Volume 92, Issue 89
Wednesday, March 18, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Exploring the avant-garde: Brakhage documents experimentalist
By Mark Lewandowski
"Ron Mann, the documentarist filmmaker, approached me one day and read my mind," explains director Jim Shedden. This telepathic encounter spurned a 75-minute documentary called Brakhage which uses conventional means to expose the unconventional career of experimental film icon Stan Brakhage.
"[Mann] got funding from Bravo. Film funding in Canada is complex because if you get a commitment from one place then you have to put together all the other pieces of the puzzle but it all kind of gelled and by July '96 we were in Colorado shooting," Shedden reveals.
It was in the Rockies that Shedden would find his subject still artistically active, nestled in Boulder. The elusive Brakhage is the epitome of artistic expression and cinematic independence. His massive portfolio reaches to the early 1950s and includes upwards of 350 experimental films. Highly revered in the intellectually dense circles of fringe cinema, the director has remained outside of popular culture.
"Unlike most other filmmakers of his generation, Brakhage goes on creating work that is always more interesting than the last. He stands as a model for people. You can make this kind of work. You don't have to go to Hollywood [or] enter the industry."
And this is where Brakhage's legacy unfolds. He dabbled in commercial film during his early days but quickly realized it wasn't for him. He has spent the last 40 years continuing his expansion of film form, with at least one film made every year since the mid '50s.
"On the one hand he's a virtuoso craftsman and on the other hand he's got this intense intelligence and hyper-consciousness. In a romantic sense that's what makes a great artist. Great artists are geniuses who are more perceptive of some things than others. It's simple but it's become controversial to suggest some people are geniuses," Shedden suggests. He follows with a convincing argument that he is not an artist, but many members of the crew are masters at their craft.
Shedden may not feel he's an artist but he certainly surrounds himself with them. He has worked as a film programmer at the Art Gallery of Ontario and was the coordinator of the International Experimental Film Congress in 1989. "I learned all of the administrative skills from fund-raising to programming [from the congress]. I learned about customs and brokerage and hotels, everything. I didn't do anything that difficult again until I had a baby," Shedden laughs.
Love of cinematic experimentation and administrative know-how are the ingredients which Shedden used to create Brakhage. "I wanted to do something that took Brakhage and experimental film and widened the potential audience for it," he says, considering the paradoxical nature of his work. "I wanted to widen the audience for innovative film by making a film that was actually less innovative than the work I was showing."
Is it inevitable most experimental filmmakers get funnelled into more economically viable industries? "I think Brakhage stands to disprove that, because he's a model... he's always remained independent."
Part of the reason is he's been described as a prickly customer. "Fortunately he loved it and I was nervous. Believe me we did things in there that he would... maybe... hate.
Brakhage will be screened for free at 7 p.m. tonight in University College Room 84.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999