Prelude: Dog Star Man (1961, Stan Brakhage), Scorpio Rising (1963, Bruce Byron), a new experience.

Watching both Prelude: Dog Star Man (1961, Stan Brakhage) and Scorpio Rising (1963, Bruce Byron) was a pretty new experience to me, aside from what we watched in class on Tuesday the only other thing that I’ve seen that I would think is akin to experimental film is Duality ( 2014, Captain Murphy) which is a film that is a music video for the entire album, after having discussing experimental film in class and watching both of the aforementioned films it is quite obvious that Duality gets a lot of its inspiration from such films as Dog Star Man. What surprised me most about both films Is how well they managed to keep my attention, not once during either film did I find myself wandering in thought I was completely involved in what I was consuming, attempting to understand what I was watching and what each film was trying to convey. In the case of Prelude: Dog Star Man most of my energy when to interpreting the image on screen and with the rapid cuts and distortion I was left with little time to piece it all together and try to make meaning of it all. What I was able to take away from Prelude: Dog Star Man is the collision of the worlds of man, dog and star, what I mean by that is that nearly every shot in the film was of a man, nature, or the sun, and they were strung together showing they are in conflict but also how they are all one. With each of the three subjects taking up about the same screen time it suggest to me that they were some sort of trinity and the result is the Dog Star Man, a mystical figure made up of nature flesh and the cosmos, as far as what the Dog Star Mans purpose is and why he exist and what message Brakhage is attempting to tell us is still a mystery to me, maybe if I watch the entirety of Dog Star Man I could answer these question though I have the feeling ill only be left with more questions. Scorpio Rising (1963, Bruce Byron) was a very different viewing experience from Dog Star Man, with Scorpio Rising much like in Dog Star Man I was intently focused on the film and trying to comprehend it, however unlike in Dog Star Man though out the film I knew what I was looking at and so my thoughts were more on what this all means together. That being said I still have no real sense of what I was intended to take away from the film, I got that Anger was drawing a connection between Christianity the homosexual bikers and Nazis but I’m not sure what he’s saying by lumping the three together or who the film is really critical of.

Watching Brakhage Movies and the Act of Seeing

Relevant Link: https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/272-by-brakhage-the-act-of-seeing

Interesting note about what Professor Zinman said in class about studying experimental film to prepare us for ambiguity in the world, the author makes a point here that “the work generally doesn’t aspire to what is often meant by purity; instead, it’s chock-full of the conflicting emotions and general messiness of life itself.” This is heavily contrasted with many classical movies where the goal of the director is to make the audience feel an emotion in line with what he is trying to convey. Brakhage seems to be approaching the topic as trying to make you feel any emotion, perhaps many emotions, at any time.

Naturally there are a group of people who express distaste for the types of film Brakhage creates, but if the goal is to elicit emotion, then perhaps it could be counted as a success if you dislike the film enough to emotionally react to it.

That is not to say that any emotion is free to express at any time throughout the film. In films in general, there are designated sections where “some characters and scenes evoke empathy and others create tension and fear. These emotions are provoked primarily by the subject matter… but while subject matter is important in Brakhage’s films, they do their work mainly through composition, camera movement, rhythms within images, and the rhythms of editing or paint on the film.” That is to say that Brakhage aims for causing certain emotions with things that are not typically associated with it. While talking about the predetermined forms and story arc structures of most narratives, the article says “all were to be undermined because they block the individual from experiencing the unpredictability of inner life.” This goes back to the life lesson of not always being prepared for something and having to react real time to life.

“Unsane”: Is it Experimental?

The link I have is an analysis of a recent experimental film that came out this year called “Unsane.” The article claims that this movie is experimental based on how the aspect that makes is so seems to be very modernized. While the author of the article praises the movie I myself am inclined to believe it is not very good provided that at my theater in Warner Robins Georgia, only one person came to see it, but I was still curious to what it is about and how it was created. The film seems like an “ordinary” thriller about a girl being hunted by a stalker after being checked into a Mental Institute. What makes this film Experimental is the fact that it was filmed completely on an iPhone. This is different from other “Found Footage” type films because this is the first movie filmed a cellular device. But is this film truly fit the definitions of Experimental film discussed in class.

For one, this film isn’t completely low budget. There is a pretty sizable cast (including a cameo Matt Damon and Juno Temple). Some of the experimental films like those seen in class had actors but not well-known movie stars. I feel as though experimental films wouldn’t be mainstream enough to warrant a large enough budget for these actors. Another point would be that this movie has a well-defined plot and theme to it. It doesn’t show the audience an artistic experience, rather it’s just another thriller movie filmed on cheap hardware. While the films shown in class weren’t necessarily filmed with better hardware for their time period, they still seemed to lack an easily comprehensible plot.

I for one do not believe this movie is not fully experimental, but it does have an interesting take on how to film a motion picture. As explained in the article, filming on the iPhone allows for quicker and more agile camera motions without the large bulky setups caused with normal films. On a sense it could potentially allow younger or otherwise more tech-wise views to connect relate of the “cinematography” of the film since just about anyone has seen YouTube videos or “vines” taken with cellphone cameras or simple recorders.

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/steven-soderberghs-inspired-iphone-experiment-in-unsane

Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Experimental Film

For my Searcher post this week, I wanted to showcase some more surrealist art. Salvador Dali, in particular, is one of the most famous surrealist artists, and we saw his experimental film in class on Tuesday. The motif of ants appear in much of his work, because Dali was actually terrified of insects crawling over his skin. Ants in his work also tend to symbolize death and decay.

The Persistence of Memory (1931) – You can see the ants crawling around in the lower left corner. 

The Temptation of St. Anthony (1946)

Surrealist art explores the human mind. Many of the artists of this time were moving away from “retinal” art, or art that exists to look beautiful, or to please the eye. Artists wanted to engage the mind, and this idea is present throughout much of art throughout the 20th century.

Finally, I wanted to showcase some of Pollock’s art, which I mentioned in class. I love, love, love Jackson Pollock. The problem with copying and pasting his work into this blog is that Pollock’s paintings really have zero effect when viewed from a computer screen. His work is enormous– when you stand in front it completely dominates your field of view and then you experience his work. Until I saw a Pollock in person I didn’t get that excited when talking about him, and now he’s my favorite artist. If you’re ever in DC, the National Gallery of Art is free and amazing. So definitely if you have 20 minutes to spare, go check out Pollock in person. It’s so much more powerful.

Autumn Rhythm (1950)

Lavender Mist (1950) – This is the one in the National Gallery of Art. It’s awesome.

His work is also important conceptually when talking about experimental film, because many abstract expressionists and surrealists (and really, many of the 20th century art movements) deal with self-inspection of what art means, and what art is fundamentally. It seems like experimental films do something similar: what is film? What does film mean? What can film do?

They Might Be Giants, Archival Footage

The first thing I thought about during our class on Tuesday was this song:

It is a fun song that lampoons the idea of an amateur making an experimental film (or maybe the idea of experimental film in general). It has some fun lines, like: “I already know the ending, its the part that makes your face implode, I don’t know what makes your face implode, but that’s the way the movie ends”. This line in particular, in some way, parallels the grand ideas that these films are supposed to convey. For example, the idea that Dog Star Man is a creation myth or that Un Chien Anadalou would be extremely upsetting to the bourgeoisie at the time. However, I didn’t want to just pick this song since I really don’t think it has too much to say beyond “haha, aren’t those artists and experimental films strange?”.

This article goes into a bit into the history of archival footage:

Archival footage has become a business, but at the time Bruce Conner created A Movie most archival footage was old government stock. Material film is highly flammable, so storing it in the past posed difficulties. However, digitizing old footage has made it both easier to store and retrieve. I would be curious to see a movie similar to A Movie made today with digital editing, and compare the differences.

To tie to all together, They Might be Giants use a large variety of different sounds and genres. However, their entire catalog is immediately recognizable. Similarly, the making of A Movie didn’t involve any actual filming and used stock footage throughout, but has a very distinct feel and narrative.

Retrospective on Dog Star Man Viewing

For the duration of watching Prelude: Dog Star Man, I tried to understand what I was seeing. I was taking notes just identifying objects, patterns, shot-types, technique, movement, structure, and themes. I was able to list that the film used primarily close-ups of the discernable objects like people and elements of nature. Some things seemed like they were ultra-close ups, like viewing something under a microscope because the images resembled close-up textures or bacteria. This made whatever what we were actually seeing undiscernable (also because of how quickly the images were shown). The textures themselves sometimes seemed like more of just textures themselves instead of an object viewed under a microscope. The texture of paint, like a Jackson Pollack painting, except viewed for a fraction of a second in a bombardment of many textures. These were all recurring, as well as the images of what appeared to be celestial being like a star or moon. I interpreted this as coming from the “Star” in Dog Star Man, with the imagery of humans being the “Man” part of the title. I’m unsure  about the “Dog” part. There might have been imagery of a dog, this connection I’m trying to make might also be a bit far-fetched. Another thing I noticed is that the images were often warped and stretched. There also never seemed to be just one layer of imagery. There was always a layer of texture or color on top or many of the two. I also noticed that, most of the time, there would be movement of something within the frame.

After having read some information on Stan Brakhage and his themes and practices, I understand what I was seeing (or more, the intent behind what I was seeing) more clearly now. The constant motion in the film aligns with the representation of “moving visual thinking”. Also that Brakhage did indeed hand-paint his films. The layers of colors and dots of stars/moons also make sense to me now as being an attempt of Brakhage to represent optical feedback.

This film was truly unlike anything I had ever seen. I want to know a bit more about the exact techniques that Brakhage used to make his films. Also, could the title be related to the imagery of the film?

The Range and Impact of Experimental Film

What is Experimental Cinema?

This article attempts to define what constitutes experimental film, and argues for its defiance of rules as a method of furthering the language of cinema.  This can range from Kubrick’s hugely impactful innovation of technical methods to “Kren’s 16/67 September 20th, dubbed the ‘Eating Drinking Shitting Pissing Film’ [which] involves clips of exactly what the title suggests, and seems to exist to shock its audience purely by portraying this human cycle.”  The author emphasizes an approach to defining experimental film as a work that pushes or defies some aspect of what is expected by an audience.  Film has inherently captured the nature of experimentation from its inception, with cumulative innovation driving growth in the techniques and storytelling devices used by directors.  On the spectrum detailed by the author, the end farthest from convention approaches “visual art, with each technical choice being like the purposeful strokes on a canvas.”  This article works to capture the facets of experimental film, with a broad range allowing for the inclusion of those films that edge the mainstream envelope ever further to fall in the same category as extreme works of visual manipulation.  It argues that these films are often created to draw attention to the nature of our expectations by turning them on their head or making us painfully aware of how heavily we rely on convention.  Regardless of its creator’s intent, experimental film is a driving force of innovation and an ongoing conversation between artist and audience about what can be conveyed through cinema.

The Experimental Elements of Dog Star Man and Scorpio Rising

Experimental film making eschews the conventions of film making, particularly continuity editing, cinematography, and sound. The unconventional elements of these combine to produce a single, overwhelming, though often hard to place, effect. These elements are center stage in Dog Star Man (Stan Brakhage, 1961) and Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1963). Dog Star Man showcases the experimental film’s unconventional editing and while Scorpio Rising certainly eschews conventional editing, it seems to have a more political bent.

The short film Prelude: Dog Star Man typifies many of the elements of experimental film, it was made largely by one man, it seems to lack a clear linear structure, it makes heavy use of the elements of film, and its lack of a clear message or narrative. The first element is quite simple enough to explore, the film is directed by, stars, and is edited by one man, Stan Brakhage. This sort of auteur film making typifies the genre, though it can be found elsewhere. The lack of clear linear structure is more than apparent with the film consisting mostly of short sequences of distinct shots bound together through some sort of rhythm and theme. Many shots are composed of several shots layered over each other in varying degrees of transparency, sometimes dissolving in and out. Many of these shots also feature erratic camera movement, with many short pans, tilts, push shots, and zooms. The shots often are broken up by patterns reminiscent of film grain, though these are often exaggerated. All these elements make the film seem to be a more intense version of Eisensteinian Montage, with shots matched typically by color and rhythm and then contrasted with visually or rhythmically jarring images. What this is building to, I can’t really say. Below is a shot of what could best be described as the subject of the film, the lumberjack.

While Dog Star Man seems to never follow a clear linear narrative, Scorpio Rising seems to initially follow some continuity editing conventions which degrades over time. The film begins quite heavily with continuity editing, with the major deviations from continuity editing being used for a title card, a not totally experimental feature. It features eye line matches and matches on action quite regularly. The continuity editing decays towards the end of the film with numerous disjointed shots beginning to get cut together. This becomes incredibly apparent when the film begins to cut between shots of men riding motorcycles, Jesus Christ, and a Halloween party with clear homoerotic visuals and homosexual acts. The continuity only further decays as one of the bikers enters a church with more sources of imagery, particularly Nazi emblems, Christian icons, and biking men, disjointedly added into the mix. The content of these images, as well as the way they are cut together, when into context seem to point to a more political bent for this film. The film appears to have some element of criticism of the 1950’s biker culture, typified by James Dean and Marlon Brando films, with prominent use of biker leather products combined with Nazi imagery, period music, and homosexual activity. The use of period music for the film’s score, particularly its synchronous nature with the onscreen action, was certainly influential and served as an influence for music videos and feature films alike.

Where are some places where the aesthetic of Dog Star Man has been applied? What are some other ways Scorpio Rising poses a challenge to the audience and how has it changed since its creation?

Thoughts on Dog Star Man (1961) and Scorpio Rising (1963)

Dog Star Man (1961 ) by Stan Brakhage

The first noticeable aspect of this film  is its use of dialectical montage. This is apparent because it is comprised of briefly moving images; these images briefly appear and contrast with following images.  The images are seemingly unrelated but there is a constant, abstract, motifs that appear throughout the film. The first is the amber or reddish orange color that appears in the beginning.  Personally, it makes me think of the surface of a new planet. (I could be wrong, but I believe new planets look molten or lava-like.) Also, it reminds me of flesh when you shine a flashlight through it or hold it close to a camera. The second images I noticed were ocean and nature related. They contrast heavily with the first, however, they are more recognizable to the viewer. Perhaps they are part of a narrative? There is also a close-up of a bearded  face that appears occasionally. Is this the main character? Some times he appears with the silhouette of a thorny push which could be metaphorical prop relating to Christianity or directly to Jesus Christ, but I do not know if the director did that on purpose.

 

There is a lot of astronomical symbolism in the film. The moon and the sun appear most often. These appear as starkly contrasted with various colors such as black, red, or grey.  Also, they contrast with the microscopic overlay that frequently appears over the images. A colorful overlay filled with moving spots often shows over the images, these could be bacteria or just any general small organism.  The cosmic and microscopic imagery show the extremities of the natural world.

 

I am not sure whether this is accurate, but I believe this film mainly represents the beginning of something (vague I know). This is supported because this is the first part of the entire film.

Is there a narrative to this film? Or is it just random scenes?

Scorpio Rising (1963) by Kenneth Anger 

This film is a more concrete and less abstract but weirdly haunting. It focuses on the activities of a counterculture youth. He is a big fan of masculine characters like James Dean and is a part of a biker subculture.  He is completely fixated on his motorcycle. There is evidence he was honorable discharged from the military and continues to wear militaristic clothing. He seems to be in pursuit to be as masculine as possible.

They participate in progressive, but taboo, homosexual ritualistic activities. Even today the ritualistic and dark imagery is taboo. It can be considered satanic or occultist. Homosexuality is more accepted today; however, it still often accompanies the perception of  being feminine. This film seems to challenge that. However, the occult becomes evil when we later learn it’s associated with Nazism.

 

What is the film saying about the counterculture? Is it progressive or regressive (pro-lgbt or pro-Nazi)? What is the director’s message?

 

Scorpio Rising: A Prelude to the Music Video

Scorpio Rising is a 1963 experimental film staring Bruce Byron as Scorpio, who appears to be the leader of a Nazi-like biker gang.

One of the things I found noteworthy while watching this film is how it appears to be a prelude to music videos. There are various songs dispersed throughout the film that correspond to the images on the screen. To me, the songs cut up the film and tell separate, yet interconnected stories and touch on different themes, whether it be longing, love, rejection, rebellion, or torture. To the best of my knowledge, music videos weren’t big until the 80s, so to see this style in a film from the 60s was very interesting. It really shows how elements of past film culture can be incorporated into modern day film and art. I have included a clip that shows this below, where some of the “Jesus imagery” begins in the film. You can see that as the song talks about “the way he shuffles his feet” and “how he goes walking by”, we see the biker’s feet moving along with crosscutting to sequences that feature Jesus walking. There are many connections between the words of the  song and the images on screen that give it a music video feel.

Below, I have linked an article from the website “Senses of Cinema”, which touches on the music video aspect of Scorpio Rising and also does a great job of analyzing the film in more depth. I think it’s worth a read as it analyzes the film without being too subjective, allowing the viewer to still draw their own conclusions.

Article 1 “Senses of Cinema”: http://sensesofcinema.com/2015/cteq/scorpio-rising/

I also found another article that I think is really helpful in dissecting the film, linked here: https://walkerart.org/magazine/a-listeners-guide-to-kenneth-angers-scorpio-rising.  It features each of the songs used in the film and goes over some common themes of the songs and how they were relevant to the film. The author of the article also points out that all of the songs in the film are love songs. I definitely noticed this about the film, but didn’t realize that EVERY one of the songs was a love song. The use of love songs over imagery of hate, rebellion, and crime is a very ironic parallel and it almost makes the events taking place on screen seem less severe. For example, at one point in the film, there is a lot of Nazi imagery, but playing along with the imagery is a song about love. What do you make of this combination?