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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • 26 films
  • Notes by Stan Brakhage
  • Interview with the filmmaker

By Brakhage: An Anthology


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Stan Brakhage
2003 | 243 Minutes | Licensor: Stan Brakhage

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $ | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #184
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: June 10, 2003
Review Date: July 3, 2008

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SYNOPSIS

Working completely outside the mainstream, Stan Brakhage has made nearly 400 films over the past half century. Challenging all taboos in his exploration of "birth, sex, death, and the search for God," Brakhage has turned his camera on explicit lovemaking, childbirth, even actual autopsy. Many of his most famous works pursue the nature of vision itself and transcend the act of filming. Some, including the legendary Mothlight, were made without using a camera at all. Instead, Brakhage has pioneered the art of making images directly on film itself--starting with clear leader or exposed film, then drawing, painting, and scratching it by hand. Treating each frame as a miniature canvas, Brakhage can produce only a quarter- to a half-second of film a day, but his visionary style of image-making has changed everything from cartoons and television commercials to MTV music videos and the work of such mainstream moviemakers as Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and Oliver Stone.

Criterion is proud to present 26 masterworks by Stan Brakhage in high-definition digital transfers made from newly minted film elements. For the first time on DVD, viewers will be able to look at Brakhage's meticulously crafted frames one by one.

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PICTURE

A surprising release at the time, as I always figured Brakhage would scoff at the idea of home video, Criterion has released a collection of 26 films by Stan Brakhage. The films are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 over two dual-layered discs and the transfer across the set is nothing short of excellent.

I usually base my rating on a couple things, specifically the quality of the print and the transfer. Brakhageís films were, for the most part, shot on 16mm and they are of course grainier. As well, Brakhageís style usually calls for markings, scratches and general ďdamageĒ to the prints. So in this case I ignored all of that and just focused on the transfer itself, which I think is one of Criterionís best.

Sharpness varies, the images looking grainy, out of focus and/or fuzzy at times, but again this has more to do with stylistic choices on the part of Brakhage. But when itís sharp, itís very sharp. Live action films show the most flaws, but theyíre very filmlike and give the impression of watching an actual film reel (all thatís missing is the sound effect of the projector running.)

Looking at his more experimental films here, like Mothlight or any number of painted films, such as Rage Net, the image is crystal clear. Colours look fantastic, detail is sharp, and you can pause at any point and get a clear image of a frame. Thereís no fuzziness, no poor transitions, just a sharp, clear picture. You can tell that they painstakingly went through each frame, and it was well worth it. Other than seeing the actual film I donít think youíll get much better (I donít know if Blu-Ray would offer much more of an advantage from a 16mm source.) This is, for me, Criterionís most impressive transfer.

10/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

Screen Capture
The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes

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Mothlight

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Cat's Cradle

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The Stars Are Beautiful

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Rage Net

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Rage Net

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Commingled Containers

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Signature Sample

AUDIO

Audio is hard to review as most of the films are silent and when there is audio, it really doesn't sound all that pleasing, which I'm sure was purposely done. I just gave it an average grade just to give an idea of what you're getting into, but the films aren't really sound-oriented, all of them really being more about the visuals. When there is sound itís presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono and the quality varies, but it is at a decent volume, sounds clear enough, and wasnít an overall problem.

(Iím going to say something crazy here, and Iím sure many will disagree and see it as tacky, but I would have loved it if Criterion took advantage of a 5.1 track and had the sound of a projector in one of the rear speakers, optional of course. I know many will scoff at it but I honestly believe that that sound actually adds a certain element to watching his films. When watching his painted films I felt I was missing that sound. I think it would have completed the illusion of actually watching a reel. But hey, I can accept it if itís just me.)

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Before the release of this set I only knew a little bit about Stan Brakhage, and in all honesty I pictured a crazy old hermit. Well, this set pretty much cleared that idea out of my head. There isnít much on here in the way of supplements (really, itís just a treat getting a collection of his films on a DVD release) but I was more than happy to go through what was offered here.

On each disc you can watch the films together or each individually, which is what I did. When you go through each individually you get the option to go through text introductions by Brakhage, some short, some long, and in some cases you can even hear remarks from Brakhage recorded in past interviews or interviews I assume were specific for this Criterion release. These play over the menu for the film and not the film itself.

Of the 26 films 19 of them have remarks by Brakhage and they range from about 45 seconds to around 8 minutes, for an approximate total of 52-minutes, give or take a minute or two. I was actually surprised by the comments as I was really expecting someone that was, well ďa crazy old hermit,Ē but I discovered he is a surprisingly easy going and fairly funny individual, offering some great insights into his films, stories behind them including personal issues that inspired them and even has some amusing little anecdotes, like how Commingled Containers came about, which involved him testing out a used camera he had just purchased and wanted to make sure it worked before the warranty ran out. I suggest watching the film first then listening to the remarks as having the vision of the film in your head makes them more informative. All of the comments are worth it.

You also get four video encounters with the aritst, two on each disc, lasting in total about 36-minutes altogether. Encounter 1 lasts 9 minutes and Brakhage talks about his techniques and even has a decent anecdote about Pollack. Encounter 2 lasts 8-minutes and 40-seconds and Brakhage talks about himself as a frustrated poet, mentions how in fact he does like mainstream films, and discusses his narrative, as well as the idea of his film's being a presentation of things through the mind's eye. Encounter 3 lasts shy of 9-minutes and he gets a little more personal, talking about his personal presentation to people (the mountain/macho man) and talks about his equipment and how he had to practice with each new camera he got so he knew how to control it. And then finally, Encounter 4 ends on a more down note as later on we see Brakhage after what I'm guessing was extensive chemotherapy. He talks about his future plans, leaving paints and in an amusing bit (more because I never really considered experimental cinema like his would have such a thing) he touches on "outtakes" from his films. These encounters are informative (they show him working in some cases) and sometimes funny, offering a wonderful look at the man. For people intrigued by Brakhage it doesn't hurt looking at all of these and I know the idea I had of the man was completely shot down.

A booklet is also included with an essay on Brakhage by Fred Camper. It also contains a synopsis of sorts for each film. These are worth reading, though in some cases (like Dog Star Man) I still don't see it in the films, but these will probably prove useful to many.

Thatís unfortunately it, but I found the supplements, while few, very informative and they painted a great portrait of the man himself. Absolutely worth going through everything on here.

7/10

CLOSING

Itís a hard recommendation only because of the content on the disc. These films are definitely not the most accessible, but for those intrigued by experimental cinema itís a no-brainer, especially since the transfer for the films perfectly capture Brakhageís work. Throw in the interviews with the man himself and you got yourself a must have. This is one of my favourite releases from Criterion, and one of my favourite DVDs in general. I absolutely love this set.


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