Nathaniel Dorsky on Stan Brakhage pt II — Canyon Cinema Salon 3/30/2015

Canyon Cinema Foundation is pleased to announce the first Salon event of 2015! Join us March 30 at New Nothing Cinema as we celebrate the return of Nathaniel Dorsky to the program .This month, Mr. Dorsky will continue his meditation on the work of Stan Brakhage with a screening of The God of Day Had Gone Down Upon Him. Regarding this screening, Dorsky writes:

This evening’s Canyon Cinema Salon blooms out of the joy and desire to continue with what we began on the Salon of December 15th, that is, an exploration into Stan Brakhage’s photographed films in celebration of his new love and marriage to his second wife, Marilyn. In the first Salon we screened Visions in Meditation #2 and #3, two shorter-form films (just under 20 minutes), made in 1989 and 1990. In 1991 Stan began what was to be another four-part series called The Vancouver Island films, beginning with the magnificent 74 minute A Child’s Garden and the Serious Sea, a loving celebration of Marilyn’s childhood home and surroundings.

In this evening’s salon we will show and discuss the third film in the Vancouver series, the 49 minute, The God of Day Had Gone Down Upon Him made nearly ten years later in the year 2000. Stan continues to celebrate Marilyn’s youth, but now life is quite different. Stan had contracted severe bladder cancer cancer five years earlier and having survived the operation, his life expectancy was brief. This epic and difficult work is torn by Stan’s love of Marilyn in the midst of his own fear and sadness of what remaining life has to offer. This dark and gorgeous film has all of these conflicts woven into its syntax, into its montage. I would like to continue our discussion of form and meaning in terms of what we actually see in the film itself and also consider the structural problems of a longer film form.

The Canyon Cinema Salon Series is a FREE event hosted at New Nothing Cinema (located at 16 Sherman St, off Folsom between 6th and 7th in SOMA).

7:00pm- Reception
7:30pm* – Screening and discussion.
*Note: Street entrance locked at 7:30 – please arrive on time!

This evening’s program contains the following films by Stan Brakhage:

 The God of Day Had Gone Down Upon Him | 2000 | 50 minutes | COLOR | SILENT | 16mm

This photographic (as distinct from hand-painted) work is the third in what has come to be called ‘the Vancouver Island films’ and, as such, concentrates metaphorically upon ‘mid-age crisis,’ a psychological state comparable to ‘but not relieved by’ Death. The title is from Dickens’ David Copperfield.

This film of single-strand photography begins with the ‘fire’ of reflective light on water and on the barest inferences of a ship. Throughout, the interwoven play of light and water tell the inferred ‘tale’ of the film through rhythm the tempo, through visible textures and forms in gradual evolution, through resultant ‘moods’ generated by these modes of making, and, then, by the increasingly distant boat images, birds, animals, fleeting silhouettes of people and their artifacts, flotsome and jetsome of the sea-dead, as well as (near end, and almost as at a funeral) flowers in bloom, swallowed by darkness midst the crumbling of the sand castles. These nameable objects (sometimes, at first, quite enigmatic) are the frets of Symbol; but always the symbolic content is swept back into the weave of sea and light and seen, as is the merry-go-round near beginning of film, or the horizontally photographed fountain mimicing [sic] incoming ocean waves, to be as if spawned in the mind during oceanic contemplation. In fact, the structure of the entire film might be characterized thus: meditation on ocean is interrupted continually by rapidly cut visual frets of (at first) irritated thought; but then gradually across the course of the film these fraughts of symbols and rapidly edited constructs become a calm ‘kin to resignation, become more at-one with the diminishing light and incoming waves. The turning point of the film is near its mid-point where tall and relatively violent waves smash their cold and fearsome colors left to right across the screen, interwoven with an old man sitting in a dark blue room, followed by hints of backyard fences, grasses, distant ephemeral flowers and a hung whirling decoration. Reminders of this midpoint are accomplished through visual rhymes such as similarities of blue and a madly whirling kite against a bright sky, as well as by the (near end) entire sequence in which multiple garish flowers invade the (by then) almost fully meditative sea imagery. There are visual rhymes also connecting this work with its two previous ‘parts’ (A CHILD’S GARDEN and THE SERIOUS SEA AND THE MAMMALS OF VICTORIA), such as an orange ball attached to a boat which ‘rhymes’ with thrown orange balls in previous film. As the whole film is stiched [sic] with red-orange-yellow flares (indicators of light-struck sections) at beginning and ending of individual 100 foot rolls (making of the film a distinctive sequential evolution), so the end of the film has a slight flare-up (or fillup of hope?) after burdgeoning dark.

missed this salon? have no fear! you can check out these videos of Nathaniel’s introduction and post-screening discussion with the audience!

About the Artist: 

The major part of my work is both silent and paced to be projected at silent speed (18 frames per second). Silence in cinema is undoubtedly an acquired taste, but the delicacy and intimacy it reveals has many rich rewards. In film, there are two ways of including human beings. One is depicting them. Another is to create a film form which, in itself, has all the qualities of being human: tenderness, observation, fear, curiosity, the sense of stepping into the world, sudden murky disruptions and undercurrents, expansion, pulling back, contraction, relaxation, sublime revelation. In my work, the screen is transformed into a “speaking character”, and the images function as pure energy rather than acting as secondary symbol or as a source for information or storytelling. I put shots together to create a revelation of wisdom through delicate surprise. The montage does not lead to verbal understanding, but is actual and present. The narrative is that which takes place between the viewer and the screen. Silence allows these delicate articulations of vision which are simultaneously poetic and sculptural to be fully experienced. — Nathaniel Dorsky

Image credits: © Estate of Stan Brakhage, courtesy Fred Camper