Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Text of Light

Cinema has given us the world in a coffee cup (Godard) and an ashtray (Brakhage). Whereas Godard is content to let his image stand by itself, a metaphorical concept-image within a progression of camera recordings, Brakhage tries to pull as many images as he can out of a single object and its refraction of light.

The Text of Light is a very sheer film. It came off to me as a bit intimidating, and while Brakhage's films usually seem like a shared vision, this was imperious, magisterial--it would have existed without me, that's for sure. It's almost austere, but that word doesn't sound exactly right, or totally right, because the film has some breathtaking beauty to it. (Maybe "sublime" is a better choice.) It's a film I'll have to work a long time to understand: so my problem is it is not that it lacks a surfeit of beauty, of awesome imagery (it has all that), but that I'm unable to unlock the mystery of its organization, I can't see how it achieves its effects. This is a film which defeats me, as I'm defeated also by Sharits' Epileptic Seizure Comparison as well as (in a gentler if no less bewildering way) Cassavetes' films. These are films that remind you that being a cinephile always involves, also, being a student.

In the end, though, the challenge was nourishing, especially after the surprising, dull disappointment of L'Intrus when I saw it earlier today--the first Claire Denis film I haven't liked. That one, too, may require at least one more viewing for me to clarify my feelings properly, and maybe appreciate the film more. I'll end with a funny quip from a few moments before Text of Light started:

Me (impressed by the unusually high attendence at Anthology): "Wow, some turnout for Brakhage, huh?"
Steve Erickson: "I think he's the new Tarkovsky."


Matt said...

For me, Tarkovsky's The Mirror is a film that defeats me, a film that I feel I have thus far been unable to unlock the mystery of. As such it is one that I'll know I'll be going back to, just as you know you'll be going back to The Text of Light. Perhaps we need more films that defeat us?

I find Steve's comment funny not only in and of itself, but also because it's a Tarkovsky film that gets me in the way that this Brakhage film gets you. Synchronicity!

Mubarak Ali said...

I've only seen the first few minutes of The Text of Light, but I still cannot imagine what it would be like to take it all on the big screen. This is the one which ruined his back during filming, no?

Films I enjoy being defeated by: Several probably, but one that immediately comes to mind is Dreyer's Gertrud. And the films of Sharunas Bartas.

And I'd love to hear your thoughts on L'Intrus, Zach, whenever you have them organised (I know it took me a while). I still haven't given it the second viewing which it so deserves.

Darren said...

Please watch L'Intrus a second time, both of you. When it ended, I leaned over to a friend and whispered, "What a disaster." Two days later I hadn't stopped thinking and talking about it, and when I finally saw it again, four months later, it was a revelation. There's a fantastic Region 2 DVD available. I've watched bits and pieces of it a few times over the last week and now put it in a neck-and-neck race with Beau Travail for Denis's best.

I hope to never unlock the mystery of Mirror. When asked, I usually name it as my single favorite film. I'm sure I've seen it twenty times and the footage of the ballooners, along with the Bach queue, makes me cry every time.

Mubarak Ali said...

Darren, I should add that whatever I managed to glean from that single viewing of L'Intrus was enough to convince me that it's a major work. I actually found it to be a moving experience, and look forward to experiencing it all again.

girish said...

Simply seconding what Darren said.

" would have existed without me, that's for sure."
What a wonderful line, Zach.
I like the idea that some films *need* us more than others do.

Zach Campbell said...

I will give L'Intrus another shot, certainly. I felt--much as I did with Goodbye Dragon Inn which I thought was only OK (and also want to see again)--that these were films where the directors were tilling their own same soil, and they reached some kind of limit, and the aesthetic becomes rote, even lazy. (To me Hong & Kiarostami do this productively, searchingly, while Denis & Tsai maybe not so much, though I love all four.)

I'm not at all offering this as a critique, I know that the films' defenders won't agree and I don't wish to convince them anyway, and I hope that I myself will come around on L'Intrus. I'm only throwing it out there to be clear about the nature of my opposition and disappointment.

I used to feel the same way about Mirror, by the way, although my most recent viewing (third one) left me dissatisfied--I suspect I'm in a rocky patch of my cinephile life when it comes to Tarkovsky!

Zach Campbell said...

To clarify: I used to feel the same way about Mirror being "a film that defeats me," not that Tarkovsky was burrowing lazily into his own territory! Now I'm not so sure that I'd single that film out as a great one anymore. I long to see Stalker again (and on 35mm).

In fact I put Mirror at the very top of my one Senses of Cinema top ten contribution, back in 2000.

Matt said...

When I say it defeats me, I don't necessarily mean in a good way. I can't unlock its secrets, though I'm still not sure that there's a whole lot of secrets there to unlock.

Tarkovsky is very hit and miss with me.