From Stan Brakhage Remembrances:

Riding with Stan

Tony Pipolo

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

The first time was in the fall of 1992, when I drove Brakhage from Manhattan to Princeton University where I had invited him to speak and show his work. As we drove, we spoke of mutual acquaintances, his films, a recent illness, and his feelings about psychoanalysis—a field in which I was training.

At Princeton his talk and screening and aftertalk were characteristically warm and stimulating. Before returning to New York, Brakhage asked if we could visit the house and property nearby where he had lived years earlier, at the time he shot Sirius Remembered. We did. He remarked that little had changed, pointed out the plot of ground where the dog had been buried, and regretted not having brought his camera.

On the return trip, I asked a question provoked by a recent re-seeing of Tortured Dust, a film that moves me greatly. It concerned my sense of the different ways he seemed to film each of his sons and I wondered if this reflected specific feelings he was aware of at the time. He seemed surprised, yet undefensive, speculating that while he was having trouble with his eyes at the time, he could not rule out that, indeed, there may have been some paternal envy and favoritism inflected in his camerawork.

It began to rain as we rode through Little Italy on the way to uptown Manhattan, turning the gaudy colored lights of restaurants and storefronts into what Brakhage called the set for a Minnelli movie. We parted fondly and he thanked me for the invitation, the ride, and what he said was a heartened sense that people he did not know thought so much about his films.

About a year later, returning from visiting my daughter at Cornell, Brakhage came to mind in a physically compelling way I think he would have appreciated. Because I was troubled with a very bad backache, my wife was driving and I was lying, knees up on the back seat. As the late afternoon sun flickered through the dense foliage along route 79 out of Ithaca, I closed my eyes and, for the first time, watched a Brakhage movie unfold on the inside of my eyelids. Fleeting, furiously fluctuating dots, lines, and shapes alternated against dark and illuminated “backgrounds,” focusing my entire consciousness on the miracle of a vision I had heard Brakhage extol in numerous talks, but about which I had been skeptical. I could not dismiss the powerful sense I had of a connection between the “art” of vision and its ground in nature and biology. The experience was so involuntary, so surprising, and so strong that to this day I trace to it my deepened appreciation of Brakhage’s achievement and aesthetics.