Anticipation of the Night (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1958, 40m)
Window Water Baby Moving (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1959, 12m)
The Dead (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1960, 11m)
This program is co-presented with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Preservationist Mark Toscano will be present. 2012/2013 Preservation prints courtesy of The Academy Film Archive restored by the Academy with the support of the Film Foundation.
At the core of this program is Anticipation of the Night, a seminal film for Brakhage and for film history, where the psychodramas of this filmmaker’s early work transformed into a wholly new kinaesthetic vocabulary. Anticipation of the Night builds off the lyricism of Marie Menken, the poetic vocabulary of exact and nuanced yet repetition found in Gertrude Stein. And perhaps unconsciously the morbid – celebratory runaway chase of Rene Clair's Entr’acte which ends with magical self annihilation followed by the contradiction of a coda that calls the bluff. This film is a rapturous idyll, a lamentation, an exorcism and a death wish. It traces the mortal trajectory of our visual experience from Edenic optical ecstasies into a descending tilt towards the eclipsing “night” of vision arrested and crucified by the process of socialisation. Everything in Anticipation of the Night is seen in a multiplicity of aspects, changing velocities, crucial shifts of light and granular structures. This film dissolves the moribund notions of a visible on-screen protagonist and dramatic cinema's crude contrivances of “point of view “.
Brakhage establishes the film-maker as the generating and apparent source of all seeing whose subjectivity is paramount but a shared and deeply involving commitment for the viewer. In Brakhage’s films, cinematography is an autograph. much like his titles where the filmmakers carves and scrawls on emulsion, frame by frame. Every Brakhage film is in a way an autobiography in the present tense, life in the making. The camera dances in an active response, galvanised by what is seen – an extension of the body's limbs and the nervous system's electrical firing. Anticipation of the Night emerges out of the stark suburban “horror film” the birth travail that was Fire of Waters. But it stretches the imagination to think of this film erupting out of the 1950s at the geographical center of Eisenhower's America and a teenage culture dancing in the aisles to Elvis in Jailhouse Rock (glimpsed in Brakhagean staccato flashes.) It seems beyond courage.
For this viewer Anticipation of the Night was the breakthrough film into experiencing experimental cinema. I saw it as a celebration of light and an initiation into the possibilities of plastic cutting. I was so taken with it that I watched it three times in a row, an enthralling and joyous experience. But on my fourth viewing I watched it in a small classroom with my summer school teacher, Stan Brakhage who impulsively muttered a striking narration. “Look, it is as if the mill wheels of God were grinding the children's dreams into dust!” After that I came to understand Anticipation of the Night as a film marked by the contradictions of terror and joy.
Tonight we offer a landmark of cinema beautifully preserved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and through the painstaking care of preservationist Mark Toscano.