on May 20, 1999
Combining constantly shifting images of snow, sky, woods, family, dog, light, solar flames, and more with reticulated, painted and variously altered frames to create a spiritual, nebulous yet sparkling film of vast quiet nearly natural energy. See this at all costs. Brilliant doesn't come close to describing this beautiful work.
Dog Star Man (Stan Brakhage, 1962-1964)
This is not the type of review a reviewer is supposed to write. I'm supposed to tell you what something means--my interpretation of it, anyway--because what something means is supposed to be intimately tied to the way we feel about it. I come from the world of poetry, however, where how something sounds is more important to determining its worth than its meaning. And I look at Dog Star Man in that same vein. I have no idea what this movie, which Brakhage made in five parts (well, four parts and a prelude) over the space of three years, means. I'm not sure it means anything. While I was watching it, I didn't consciously try to impose any sort of interpretation on it (I have that sort of thing in my head these days, as I've gotten to reading some of the critical works on surrealism that I hadn't previously gotten to). I just took it at face value, as a succession of not-seemingly-related images.
And you know what? It works. Not, obviously, for those who require a great deal of plot and characterization in their films. But it does. And I think it works this way for a lot of the film's fans; there is no attempt at an interpretation of the film at its Wikipedia page (in fact, there is nothing but a note of its existence and a list of the short films that comprise it). Think of it, perhaps, as something that is conceived in order to evoke a succession of emotions, not necessarily emotions that go together. The solar images evoke a sense of hugeness, of majesty; a guy climbing a snowy hill with his dog can evoke anything from tenderness to soreness (depending, of course, on how you feel about snowy hills and the climbing of them). Yeah, maybe it all means something, and maybe as I watch it more (which I will certainly be doing) I'll come up with some sort of interpretation for it in the same way I have for Begotten after hundreds of viewings. But for now, I'll just look at it as something lovely. ****
on January 27, 2004
...but Brakhage would have loved the last review. The guy sitting up directly in front of his screen, complaining about how he has to actively look for images--that was exactly Brakhage's point, to remove the passive viewer from the cinematic experience & to invite them into a unfamiliar world in which they were free to engage with the work in any way they wanted and give it meaning on their own terms. Try watching it again--you're already halfway there!