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?

1 comment
  1. I agree with you assessment that the Dog Star Man has a very Eisenstein montage which fits right into one of the 6 factors of experimental film, conscious use of elements of film. On your note about the camera movements, I would like to argue that it is not so much short, quick camera movements as it is the paintings and layered shots which trick the eye into seeing movement. Something that stood out to me about the layers and the paintings was how it appeared that over the course of the prelude, they obscured less of the film underneath. It may have been that my eyes got accustomed to filtering out the extra layers or maybe it was an intentional design choice by Brakhage to slowly ease the viewer into the strange style of the film. I am curious what other people may think about this and if they noticed the same thing or if they think it was the opposite and the film was more obscured as the film progressed.

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