By Brakhage: An Anthology

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Robert Harris, Jun 12, 2003.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    These comments are not meant as a review, but rather as an open note to the technical gurus at Criterion in light of the release of An Anthology.

    The concept of this DVD set goes back six or seven years, if not more, when with Stan's blessings, a discussion was begun with Criterion toward the production and release of a selection of Stan's work on laserdisc. Once the films were selected, and it became obvious that the set would run in the area of almost $200, with the necessity of many discs, the concept was set aside.

    That Stan's work could be transitioned from projected film in a communal setting to the intimacy of a video monitor, and that he would be satisfied with the result was always in question. But when the concept of the project again moved to the front burner with the acceptance and success of DVDs, and Stan suggested that Fred Camper be his eyes and ears throughout the process, it took a major step toward actually occurring.

    Working with Criterion, Fred was able to make the films work on video.

    But one element always concerned me. And that was compression and authoring of films which were in many ways single frame works of art, connected and interconnected to form a motion picture which was much, much more than the sum of its parts.

    This evening I finally have had the opportunity to screen samples of the final product, and to put it mildly -- I'm amazed.

    My feeling was that the benchmark would be Mothlight, a film in which each and every frame is entirely different.

    The end result?

    You can now examine Stan's work frame by frame.

    The image holds up to the digital mechanism.

    Within this two disc set, one has the ability to watch and listen to Stan discuss his work.

    You can also go to a track selected for each work and listen in on something that is much more than an interview; its a discussion between friends and collegues. Stan discusses his work with fellow professor Bruce Kawin. Kawin knows Stan and his work, so there is a great deal to be learned here.

    That the video look as much like the film as it does is a tribute to the perseverence and support of Fred Camper.

    He and Criterion have done Stan proud.

    RAH
     
  2. Matt_P

    Matt_P Second Unit

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    Thanks for the interesting info, Mr. Harris.

    My film professor at the University of St. Thomas studied with Stan, and knew his family and work quite well. He recently told me that a DVD release of Stan's work was forthcoming. I was very happy to see the fine folks at Criterion were handling the project.

    It sounds like these unique and important works have been treated properly.

    I look forward to seeing the final result.

    Thanks,

    -Matt
     
  3. Brian PB

    Brian PB Supporting Actor

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    Having never attended film school (or even taken a film appreciation class), I know Stan Brakhage only by reputation. Yet I feel this is an enormously important release by Criterion, and I'm glad to read that they did a commendable job. For me, the miracle of DVD lies not in the mass-marketed films that line the aisles of every discount retailer and video store, but niche titles like by Brakhage--an anthology or Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc or Kieslowski's Three Colors: Blue/White/Red or Murnau's Sunrise---perfect little artistic gems which reward repeated viewing.

    The majority of DVD collectors know little and care less about these titles but, to me, it's equivalent to having a Picasso hanging on my wall that I can admire whenever the mood strikes me. Thanks to the Criterions and the Miramaxes and the Foxes of the world for making it possible. (And thanks to those who buy up all the mass-market titles, which makes it economically possible for companies to release the niche masterpieces.)

    I'm still waiting for my pre-ordered copy of by Brakhage to arrive. I hope Mr. Harris' comments pique the interest of a few people to go out and buy it blind, so Criterion (and the other distributors committed to art film) can reward us with more treasures like this.
     
  4. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    For those who may be unaware, an homage to Stan's work can be found in the main title sequence of David Fincher's Se7en.
     
  5. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I received the following email today from Criterion's Peter Becker, which is posted in its entirety:

    "I saw your HTF post. I'm glad you feel we've done all right on the Brakhage discs. One thing, though: you don't mention the truly key figure in this, the late John Newell and Western Cine, the lab that made such beautiful IPs and FGMs for us to transfer -- and for that matter, who so lovingly stored and preserved the negatives for Stan over the past 50 years.

    Transferring the films was largely a matter of being true to those original elements. Fred's absolutely crucial role was to work with our staff and the telecine colorist to be the expert on the way the films look when projected -- to tell us when the video transfer looked as much as possible like the prints he knows better than anyone. Anyway, you know how many hands it takes, but if you have a chance you might pass this on. Just making sure there's credit where credit is due."

    All the best,

    Peter
     
  6. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

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    I know this release has gotten everyone over at the Criterion boards hyped like absolutely nothing else in recent memory, but it seems that generally this release has gone under the radar for the vast majority as being one of Criterion's "inaccessible" efforts.

    To those in doubt as to what this set can offer I can only say this: frankly, you have no idea what visual heights cinema can aspire to if you haven't seen what Brakhage can do with a strip of celluloid. His work is so breathtakingly, heartbreakingly, life-affirmingly beautiful that once seen, forgetting them is not an option - and why would you want to? His films have even influenced my dreams on occasion. When you hear the oft-used and generally inappropriate cliche that you could take every frame from a given film and put it in a museum, this time it's an observation that hits the nail on the head with startling accuracy. It's twenty-four genuine, individual works of art per second - an overwhelming blitzkreig of emotion and aesthetics.

    I'd like to give (not that it means anything) personal thanks and gratitude to Fred Camper and the producers of this set, Peter Becker and Kate Elmore. Everyone involved can rest assured this exquisite release couldn't possibly be any better than it is and we should all thank our lucky stars that Brakhage was able to give it his blessing and participation before his untimely passing earlier this year. Those looking for the disc of the year can halt their search - categorically, DVD can't get any better than this.
     
  7. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Jon...

    For those of us who have consummate respect and love for Stan's work...
    and wish to see it survive.

    Bless you.

    You get it.

    RAH
     
  8. Simon_Lepine

    Simon_Lepine Supporting Actor

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    I was on the fence on this one, now this is a must buy for me. Thanks [​IMG]
     
  9. WillardK

    WillardK Second Unit

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    It's a beautiful set and I'm reassured by your post that this is as close to a projected viewing as one can presently hope for... with single frame study as an advantage even. This was one of the most anticipated issues for me and between it and the amazing Svankmajer set that just came out, I've been too busy watching tv to post or read here. What an exciting month for dvd's!
     
  10. Bryant Frazer

    Bryant Frazer Stunt Coordinator

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    I've posted a gargantuan review/personal appreciation of this DVD here.

    I think this is one of the touchstone releases on the format to date.

    -bf-
     
  11. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

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    Bryant, that's a wonderful review.

    Criterion have just added an extensive online supplement to their Brakhage release here, including a complete transcript of the conversation between Bruce Kawin and Stan Brakhage excerpted on the discs, and numerous essays on Brakhage and his work. I'd print them all out into a booklet, but it would probably break the clips on my DVD case.
     
  12. WillardK

    WillardK Second Unit

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    Yes, Bryant... thanks for posting that link.

    While viewing I had the same thoughts about the possibilities of a 'reel clatter' ambient audio track option, similar to Fantoma's Educational Archives discs. Probably too low-brow seeming a concept for Criterion, but I think it would have been appropriate here.

    Extraordinary discs, still. "Seeing..." is such an amazing work. What a brilliant communication between artist and viewer. Like his other work, it cannot be sufficiently described but must be experienced before you can have any understanding of what it's getting at. I've gotta see it again! I don't know if I can watch that again! But, I've gotta see it again!
     
  13. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

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    It's official: babies love Brakhage.

    I was looking after my 8-month-old cousin at the weekend and I was quite interested to see what she's make of Teletubbies or one of the other kids shows that was on. She just didn't care. She'd look at the screen for a second or two then her attention would wander and she'd want to play with her soft toys.

    On a whim, I pulled out my DVD and stuck on Nightmusic. Her eyes lit up and, by God, she was mesmerised. I played it again - same reaction. I then put on Stellar - even better. I followed it up with The Dante Quartet and got another great response.

    I'll try out her with something like Commingled Containers, The Garden of Earthly Delights or Love Song in the future, but I advise all HTF parents of newborn or very young children to get this Brakhage set. Not only do babies adore the colours and the motion, they also don't have to deal with narrative (at least in a traditional sense) or any unsettling sounds. They'll also be introduced to a world-class artist at a very young age (or even two, if you put some classical music on as a background accompaniment). It'd also be interesting to see how babies responded to the work of someone like Malcolm McLaren (I suspect Jan Svankmejer or The Brothers Quay would be a little too macabre and disturbing).
     
  14. Bryant Frazer

    Bryant Frazer Stunt Coordinator

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    Jon, I get the feeling Brakhage would have enjoyed hearing that story. As impatient as he could occasionally get, he seemed to always have time for babies! (Aside from any connections between closed-eye vision and collective human consciousness and the state of mind of an infant etc etc etc.)

    Over at the Criterion Collection Forum, someone posted that Criterion has ordered a second printing of this one. Good news, if true -- it means they actually underestimated demand!

    -bf-
     
  15. MartinTeller

    MartinTeller Screenwriter

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    Based on comments in this thread, I made a blind purchase of by Brakhage. It's now one of my favorite DVDs, and I'm hungry for more! I've seen 2 retrospective showings of his work recently at the NW Film Center in Portland, and I'd love to see Criterion do a second anthology, especially with selections from the "Arabic" and "Persian" series. Any word from Criterion about plans for another set?
     
  16. Brian PB

    Brian PB Supporting Actor

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    I would encourage anyone who wants more Brakhage on DVD to write Criterion's Jon Mulvaney and request it. It's impossible to know whether sales for this set were encouraging or disappointing from Criterion's perspective, but I certainly would like more experimental film (Brakhage, Marker, Snow, et al.) from them.
     
  17. MartinTeller

    MartinTeller Screenwriter

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    I emailed Jon about the possibility of another Brakhage set, this was his reply:



    So, it looks like there's some hope!
     

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