From Stan Brakhage Remembrances:

Brakhage, Spoken in Memory,
17 March 2003

Robert Kelly

Printed in MFJ No. 41 (Fall 2003) Lesbian and Gay Experimental Cinema/Stan Brakhage Remembrances

What is important I think is not to make a story of him or about him or with him in it playing some role. All his work life he kept shoving himself and us away from story, which was not a denial of the appeal of story or the lure of narrative, but pushing to the other side of story,

what we could get to and know, fiercely know, by seeing alone. If we could just get past story (i.e., as Stan loved to say, past novels and plays and comedies divine or human).

I’ve always been excited by Brakhage’s work as deliverance of film from theatrical narrative. In doing so, he brought us much closer to real narrative, the telling of identity, the telling of fixity in the human world, the visual event that grounds us in the emotional complex reality of our own acts of seeing.
As Adam Vroman lugged his fifty pound behemoth of a view camera up the Mesa Encantada and the Hopi mesas, to show us how it was there, and how they were, the ones who were there, the ones who are always there when the camera opens its eye,

so Brakhage carried the whole weight of cinema and cinematic history, striving, storying, intrigues and plot up into the mountains beyond story, beyond plot and circumstance.

Not beyond narrative. This is urgent in him, and in every time art, reading the shadows of human gesture. Because far as we are, we can live only with ourselves—not beyond the shadow-forms of men and women and children whose exemplary forms embody what I have been calling Empirical Narrative

[so for the past months I’ve been tormented/obsessed with the question of narrative, and the place I try to work out my ideas is in thinking about actual and imaginary films. What haunts me is the idea of narrative without plot. Narrative can serve as honest structural unifying principle or motive, as long as it is not plot, not linear. I remember the beauty of certain films that play narrative to set up structural lines of clarity, but precisely avoid the linear, avoid continuity and resolution. I think of Paradjanov’s Sayat Nova [Color of Pomegranates], or the way he violates folkloric linear tale telling in Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors, or Sokurov’s Mother and Son—”real” enough people—never resolved—they are momentaneous, arise from nowhere and fall back. We witness them episodically. So the non-linear episodic narrative, samples of lives, ten minutes of somebody’s life (and Jarmusch’s Int.Trailer.Night. comes along just in time to show exactly that): to see them in time (my own book of essays years ago was called In Time to insist on this even then—not a time line but stab into time through which narrative time pours out towards the viewer. Not as technique, but as starting point towards new ways of holding the span of a film, not just color and visual rhythm and montage and all that classicism, and certainly not the dramatic-novelistic continuity. But instead a critical empirical continuum, in which narratives arise and fall back like complex images. (This is the structure, I now realize, of my long poem The Language of Eden, where the voices arise and fall silent and replace one another, speech as building block, while in film the complex gesture could serve so, the story without a plot.) So sampling, pulling out the evidentiary, representative person (what criticism would call the “subject”) and deploying the subject through the double perception: subject’s own view of own world in which subject moves, doubled with filmmaker’s view of same. (Dog Star Man might be the first magnitude of such narration.) I think both have to be there—if the former is missing, it becomes dumb documentary, easy cynic. If the latter is missing, it becomes mere story. This doubling of perspective is what I mean by the empirical narrative, a kind of guided phenomenology of subjects moving through the mediated spectacle.]

held together not by seedy plot or grand exterior arrangements, but by the strike they make in the earth of our feelings,

not a story but people rooted in the visible. Living can see.

We feel beyond any story. It hurts to see them. It helps to see them.

And this is true of Brakhage’s work all the way from the operatic masterworks of the early 60s (Dog Star Man, Art of Vision) and the person-oriented Song Traits, up through the handmade, hand-scratched, twisted, glued, hand-painted films—always the gesture of the hand, hand of the eye, a sign the seeing body recognizes, and knows as a mark made in its own space.