Discipline: Film/Video – experimental

Stan Brakhage

Discipline: Film/Video – experimental
Region: New York, NY

Edward MacDowell Medalist: 1989

Stan Brakhage (1933-2003) was an American non-narrative filmmaker who is considered to be one of the most important figures in 20th-century experimental film. When Brakhage's early films were exhibited in the 1950s, they were often met with derision, but in the early 1960s Brakhage began to receive recognition in exhibitions and film publications, including Film Culture, which gave awards to several of his films, including The Dead, in 1962. In 1961, Jonas Mekas wrote that Brakhage was “one of the four or five most authentic film artists working in cinema anywhere, and perhaps the most original filmmaker in America today.”

As a child, Brakhage was featured on radio as a boy soprano and sang in church choirs and as a soloist at other events. He was raised in Denver, CO where he attended high school with the filmmaker Larry Jordan and the musicians Morton Subotnick and James Tenney. Together, Brakhage, Jordan, Tenney and Subotnick formed a drama group called the Gadflies.

Brakhage briefly attended Dartmouth College on a scholarship before dropping out to make films. He completed his first film, Interim, at the age of 19; the music for the film was composed by his school friend James Tenney. In 1953, Brakhage moved to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, then called the California School of the Arts. He found the atmosphere in San Francisco more rewarding, associating with poets Robert Duncan and Kenneth Rexroth, but did not complete his education. Instead, he moved to New York City in 1954.

Over the course of five decades, Brakhage created a large and diverse body of work, exploring a variety of formats, approaches, and techniques that included handheld camerawork, painting directly onto celluloid, fast cutting, in-camera editing, scratching on film, collage, and the use of multiple exposures. Interested in mythology and inspired by music, poetry, and visual phenomena, Brakhage sought to reveal the universal in the particular, exploring themes of birth, mortality, sexuality, and innocence, creating films often noted for their expressiveness and lyricism.

Portrait by Paul Garcia