The ‘problem’ of language in the films of artist Stan Brakhage

Wilczek, Emily (2007) The ‘problem’ of language in the films of artist Stan Brakhage. In: Screen Aesthetics, 22-23 June 2007, University of Wolverhampton.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


This paper looks at the work of artist-filmmaker Stan Brakhage (1933-2003), and his relationship to language. Brakhage pioneered the technique of painting directly onto filmstock, blurring the boundaries between film as painting, and film as camera-eye-vision. Drawing on his own writings, I look at statements Brakhage has made expressing the desire to free his films from the “strictures of language.” Focusing primarily on twentieth century modernism, two areas of cultural production will provide the framework in which Brakhage’s proclamations are explored: Abstract Expressionism and Modernist literature. Clement Greenberg’s analytical attempts to elevate Abstract Expressionism to the same critical level as poetry can be seen as a precursor to Brakhage’s ideal. However, the impulse to purify media, as WJT Mitchell theorises, is one of the central utopian gestures of modernism. That the visual and the verbal can never truly be separated will lead the paper into a consideration of literature and the translation of style from the written word to the moving image. Brakhage’s influences include Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, whose respective rhythms and rhymes manifest themselves on Brakhage’s screen. The relationship between artists, writers and filmmakers raises the problem, in this context, of “film as film” (after Ad Reinhardt), purity of form and Lyotard’s notion of the sublime. The paper looks at these notions, referring throughout to specific films by Stan Brakhage, and proposes that whilst the nameable may still be found in Brakhage’s films, this is a decentralised language; signifiers exist, but the signifieds are missing.

Keywords:Stan Brakhage, artists’ film, language, Abstract Expressionism, the sublime
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P303 Film studies
W Creative Arts and Design > W610 Moving Image Techniques
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V350 History of Art
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
ID Code:14595
Deposited On:01 Aug 2014 11:18

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