From Stan Brakhage Remembrances:

…Continue in this Unknowable…

Carolee Schneeman
8 June 2003

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


To tell the root the fibrous root or now bones stunned, absence of you… Formations, origins once—only the three of us. Miraculous in the welter of worlds unknown unknowing that I would find my soulmate collaborator lover friend adventurer, Jim Tenney. Stan, a poet who made films, takes a Greyhound bus from Colorado East to see us. Three penniless kids from towns where there were no artists, rattling between scholarships.

When I met Jim on the stairs of the concert hall he said, “I am a music student from Colorado at Julliard. I treat sound as space.” I said, “I am a painting student from Pennsylvania, I treat space as time!”

The night Stan arrived in NYC, we converge at a 42nd Street dive, near the glittering movie houses he so loved, sharing a memorable bowl of spaghetti. We dazzle, shine for each other. Stan believed you structured your art by going to meet older artists directly. So we shamelessly followed as he entered the lives of Maya Deren, Joseph Cornell, Willard Maas, the New York poets. Jim would bring us to meet Edgar Varese, Carl Ruggles. I led us to the beery, smoky Cedar Bar where we observed DeKooning, Kline and Norman Mailer!

And always for Stan from his earliest film, the gesture of the life, life of the thing the life of light of the being its essence and to trust what is to reveal itself. In a smoky Denver livingroom Stan gathered his restless crew of locked-in boy-men, in-desire, in-Desist—(teenage Jim bursts into the frame!), so that even then the trust of energies, drama, risk of motions, a music, a vital merge—the interior narrative is never not part of some deeply connected optical dance… Jim in High School, composes the piano score for “Interim”. A few years later I am scraping grease from the Bard dinner plates and rushing back to paint the reds, greens, rose and grey from the rotting still life on my window sill in the Albee dorm.

I’ll tell Stan the “psycho dramas” will be a dead-end. You must look at painting, visual history and nature… DeKooning, Pollock, Cezanne. Stan studying my paintings positioned for him against the wall of the peaked roof studio… “Mill Forms”… “Personae”… Jim at the upright piano playing for us: Ives sonatas, Webern, Cage, Feldman.

You returned to Colorado. The correspondence accelerated. Photos of Mary Jane Collum beside you on a mountainside: Jane was an Earth Goddess—you insisted—in contra-distinction to an Art Goddess! I insisted we concentrate on de Beauvoir, Woolf, Focillon, Goethe color theories, Abstract Expressionism, Freud and Graves!

This February, you and I are speaking of painkillers, essaic tea, of huge doses of Morphine walls of excruciating pain, cancer’s poisonous cellular crawl, sparked by the gleaming, stained-glass luminosity of toxic aniline dyes. The gorgeous saturations of your films. You spoke of relief to be out of Colorado, of Marilyn, your sons, finally at home in Vancouver, your joy and delight, your hope to be with them prolonged… Discussing the nightmare loss of constitutional freedoms—that political cancer—you said, “I only wanted to make beauty as justice.” You tell me you are not afraid of death; you always have had guardians—the angels, the spirits…

And so to loose you is to break our originating tripod, triumvirate: before the film showings, concerts, exhibits, teaching—influences reaching our works into a culture resistant, punishing. Before turning to receive what occupies your absence, your immense influence inspiration envisioning strength of metaphor and morphology. And we, your coherent team in our separated realms continue in this unknowable, ungraspable beam of motion, sound, light, remaining forever interlinked…

And so to lose you is to bring apart all this. Even as feeling it whole, entire. Luminous as the scratched, vertiginous late reels, clear as the yellow eyes of Max, devoted cat, meeting your/our eyes within camera lens, poised there on your death bed.