New gift to the library: 8mm films by Stan Brakhage

January 27, 2022
Katharine A Keller
Film still from 8mm film by Stan Brakhage

Stan Brakhage (1933-2003) is regarded as one of the most significant figures in the post-war history of experimental filmmaking in the United States. A special one night only triple-play viewing was held last week to celebrate Stan Brakhage, these new acquistions, and the donor, Prof. Margaret Cohen. These silent films are from the Songs cyle (1964-1969) including 23rd Psalm Branch (1966-1967), which is anomalous in its length and content. Unlike the other Songs that are mostly three to four minutes long and include scenes of everyday life, 23rd Psalm Branch lasts a total of 69 minutes and attempts to engage with the thorny subject of war and mass atrocities. Brakhage incorporated materials from the Second World War within the film, foregrounding the experiences of collective trauma and producing a highly fragmentary take on the consequences of war by juxtaposing footage of concentration camps, corpses, and explosions. For scholar P. Adams Sitney, the film thus represents "an apocalypse of imagination" resulting from the artist's "intense obsession" with the theme of violence and "confusion" about the growing urgency of the situation in Vietnam at the end of the 1960s.

These films have been restored, digitized and will be available to stream for Stanford-only users. Stan Brakhage's work in also found in several collections in Special Collections including the Carolee Schneemann archive.