare opportunity to see this kind of work exhibited. It’s clearly not cinema for the masses, but I have to imagine that there are many people that could have that same type of experience, but never will.
I really wish I had a solution, but I don’t. What I can ask is that, assuming that as a reader of this blog you are interested in cinema, that you take a chance and check out programs of experimental film when they pop up. It could be at an art museum, a film festival, in a basement, or just about anywhere a wily filmmaker can get their work shown. Sadly, they are getting to be a uncommon occurrence, and the filmmakers and people that put these shows on always need the support.
While I was considering all of this, a quick googling of Nathaniel Dorsky led me to something I had not seen when it was published. It’s an incredible 2001 interview indieWire conducted with Stan Brakhage and Nathaniel Dorsky. It’s a casual conversation that meanders everywhere from their work, to American Beauty, and the state of avant-garde cinema. They’re far more eloquent than I am on the topic, and frankly there is so little in the interview that isn’t quotable, that you simply must take a look and read it for yourself.
It left me missing Stan and wishing that more people had the opportunity to see Nathaniel Dorsky’s inspired and inspiring work.