Animated Short of the Week – Two By Stan Brakhage
Black Ice (1994)
Dir. Stan Brakhage
First thing’s first… If you haven’t seen the works of Stan Brakhage, Criterion has a stunning two-disc collection of his films, spanning his entire career from early live-action works, bridging directly into his signature paint-on-cell animation. Here are two excellent examples of the master of abstract animation.
We will begin with Mothlight, quite possibly the most famous example of Brakhage’s style, and one that serves as a brilliant and, well, accessible introduction to his intimidating ouvre. In this film, Brakhage literally pasted dead moths onto film stock directly, avoiding any actual exposure of film.
Mothlight is well exhausted amongst academic circles at this point, so I would like to augment it with Black Ice, a lesser-known work from later in his career that showcases the subtle progression of his work over the decades, something that certainly isn’t discussed as often as his earlier works. Brakhage devoted the majority of his career to the paint-on-film technique, and over the years, his mastery of movement became more and more intriguing. His films definitely serve as a kind of Rorschach test, as I’ve encountered vastly different visions from those I’ve shown his films to. One thing stands out with Black Ice, and that is the forward-momentum of movement (a sensation created from zooms created from an optical printer), as if these flashing colors and strokes are leading you down an alternate hallway of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. It’s slightly unsettling, as are most of Brakhage’s works, but the hypnotic pulse keeps you glued until his parting signature: “By Brakhage”
(On a side note, part of me really feels bad about linking these films from Youtube, as these in particular don’t translate to the internet viewing domain quite like a proper film projection, or at very least, a dark room and a DVD.)
(OK, one more side note… A favorite past time of mine; invite some friends over, indulge in a substance or two, and improvise your own score to Dog Star Man, Brakhage’s epic masterpiece.)