“Bloopers” by Rick Raxlen

Deconstructing the album liner notes from a vintage fifties humour 33 and a third
long playing record .

Yogi Berra,the Yankee catcher from the fifites,is known for
his most wonky response to a reporter when asked about the team’s losing streak.
He is quoted as saying : “Its deja vu all over again…”

On the volume 2 blooper album,there is a bit that
goes something like this,also from Yogi.

interviewer: Yogi it says in the boxscores in the newspaper that you got 2 hits but you said you got three hits in the game.
Maybe it was a typographical error…?

Yogi: No ,it was clean single to left field.

AND: for the word lovers and mistake lovers,there is mentioned on the album cover
the term Spoonerism.

Spoonerism: The unintentional transposition of sounds and letters
or of parts of words in forming a sentence;
as “half-warmed fish” for “half-formed wish”,attributed to nervous tension.
So called ,from William A Spooner(1844-1930),warden of New College Oxford
England,to whom the practice is commonly attributed.

from the record:

Announcer :“Tell me, Mrs. Erwin, how many children do you have?”

Mrs. Erwin: I have nine children

Announcer: What does your husband do?

Mrs.Erwin: He operates an automatic screwing machine!
(large amount of recorded audience laughter)

and tongue twisters

“Unconscious humour is something like an unexpected dividend–
it lifts the spirit and, for an instant of time,
puts a smile on the grayest hour of day”
John Daly

On my three night vacation to a trailer
in a fishing camp just outside Sooke, BC
I visited the local Sally Ann.
I was in a hurry so did a quick sweep of books and records
and of course missed the Poppin’ Fresh and Mrs Poppin” Fresh salt & pepper
Which I bought on my next visit.
I bought a “Pardon My Bloopers” album from the 1950s,number 2 of 7 such albums.

At the trailer, I didn’t have a record player so I had to read the long
liner notes reprinted from TAPE RECORDING magazine (who knew there was
a whole magazine once devoted to taping things).
I tried to remember where when and how I had heard this record and
what was on it and if it was funny or not.
The liner notes were very odious

Mr Blooper is a guy called Kermit Schafer…
”As a hobby he began to collect
fluffs….he became a national authority on Bloopers…
he is also booked on a coast-to-coast tour lecture which is called Blooperama.”

This primo 33 and a third rpm is on the Jubilee label.
Its subtitle is:
Radio & Television’s Most Hilarious Boners.
Boner was a word that was used in the fifties to mean a mistake…

I can’t guess the date but the inside sleeve shows tiny one inch photos of album covers.
Jackie Maclean: Fat Jazz.
Art Blakey: CU-BOP.with Sabu and a bongo.
Bobby Freeman: Do You Wanna Dance.

I remember hearing this album as a kid and thinking it was some funny…
someone must have played it at parties when I was 12.
I can only try to remember what might have been funny about it.

This guy Kermit monitored shows like Arthur Godfrey

Howdy Doody and Art Linkletter but Art was never that funny & when his daughter died of a LSD overdose by jumping off a building,he became tragic.
If its kids-say-the -darndest-things humour I might not laugh.

According to the liner notes…”with the rise of the tape recorder to technical perfection, Schafer was launched on a new career…”

I didn’t know technical perfection had been achieved.
He needed perfect technical aspects to
record boners and goofs?

Again from the liner notes:

“In one afternoon, celebrities such as the Duke of Windsor, Joseph Cotton and
Marlene Dietrich were seen exiting a Madison Avenue record shop with several
Blooper Alums under each arm”
(how many arms did Joseph Cotton have anyway, I forget–one,two,three?)

The cover art is in pistachio green, black, red, and pink;
it shows a tv camera and a microphone, as drawn as cartoon characters, with faces.

The tv camera cartoon person is covering the lens with his hands & the mike
is blocking his ears. Both appear male; around them are drawn symbols
of shock and amazement as seen on my keyboard as ! ?*# and a spiral shape and a lightning bolt shape.
Bloopers seem to release lots of energy.
Above the camera & mike cartoon people there is a sign that says
ON THE AIR with lines of energy around it.
A big red circle in the lower left says: Collected by Kermit Schafer
Radio And TV Producer.
The mike is much taller than the tv camera…

According to the liner notes:
“Hollywood has been one of the first Blooper launching points, with several…top movie stars snapping up this collector’s item for the entertainment highlight at some of
Hollywoods fabulous parties.”

Don’t you wish you had been there, at those parties.????
The bits of fluffs and boners are tied together vocally by
George de Holczer who is noted
“for his work in connection with Life Magazine, which gained him the title of “The Voice of
Life Magazine

Acoustically, this takes place after WWII, when people likely could have used a laugh,
given that 50 million humans died.
So how can this be funny with Arthur Godrey, Art Linkletter, McCalls Magazine,
Readers Digest?

And just to give these bloopers ACADEMIC CREDENTIALS we get a quote from, THE JOURNAL of AMERICAN SPEECH,
in an article entitled
“Phomenic and Analogic Lapses in Radio and Televison Speech:

“These records are a rich source of contemporary materials for linguistic analysis.”

and a last quote from the liner notes:
“High on a hill overlooking the Ramapo Mountains in the Central Valley, New York,
sits a modern redwood house
…on a visit you will see a battery of built -in tape recorders which are
constantly in operation monitoring several programs…
with all this equipment Mr.Blooper capitalizes
on the mistakes of others….”

Restore funding to the arts

(From the Brief presented to the BC Government’s Select Standing Committee on Finance, on Oct 7, 2009, by Peter Sandmark, Executive Director of MediaNet.)

I am here today to urge you to restore funding to the BC Arts Council, and to restore the Gaming grants that have been cut.

Let me tell you briefly about our organization.  MediaNet is a non-profit video production center in Victoria, founded in 1981, with 3 staff, and currently 184 members.  Membership is open to the general public, and we provide members with access to video cameras and video editing on computers.  We offer many workshops and organize screenings of independent films and videos.

This past year 185 short videos were produced.  Many of our members’ short films have been shown in festivals around the world, including in France, Switzerland, Australia, London, New York, Seattle, Toronto, Edmonton, St. John’s, and of course at festivals here in Victoria.  We have shown members work on Shaw TV, reaching local television audiences, as well as screening works in venues around town such as the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Open Space, the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria, and the Belfry, among other venues.

About a quarter of our funding is self-generated from membership fees, equipment rentals, workshop registration fees and admissions from screenings. The rest comes from municipal, provincial and federal funding sources.  The Canada Council for the Arts is our principal funder, supplying a bit over a 1/3 of our $150,000 annual budget.

The cuts to our BC Arts Council grant have forced us to lay off a part-time technican, who is a student, and was using the contract from us to help support himself while going to the University of Victoria.   I just couldn’t keep him on, merely hoping that we might find or raise the money somehow.

We also receive $20,000 a year from Gaming’s Direct Access program.   We are on the second year of a three year agreement for $20,000 per year. When we initially heard that all the Gaming grants were cut, I looked at our budget, and realized that we would have to close for 3 months as a consequence, laying off the remaining 3 staff members.

Fortunately the government decided to honor the three-year Gaming grant commitments, so we continue to be open, and to serve Victoria independent video producers.

BUT, what would have happened if the Gaming cuts had not been reversed speaks to the heart of what I want to say today. When arts cuts like this happen, and we have to lay off people, or cut back their hours, the people affected by the cuts have to look for other jobs, and the arts organizations lose their experience and know-how.

This is what is happening to the other non-profit arts organizations who have had their Gaming grants cut, and who will be facing BC Arts Council cuts.

In other words, these cuts, if they are carried through, will cause severe damage to the arts infrastructure in BC.

What is the infrastructure of arts and cultural organizations?  I have to tell you that it is not simply a theatre with seats, or an empty gallery with white walls. It is the human resources, the people whose years of experience and knowledge are behind the programming and exhibitions of arts groups.

If you let these groups fall apart now it will take much longer to build them back up.  We will lose talented people as they move to other sectors or to other provinces or countries.

In the United Kingdom the Policy Study Institute’s seminal study in 1988, The Economic Importance of the Arts in Britain, established the arts sector as a significant and growing  sector in its own right, with a turnover of $10 billion and employing some 500,000 people.

By 1997, the creative industries sector had become recognized by organizations such as the European Commission, the World Bank, national and local government in the UK, and seen as a major force in the fast-changing global economy.

In 2001 the report, Creative Industries Mapping Document suggested that the revenues generated by creative industries had grown to around $112 billion and that exports contribute some $10 billion to the balance of trade. Further, creative industries accounted for over 5% of the Gross Domestic Product and employed around 1.3 million people.

In 1997 the report Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in Arts Programmes,  produced a major change in recognition of the cultural sector’s contribution to social development. This seminal study provided a clear picture of the potential social benefits of the arts, and for the first time brought the issues fully to the attention of policymakers and the arts funding agencies, providing the earliest authoritative evidence of the impact of socially-relevant arts practice.  This study showed that the arts make a valuable contribution to social policy objectives,

As for direct economic impact, these studies have shown that the arts and cultural sector serve as a main source of content for the cultural industries, the media and value-added services of the telecommunications industries. They create jobs and contribute significantly to the Gross Domestic Product. Cultural institutions, events and activities create locally significant economic effects, both directly and indirectly through multipliers.

In Canada the three levels of Government, federal provincial and municipal, invest approximately $7.4 billion in the arts and culture sector, which in turn contributes close to $40 billion to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), about 3.8% of the economy.  According to the 2006 census, there are 140,000 artists across Canada, slightly more than the number of Canadians directly employed in the automotive industry (135,000).

The Census report also notes that the broader cultural sector has about 609,000 workers and comprises 3.3% of the overall labour force in Canada. This is about double the level of employment in the forestry sector in Canada (300,000) and more than double the level of employment in Canadian banks (257,000).  The British Columbia government’s own studies that show a $1.36 return to the government for every $1 spent on arts funding.

I believe that it would be less expensive for the government to borrow to keep arts programs alive, than to cut them, and receive less tax income coming back.

I wanted to say that I read with interest the presentation last Monday from our colleagues at Music BC, and I want to support their comments.  I noted also among the presentations in Vancouver on Monday Sept 28, that even the B.C. Business Council believes that returning to operating deficits is the right decision given the extent and swiftness of the global economic downturn.

Our arts colleagues in Ontario have told us that it has taken them 10 years to recover from the devastating cuts made to cultural funding by the Harris government.  Recently, we have seen the Ontario government increase arts funding, even during the recession.

I noted in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts’ 2008/2009 Annual Service Plan the goal of “Cultural Rich communities that contribute to making BC the best place on Earth to live, work and play.”   Also objective 2.2 states that “British Columbia’s arts, culture and creative sectors are diverse, dynamic and growing.”    This will not be true if you carry through with cuts to Gaming and cuts to the BC Arts Council.

I imagine that you are familiar with the Creative Cities concept, that cities with vibrant arts and cultural scenes also show net population and economic growth.  This book by Richard Florida has made an impact on policy makers throughout North America and Europe.  I noted an article recently calling for BC to attract high tech workers, this is what the Creative city approach has shown, cities like San Francisco, or Austin, with thriving cultural scenes have attracted high tech industries.

Finally we can’t forget the value of arts and culture to tourism, we know that tourists go to certain destinations for  art, Barcelona for Picasso’s museum, Paris for the Louvre, London for the British Museum, and we know that people come to Victoria for the Royal BC Museum, you should recognize this, and cuts are not the way to increase the draw for tourism.

In conclusion, I once again urge you to restore funding to the BC Arts Council, and to restore gaming funds to last year’s level.

Thank you.

Peter Sandmark

homemoovies part 2 and 3 by Rick Raxlen

Part 2

(includes almost 10 different kinds of home-moovies
and bits of poetic voice-over from a 1983 16mm 8 minute film
Autobiographical Juvenilia

Such as:
The children are green now.
I had a red boy & a green boy
Things, children used to be black and white
I was black and white.



Homie movies or ho- movies:

These are the films that people who belong to gangs
& live in ghettoes in the inner cities of the USA make.

NOT like West Side Story where the gangs dance
& film themselves on the fire escapes
late at nite in NYC.

My Dad did not have a movie camera
He took pix of peoples’ teeth, using xrays
He was avantgarde in a way…


TRAVEL- o-logs (travelogues)

These home moovies involved going somewhere by car, boat, or plane
and then making movies of the place with a loved one in the frame.
Sometimes the loved one fed pigeons or stood by a fountain. Time stood still.
Expensive hotels–a pan across a huge buffet of food. Free bathrobes.
Thick towels–thats what travel-log-home-movies showed us.
Also: shots of airport departure concords/concourses,
bus stations, mountains in the distance, taxis, old big buildings, statues, mountains again, lakes, trains, a loved one again, beaches, with a loved one or ones frolicking…
the fun times when people weren’t drowning or
locking family members in mental hospitals or
summer camps or jails — when they had enough money saved from working all
their lives to go somewhere Special for a week or two.
super-8 or regular 8 or 16mm.

I have done it. I admit to filming from bus windows…when my kids were little
in Florida I took super-8 of them playing in a swimming pool, then edited the footage intercut with some underwater stock shots of sharks and sting rays to give it some funny dramatic excitement…


Continuity-driven home-moovies

“Continuity” uses five syllables to express what “story”
does in two. Whenever a series of scenes has some sort of basic unity,
usually because it shows the progress of a certain activity, and if the scenes
appear in logical sequence, you have a natural story and natural continuity…”
(unknown author)

These movies are shot and edited by home-moovie buffs who have
read about how-to-make-good-home-movies in books…
We see a couple enter a beach chalet in street clothes, exit the chalet
in bathing costumes, then walk down the steps
leading to the beach, run into the water–we see
this from the beach side–then we cut to a shot from in the water
as they swim out to us.
This might be called Storymaking home moovies . An event
is staged. A fake fight or game, and it is broken down into shots
that can be edited together to look like a “sequence”.

(from unknown book, by unknown author)

“The individual movie scenes you shoot
are as intimately connected as Siamese twins
simply because they are attached and follow one another along to the end of
the reel.
This provides them with a marvelous talent for telling a story…”

“In many instances, all the action needed for a good film will be entirely
impromptu. In others, it may be necessary to have some scenes acted specially,
either because they add something that makes the movie more
interesting or to repeat a scene.”


Historic home movies….

These would likely be shot by famous people on cheap
movie cameras.
By accident or fate, the camera is pointed at an event… the Zapruder film (super-8)
of the Kennedy assination
Adolf frolicking with Eva Braun somewhere in the Alps…
Maybe Adolf didn’t take them but they were taken at home
and he was in them and so was Eva.
I think Robert Evans has some real home movies in his bio-pic
and we are used to seeing Hollywood stars swimming in their backyard pools–
filmed in kodakchrome super-8.
All of this predates YouTube.


The Event-Driven Film Occasion

Most home moovies center around capturing
special events such as weddings, graduations, sporting events,
picnics, fishing trips. Civic ringdings also get documented on home movie cameras.
Friends and acquaintances have donated to my personal collection items such
as: The Queen’s Visit to Fredericton NB in 1948, military parades,
Labour Day celebrations,..and Xmas round the old tannenbaum tree.
My Uncle George Cohen, (not related to Leonard Cohen) the architype of a
home-movie buff of the 1950s variety, was on hand for all family events but was so excited by all the infinite possibilities that he single-handedly invented….



The core of the non-event event are family gatherings.
For 30 years I have been immersing myself in Uncle George’s
primo reels of b&w 16mm shot in the backyard of my
Russian-born grandpa and grandma…I catch a glimpse of my blind unknowable Aunt
Libba, sitting on grandpa’s back porch in Toronto, just off Bathurst Street.
Aunt Libba is a faint shadow of memory as is Uncle Lou.
There he is, Lou, on a sofa covered in a white bed sheet, waking up from a nap….
He wipes his face with his hand, stretches…Not really wipes,
but passes his hand over his face as if wiping sleep away–
you try it, one handed, starting at the top of your
forehead–then he stretches–maybe in total consuming 100 frames of 16mm.

He had worked with/for the Toronto Star when Hemingway worked there. Lister Sinclair
or Lester, on the radio, remembered my Uncle Lou whe he passed…
he loved horses, fast women, fast cars.
Then there was Huey and Barbara Raxlen. His children. They are not in the home movies.
Well there are a couple of shots of them…
Sometimes a glimpse of Aunt Ethel , their mother, Lou’s wife.
I only have an incomplete set of h-moovies
by Uncle George…who was teased not so gently for his opinions, for being
a soft drink distributor, by his brother-in-laws. Uncle George was married to Aunt Anne.

Some of the footage shows various relatives inserted into a
landscape at about 30 paces from the camera and then instructed to walk from left to right and then back again zigzagging slowly towards the cameraman until they are in big CLOSE-UP
for their last walk-by…


And the most evolved of all home-moovies are those that are scripted by Hollywood writers to appear in expensive features in which a scene is shown/shot that is supposed to be old home movies of the family or person sort of hamming it up….the graphics include lots of grain and dirt and overlays and the camera angles are weird and goofy and it all
looks sweet back then when the family was young and the kids were frolicky and bouncy and promise was in the air and hope hung on all things and this is contrasted with the creepy present day depression usually–
those good old movies of the good old days when people were simpler, kinder, more generous and understanding. Lots of swishy pans and jump cuts, out of focus shots wiggly jiggly shots convey a kind of unbridled joyat hand, and wouldn’t it be great if we lived back then when they didn’t clearcut forests or have atomic bombs…
when drug addiction didn’t exist and homeless people were looked after by friendly handouts from churches and social groups. When Kodachrome was king and hearts were soft and open…

(authors note: I said there were 10 types of home movies…maybe I will invent a couple
now and explain them later. One is disguised as “the making of the movie-home-movie;
this has become common on even the lowest budget shoot–someone shooting
with a home video camera,and editing together bloopers and funny outtakes.
A last one is the scripted home-moovie within the expensive Hollywood movie…
I’m getting to that..)

another kind is what is called a poem-movie. …here …watch this space later…part 3a
will include a couple) so then a couple more invented will make 10….)

in conclusion. part 2.
I made use of Uncle George’s footage in a kind of home movie in 1984–it had a voice-over poemtext to be included in pt.3. So I it was my footage and George’s footage,
which, when i look at it now, makes me into a home movie persona.

In the intervening 40 years it’s as if I too have entered the mirror held up to the past.
Before, I was looking and laughing at that world, or feeling sad, or charmed or excited.

Now I am one of them.

The tables I sit at have been turned to include me. I cannot escape.
Not that I want to.
Buried in amber, imbedded, held suspended for whatever time remains. Recently my
25 year old daughter Chloe showed her boyfriend a 1992 home-movie …she showed
it to him in the year 2008 and expressed the thought that she had entered that vintage world…

Rick Raxlen

Part 3


More bits from the voice -over
of Autobiographical Juvenilia .
Read by Rick Raxlen, Susy Raxlen and
Robert Kelly.

Man’s voice:

You look so kind Grandpa, gliding full-face past
the camera…
So what if you didn’t make a lot of money.
You were spiritual, non-materialistic.
Me too!

Robert: (deep voice)

Aunts & uncles grown stiff with inertia
coax the children to perform or
arc tangential to the camera.
They follow routes described by the setting sun.
Wearing flowery forties patterns,
un-maiden aunts linger under trees for sustenance…
their dresses are leaves and shadows.

Rick again:
The moving camera stops and starts.
Uncle George has invented

Robert again:
Foliage is part of this Noh play.
Grass, bushes, scrubs
enact with extended family.
It is an ethnographic tale of camoflage and sabotage.

If black and white kids have red and green kids,
what color will the offspring of the
red & green kids be?

Pressing the button, the film and I advance one frame.
Information is suspended, animated by pixies.


Nothing much happens…
Too much light…

Value judgements made deja.

Film lurches forward,
pulled by a clockwork mechanism.
A geared precise intermittent mechanism….

The blue child does not comprehend the
black and white people.

If black and white kids have blue and green kids
what color will the offspring of the blue and green
kids be?

(voice-over excerpts from AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL JUVENILIA,
1983,16mm,8 minutes)

homemoovies (part 1) by Rick Raxlen

home movies, poetry and continuity:
regarding how we see home movies, how
home movie how-to books were the first film studies texts
and how poetry and home movies connect…..


i’m home, its early 1950s its someone’s birthday.
My uncle george has come to the party .
he has four very bright flood lights
on a metal -bar- thing
which are hot and blind us
(why flood lights?? did they use them when
things got flooded?. …they’re for floods right?)

home-made movies.
like apple pie: home cooking; home base, home run
homecoming queen, homesick, homemade.
homing pigeon: a pigeon that always flies home?

How home movies are portrayed inside a real pro

First of all, they take the camera off the tripod and swing it round a lot.
Then they add grain and scratches and dirt sometimes.
and they forget about continuity, sort of throw away the book, and
nothing makes ”sense” visually all of a sudden–although it really does —
’cause its been scripted by about 36 writers.
And people mug a lot more in fake home movies.
In pro movies they “act” without us knowing but in fake home movies
they become themselves and can stick their tongues or stomachs
as characters they can’t do.
They often play sappy music under the home movie inserted
into real movies, music that seems to say: life was better, more fun, sweeter
fuller back then.

For some reason, I have a stack of film cans in an alcove in my four room house
in Victoria; I carried them to the coast in a truck with my mini steenbeck, my splicer, and rewinds…actually its five short stacks in metal cans.Stuff I’ve shot and saved; outs
and some neg. and it includes six or seven or eight decades of material if you include
my tiny stash of 9.5 mm reels. and nine decades
if you include my fragment of silent black and white 16mm Mutt and Jeff.

As I roll through it I’m impressed by something ephemeral;
I don’t fight the feeling of “I’ve got to organize this material”.
I make a list of decades and a color beside each decade and then start
painting my metal cans with acrylic paint–but that system falls quickly by the

But I keep painting the film cans anyway ‘cause they are kinda
bare and ugly-homely looking
with sticky labels and tape and marker writing–and I have lots of time –I’m taking
a year off, after 10 years of rotoscoping my brains out…


AND they wrote books for the serious amateur…
Discussing the finer points of shooting and editing;
they wrote about close-ups, seascapes, and something
called continuity.
Shadows were a problem and too-bright snowscapes,
and back-lit exposures.
And humour.Your home movies had to have humour,
they couldn’t be too serious. Be sure to get the familydog to put his head in the
ice cream pail and wander blindly round the yard.

Before people made home movies, they wrote poetry.
About the skies, clouds, trees, and the injustices of the world;
home movies did not deal with worldly injustices.
Unless they were made in Argentina or China or Somalia.

Poetry came into the world in little books, about 5 by 5 inches square.
Film came into the world on little plastic 8mm reels that held 3 minutes of film
or on slightly bigger metal reels of 16mm.

The Film Reference Library in Toronto has a Home Movie Appreciation Day!
Experts give free advice on the perservation and care of home movies,
and a certain number of “selected” home movies are screened that night
I believe this year’s event is in October.

Somewhere in Florida, on a shelf in a closet, are cans of film, containing my
Uncle George Cohen’s ouevre. I must ask my cousin about those cans of film.
I saw them once,and screened some of them but that was about 35 years ago.
I’d like another peek at them.
I copied a few hundred feet and still have most of it.

end of Part One


interview with filmmaker Scott Amos by Rick Raxlen

To view Scott’s films, go to oilyfilms.com

Rick: how’d you find film?
in other words were u painting or writing ? or …

Scott: I think the progression was music, painting, writing, video, film. I got into video quite accidentally – a skateboarding accident led to a broken leg, and then I had to stay in school over the summer because I couldn’t work. That’s where I found Brian Hendrick’s FA305 Video Production.

The film started when a friend-of-a-friend dropped a projector and a stack of Super 8 films on my doorstep one day because he was moving.

Rick: I know you really like the chemical end of it.
What takes your fancy about hand-processing and the bucket-at-home method?

Scott: It’s cheap, relative to sending film to the lab. And there are these beautiful imperfections, something organic about chemical processes that get missed when working with pixels. It’s strange to use the term “organic” when talking about chemical processes, but I think there’s something human and accessible about chemistry.

Rick: Just by chance, rather than by studious avoidance, I didn’t take film studies.
Do you think the university is selecting and teaching in a way that would make one want to create work?

Scott: I think it really depends on how you look at it. Quite often mistakes lead to interesting outcomes and exercises in problem solving. The academic system doesn’t really embrace mistakes, in fact, they try to avoid mistakes. But I guess it all depends on the student. In creative studies there’s a fine balance. If you’re striving to do something truly creative, you can’t worry about making mistakes. Creativity suffers when you’re too worried about your grades.

Rick: Brakhage said, according to someone very close to him, “Give the janitor the prize…give me the money”
Can u talk about prizes and money and how they influence your work, good and/or bad?

Scott: Thankfully, we have great federal support for our artists through the Arts councils and the NFB. Prizes are nice, money is too, but I don’t think money should be the reason to make your art. And if you’re in it for the money, making short films is the wrong business to be in.

And quite often, with funding money, comes somebody to answer to.

Rick: Short films often do not get written up in reviews…does that mean you might try a longer form sometime soon.
Are u working on any “bigger” ideas (bigger here means longer).

Scott: Yes, I’m working on a longer film right now. I’m aiming for a feature, but we’ll see how it goes.

Rick: Would it be ok with u if no-one saw your work but that u had enough money to live and have fun making films and videos?

Scott: Well, I can’t pretend that I make really meaningful films that are going to change the world, but I like being exposed to new ideas, and hope that some of my work might expose others to different ideas. What’s the point if no one sees it?

Rick: Do you work with other filmmakers? Writers? Musicians?

Scott: Yes, community is a big thing for me. It’s great to bounce ideas around, and filmmaking is often a team sport, and we’re all starving artists to some degree, and if we can’t afford to pay eachother, then we can at least help eachother out. I always need music for my films, so I’m big on helping out musicians.

Rick: What are you doing to support yourself these days, dollar wise?

Scott: Working a bit at MediaNet, Working a bit at UVic as a TA in the writing department, some little contracts here and there – mostly video documentation and things like that.

Rick: What do you feel about this country’s granting system to media artists?
Have u applied? Any luck?

Scott: It’s safe to say that there’s never enough money, but I think we have a great system for supporting artists. I’ve applied to a bunch of grants, and received a few. It’s never enough to live off, but it helps to support my film addiction.

Rick: I read about video-on-demand for super-low budget edgy personal films. Do you think it will happen in Canada? Is it available now in Canada?

Scott: I’m not really sure. I try to avoid the business stuff, i find it depressing.

Rick: What’s been happening with podcasting the last couple of years? Is it still a good way to get one’s work seen?

Scott: The internet has become a great platform for short films, at least for getting them out there. I think it’s a great way to have your work seen. I haven’t really done anything to monetize my work on the web, and I know there’s big divide in the arts community about artist fees and giving away your work for free. I think it’s a personal choice. There are some of my works that I haven’t put on the web yet, because they can still play at festivals, but a lot of the stuff I put up there are just experiments and little blurbs. I just checked my webstats thingy and it says that yesterday 1121 of my films were downloaded from my website. Where else would I get an audience like that?

Media Artist Farheen Haq

Media Artist Farheen Haq speaks about her artistic practice on site at the opening of her latest installation at the Ministry of Casual Living in Victoria
This video was originally shared on blip.tv by edgecasting with a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs license.


By Peter Sandmark

MediaNet is an artist-run, non-profit media arts resource center, with about 170 members, who produced 120 short video art productions last year. Most of those productions are self-financed by the artists themselves, with the help of their friends and families.

Grants to artists, such as a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts or the BC Arts Council, are a great boost to an artist’s career, but the rate of success for getting a grant is 1 in 10 at the Canada Council for the Arts, for example. At MediaNet, only a few artists get a grant for their project in any given year.

As a result, media arts resource centers like MediaNet or Cinevic provide an extremely valuable service in assisting artists in producing their own work, as the centers offer production and post-production services at a greatly reduced rate compared to commercial rates; about 10% of the cost of renting equipment commercially.  This is possible because we are subsidized by Canada Council and BC Arts Council grants, as well as with funds from the CRD and the BC Gaming Commission.

Last year our members produced over 120 works, and we received a grant of $45,000 plus $7500 for equipment from the Canada Council.  So the Council got 120 videos produced at a cost to them of $437.50 each!  That’s phenomenal!  A media artist can receive from the Canada Council a grant of $60,000 to produce a video or film…  and this is what it costs to make a video when the actors or dancers or performers are paid, and musicians are paid to make the soundtrack, and the equipment is rented, and the editor is paid, and the artist/director  – who has been working on the project for months already – has been paid.   So, how can our members produce works through a center that gets subsidized for only $437.50 per video?  Because nobody is getting paid to make those videos.

Let’s try to evaluate the real value of those 120 videos produced.  For the sake of argument, let’s suppose they can be made for a shoe-string budget, a third of what a granted project would cost, so 1/3 of $60,000, or $20,000. 120 projects at $20,000 each adds up to $2.4 million dollars.  So the Council is getting a value of $2.4 million in production for its investment of $52,500… The Council’s investment adds up to about 2% of the total value of the productions.  Where is the other value coming from?

Well, to be fair, MediaNet gets other funding, and to round up the figures a bit – the BC Arts Council’s investment represents another 1%, the CRD another 1% and the Gaming Commission another 1% (the Canada Council is our biggest funder).  MediaNet does have private sponsors who donate in-kind services that amount to about 0.4% and then our self-generated revenue adds up roughly to  1.6 %

In total, we have about 7% investment from government & private sources, and members’ dues and rentals and so on.  The amount that has to be born by the artists themselves in terms of their “sweat equity” is 93% of the costs of their productions.  And why so much?  Because the arts councils are giving out as much funding as they can.  They are pinnacles of efficiency, with a stripped down staff managing a multitude of programs.  I will not complain about the services of any arts council, because my hat goes off to them; they are doing as much as they can with the amounts they are given. The funding that the arts councils provide play an important role in leveraging other resources, thus helping the creation and presentation of art works.  All this underlines the importance of arts funding, and how critical it is to NOT cut back what little arts funding there is.

But, we must also acknowledge the contribution the artists are making, carrying 93% of the costs.  In order to make their videos they make choices, not only to work for free on their production, and thereby give up time where they could be earning a living in another job, but in most cases spending what little money they do have on their own artistic production.   My conclusion is that it is the artists themselves who are the greatest supporters of the arts in Canada.


Marilyn Brakhage

Through centuries of both scientific research and creative production, the pursuit of “visual music,” or a “music for the eyes,” has essentially followed two major lines of development. One has closely tied the rhythms of visually perceived movements and shifts of color to sonic parallels, effectively illustrating these patterns of sounds and their emotional effects, while the other approach has sought to free visual experience from the dictates of sound and, in the process, to create newly envisioned equivalents of inner rhythms.

In the early twentieth century, with the advent of motion picture film, this historical desire to structure light and visible movement into a form comparable to music would align itself with modernist theories of art that called for the revelation of the essence of each medium, for a purity of form free of referentiality, in autonomous works of art to be appreciated as objects of perception in their own right. Preeminent in this approach to the new medium of film and its fundamental characteristics of light and time were the 1920’s Graphic filmmakers Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter and Walther Ruttman, and soon after, the abstract animator Oskar Fischinger. Eggeling’s seminal work, Symphonie Diagonale, for example, is an early experiment in this genre, with geometric shapes that flow and evolve across the screen as light-shapes emerging from and disappearing into the dark. However, even these ‘abstract’ shapes are, in appearance, somewhat reminiscent of keyboards and other musical instruments, and their movements within the frame seem to be primarily descriptive of space — as much as they experiment with the visual structuring of time. Oscar Fischinger’s early black and white Studies present an increasing visual complexity of movement, but rather than allowing them to stand on their own, Fischinger synchronized these visions to sound tracks of familiar orchestral music – which, ultimately, largely determine the viewer’s interpretation. And his later color piece, the meticulously crafted Motion Painting No. One, when viewed silently, can clearly be seen as more painterly and visually descriptive than musical, remaining heavily dependent on the aural accompaniment to create its musical effects.

Ironically, it might be argued that because film is essentially musical to begin with, insofar as it is based on a rhythmic progression through time (the underlying ‘beat’ of the mechanical projection), the early avant-garde filmmakers of the silent era who included photographic representation in addition to varying degrees of abstraction, and primarily experimented with editing structures that would create energy between cuts and give overall shape to their visions, were creating a visual music as rich or richer than those who attempted to do so by tying pure visual abstractions to musical scores. Looking at the works of contemporaries, such as Man Ray’s L’Etoile de Mer, Rene Clair’s Entr’acte, or even earlier Melies films, it is interesting to turn off the usual sound accompaniments and allow for the full, unadulterated effects of the visions that dance across the screen as they are choreographed within the duration of each film – the flutter of a garment in the light, the flicker of a flame, or the ripples of water transitioning to dancer’s hands appealing to the viewer with direct, sensual effect.

Moving Visual Thinking

As a filmmaker in the modernist tradition, Stan Brakhage also sought to discover those characteristics necessary and inherent to his chosen medium, and in his particular variation on this theme came to understand film as peculiarly and uniquely suited to exteriorizing human thought process. What we perceive as the light of the mind, the images generated therein and the rhythms with which they shift and change within our conscious awareness; images received through the eyes, with the eyes, or generated by the imagination; dreams, memories, anticipatory imaginings; sudden visions, whether direct or peripheral; or hypnagogic sparks and flashes of color: these were the elements of an interior life that film could re-present for us. For the first time in human history, it seemed possible to make manifest and share with each other what Brakhage came to refer to as “moving visual thinking.”

Still in his twenties, and after only a few short years as a filmmaker, Brakhage made the major shift away from the directing of actors, in his early psychodramas, to the development of what P. Adams Sitney referred to as the first-person, lyrical film. In his classic text, Visionary Film, Sitney describes this new form as one in which “there is no longer a hero; instead, the screen is filled with movement, and that movement, both of the camera and the editing, reverberates with the idea of a person looking.”1 Sitney goes on to note that the perspectival form of the earlier films is replaced here with “the flattened space of Abstract Expressionist painting,” writing that “the film-maker working in the lyrical mode affirms the actual flatness and whiteness of the screen, rejecting for the most part its traditional use as a window into illusion.”2

From this time, beginning in the late 1950’s, Brakhage became increasingly concerned with the nature of vision. Struggling as he did with his own weak eyesight, he became unusually sensitive to and conscious of “the act of seeing.” The processes of sight, how the human eye and the human mind form images, became an integral consideration in his construction of a film. As early as 1961, for example, the film Thigh Line Lyre Triangular presented superimposed photographic images of exotic animals as well as layers of color that were directly hand painted over images of the birth of his daughter (Neowyn) in a documentation not only of that external event (including those sights not photographically reproducible), but also of the inner, experiential event of the filmmaker’s subjective thought processes and emotional responses – layers of superimposition thus being added to the gestural techniques of the hand-held camera to create a filmic equivalent of inner vision.

Pursuing a first-person phenomenology of cinema was not without its perils. A practice of immersion into one’s own interior processes and experience always holds the potential for loss of relevance or meaningful connection with those outside that immediate reality. Taken to its extreme, it threatens madness. However, Brakhage films never present a purely subjective reality that simply ignores the existence of a generally recognized and objectively testable one. He often went to great lengths, in fact, to determine which visual effects were those of his own optical system and which were perceived occurrences within the larger, natural world. And he often referred to his films as “documents,” taking it as his life’s work, in part, to engage in and to encourage a richer, fuller, more complex experience of seeing.

Nonetheless, it is certainly true that to some degree Brakhage did perceive inner and outer realities as enmeshed – as epitomized, perhaps, by frequent representations within his work of the interplay of incoming, and inner, light. In Brakhage’s universe, we are each an intimate part of the external realities of the world. One doesn’t simply walk through that world, but is immersed in it. One doesn’t simply see it, but creates optical responses and interpretations of it, with eyes and mind and the entire electrically charged nervous system that is the “I” of which we speak. And that “I” is full of spaces and intermittencies, being held together — insofar as it can be said to be an entity at all — by rhythm.

Put another way, Brakhage experienced the physical world, the physical self – and film – as ‘fleeting,’ ‘ephemeral,’ as in a constant state of flux. He referred to film as “a weave of light that’s forever dissolving.”3 His accepted tenet that “all that is is light” included the cathecting sparks of thought of our own nervous systems. And with the film medium he found the means of creating a formal balance that would be responsive to that interplay of inner experience and movement through the world. For, film does lend itself well to analogies of perception. The 24 frames per second succession of film imagery with the felt, if not consciously perceived, spaces of black between them; the horizontal progression through time in combination with the vertical layering of images that can throw into question the temporal linearity of experience; the textures and graininess of the vision; the bounced light; the collisions or plasticity of the cuts, uniting with or undermining the rhythms of projection: together, these elements could create the closest equivalent of human perceptual experience yet realized.

Filmically presenting sights both ordinary and extraordinary, in celebration and “song” of the terrible and terrifying beauty of life-on-earth, Brakhage attempted, further, to make visual equivalents of those inner workings of the mind through which these outer realities might be reconstructed and perceived. And ultimately, he would even search within himself for the shapes and movements, the very sparking energy impulses, of what he referred to as “the intrinsic grammar of the most inner (perhaps pre-natal) structure of thought itself.”4

At its most fundamental level, this would translate onto film as surges, pulses, flickerings, flashes and streamings of rhythmically structured charges of light and color. Bruce Elder states, for example, that “Brakhage’s hand-painted films are attempts to convey the surging electrical energies within the body – the exchanges of excitement at our nerve endings, which cause our experience,”5 noting that ‘moving visual thinking’ seems “to have to do with a transitional form of awareness that exists only fleetingly, and mostly without our being consciously aware of its contents.”6 Yet Brakhage did work unceasingly to make the subconscious conscious – to bring into our conscious awareness those forms of seeing and thinking that do not ordinarily receive our attention, but which underlie or comprise all of our complex layers of perception and understanding. And while he did refer to ‘moving visual thinking’ as “that pre-language, pre-‘picture’ realm of the mind which provides the physical grounds for image making (imagination),”7 he would also use the term more broadly at times, referring to a variety of manifestations or ‘realms’ of visual thought. These concepts of moving visual thinking would be constantly elaborated upon through decades of his growing oeuvre.

From Dog Star Man to the Arabics

It was during the creation of his epic film Dog Star Man (1961-64), that Brakhage concurrently produced his seminal work of theoretical writing, “Metaphors On Vision.” With Dog Star Man, he was striving to create a new creation myth for modern times through a transformation of the old symbolic systems that had come to seem so rigid and unchanging. The Tree of Life of the ancient myths, now seen as dead, was thus to be cut down and turned into firewood for the struggling young man’s family. With multiple superimpositions, rapidly repeated zooms, negative to positive imagery, prism effects, flash frames, edge flares, cut outs, scratching and painting on the film itself, time lapses and anamorphic twists, he created a tapestry of constantly moving imagery within a phenomenological space. Images of clouds and mist, ice and snow, the sun and the moon; red flames, blue ice, and flaring film edges; man, woman and child; a beating heart and circling blood cells; the chopping of the tree and the movements of the stars: all were woven together with rapid camera movement and rapid cutting into the streaming and beating rhythms that create an overall metaphor for Life itself.

It was coincident with this making, then, that he would write:

Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception. How many colors are there in a field of grass to the crawling baby unaware of “Green”? How many rainbows can light create for the untutored eye? How aware of variations in heat waves can that eye be? Imagine a world alive with incomprehensible objects and shimmering with an endless variety of movement and innumerable gradations of color. Imagine a world before the “beginning was the word.”8

Throughout the following two decades, much of Brakhage’s work, though ostensibly eschewing drama in favor of visionary experience of ordinary dailiness, continued, in fact, to exhibit clear dramatic elements. However, beginning in the early 70’s another major shift becomes evident, as “vision” seems to have been increasingly defined as “thought process” – as the interior light of the mind and the feedback of the nervous system in response to the incoming light being “spanked” in upon it (as he would say) were given equal weight to any exterior sights.

Some significant early examples of the thought-process films include The Process (1972) and Thot Fal’n (1978). With The Process, Brakhage was clearly addressing the interaction of internal and external sources of imagery — in this case, as the sole ‘subject’ of the film (though the actual location and event of the shooting was of people passing in and out of a small, local bar in the Colorado mountains). In this short, nine-minute work, by superimposing negative and positive images and inter-cutting these with full fields of pulsating color, he suggests a simultaneous awareness of different aspects of the perceptive, contemplative and recollecting mind. Edited as a careful orchestration of shifting shapes and colors, images appear to gently reverberate within the containment of the frame. Slightly displaced positive and negative versions of the same image add to the feeling of insubstantiality. And movements, such as a door being opened or closed, seem to slide across the plane of the screen, defying our normal sense of perspective and evoking, instead, brushes of light across a visual field of mind.

In Thot Fal’n (which he paired with another film of the same year, Burial Path), Brakhage specifically claimed to be “graphing the process of forgetfulness.”9 By compressing space with a telephoto lens and using slow motion effects, as well as images of water or rippled glass that are frequently suggestive of dissolution, he creates a dream-like effect, as familiar people and objects come in and out of focus, or may be seen only briefly, drift out of sight, be momentarily retrieved in another shot, and then vanish again. These images not only appear at times to ‘float’ off-screen, but also undergo constant metamorphoses, through a filmic equivalent of associative thinking, as intricate passages of visual rhymes and plastic cutting, superimpositions and fades, reveal multitudinous shapes and colors that foreshadow, suggest, fade in and out, or at times cut directly from one image to the next.

Drawing on the aesthetics of both The Process and The Text of Light (1974) – with its reflections and refractions through a glass ashtray creating abstracted light-likenesses of landscapes, seascapes and cosmic intimation – the thought-process films of 1978 can be seen as a bridge between those earlier works and the so-called “Imagnostic Films” of the Roman Numeral and then Arabic Numeral Series. For, it was in these series of photographic abstractions from the early 80’s that Brakhage was to take his next leap into the orchestration of pure light and refracted colors – drawing on the perceived inner movements of the human brain, the qualities of music, and the inherent nature of film, to present us with a vision of what he believed to be the inner “grammar” that formed the structural basis of all thought.

“of rhythm is image/ of image is knowing/ of knowing there is/ a construct” (Charles Olson)

From a very early age, Brakhage had wanted to be a poet, then as a young man imagined himself a ‘poet with a camera,’ before gradually coming to more deeply realize the unique possibilities of his own medium. However, these ties to poetry, and also to his studies of music, continued to permeate his entire life’s work. And at the foundation of all three of these arts – music, poetry and cinema – Brakhage identified the shared principle of rhythm, it being biological and perceptual rhythms, he would argue, from which arise all of our possibilities of knowing.

Quoting Charles Olson, he would frequently cite, “of rhythm is image/ of image is knowing/ of knowing there is/ a construct.”10 In many public lectures as well as in his essay, “About Time,” Brakhage illuminated the aesthetic sensibility and creative process that this implies. “Of rhythm is image,” evokes the biological sources of our always moving, transformational imagery. (From the rhythm of a heartbeat, the rhythms of breath, even the firing of neurons, come the rhythms of sound, the rhythms of language — and at a primary level, the rhythms of image.) Of that imaging, then, is all of our knowing – not “knowledge,” but a process of “knowing,” a process that is also in movement, in continual transformation, being constantly reflective of the sensed world as we are sensing it. And from this process of knowing there arises, then, a con-struct — which word Brakhage emphasized as being essentially verb-like as well, as “an ‘end tempo’ in [the] rhythm pattern – and one with metaphorical bounce . . . “11 As he explains,

. . . the rhythm of “construct” (as Olson has it) reverses Time (in the poem’s process) so that an end (or “full Stop”) can be thought of as that which causes the reader to imagine Time moving backwards to an end which is a beginning which never was nor ever could be – or some full-circle of ever rhythming thinking centered on “construct.”

In film terminology one would say that there is a splice between “con” and “struct” so powerful it achieves the fullest possible effect of Eisensteinian montage.12

Brakhage’s sense of a parallel filmic construct also drew inspiration for its formal organization from Gertrude Stein’s conviction that there is no such thing as repetition: apparent repetitions, then, always being experienced as a beginning-again, with each recurring presentation of a word (in her case) or an image (in Brakhage’s) creating its own multiplicity of reverberations, breathing life into works that aspire to the experience of a “continuous present.” (In an analogous way, a musical aesthetic in which each note is given a life of its own — is given equal weight or import within the musical structure — might allow for the organization of those notes to disrupt the sense of movement and create for the listener a perception of space, carved from the aesthetics of time.)

Brakhage had had musical training as a child, singing both in church choirs and as a boy soprano soloist. And while poetry continued to be his first love — and while his work was also richly informed by the history of the visual arts — he ultimately felt that of all the arts film was closest to music. In his filmmaking practice, he frequently drew inspiration from a variety of musical forms and pieces.

Mothlight, his 1963 collage of moth wings and plant life, was organized according to the principles of a baroque fugue. But “the most modern baroqueists in music,” he wrote, “were, of course, the twelve-tonists,” stating that his earlier film, Anticipation of the Night (1957-58), was “specifically inspired by the relationships I heard between the music of J.S. Bach and Anton Webern.”13 Of the four part Scenes From Under Childhood (1967-70), he wrote in the same letter that it was “to some extent inspired by the music of Olivier Messiaen and, to some lesser extent, Jean Barraque, Pierre Boulez, Henri Pousseur, and Karlheinz Stockhausen . . .”14 And a later film, Unconscious London Strata (1982), he would describe as a “reconstruction of the mind’s eye at the borders of the unconscious,” writing, in his description of the piece, that “some visual song of all of England’s history began to move through this material,” creating, then, a metaphor of mind through analogy to a musical form, as memory manifested on film as “rounds . . . within rounds.”15

Messiaen, Kandinsky, and silent film

In 1966, Brakhage had claimed an “integral involvement with musical notation as a key to film editing aesthetics,” stating that it was, in part, his growing understanding of the aesthetics of sound that led him to an increasing conviction that no sound accompaniment was needed for his visuals – continuing to make, with a few noteworthy exceptions, mostly silent films for the remainder of his career. He had written at that time that, “I now see/feel no more absolute necessity for a sound track than a painter feels the need to exhibit a painting with a recorded musical background. Ironically, the more silently-oriented my creative philosophies have become, the more inspired-by-music have my photographic aesthetics and my actual editing orders become, both engendering a coming-into-being of the physiological relationship between seeing and hearing in the making of a work of art in film.”16

That “physiological relationship between seeing and hearing” – in fact, the more general physiological cross-over of sensory memory known as synaesthesia that results, for examples, in a smell prompting a remembered sight, or a sound seeming to have a certain taste or tactility – is widely accepted as necessary ground for aesthetic experience. A particular arrangement of colors, lines, shapes or sounds can thus create not just a balanced form of pleasing proportions, but one that weaves a complexity of sensory truths to which we respond with our whole nervous system and deeply known physicality of being, as the sources of that knowing interact as felt response within the intricacies of mind.

Certainly, synaesthesia at source is frequently cited in descriptions of the creative process. Brakhage quotes Olivier Messiaen as saying that, “When I listen to music, and even when I read it, I have an inward vision of marvelous colours – colours which blend like combinations of notes, and which shift and revolve with the sound.”17 Brakhage wrote, “I seek to hear color just as Messiaen seeks to see sound.”18 And abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky was amongst those who have experienced something similar, claiming to “hear” very specific sounds at the sight of certain specific hues. For his part, Brakhage recalls “first hearing shifting chords of sound that corresponded in meaningful interplay with what I was seeing when I was a child in a Kansas cornfield at mid-night. That was the first time I was in an environment silent enough to permit me to hear ‘the music of the spheres,’ as it’s called, and visually specific enough for me to be aware of the eye’s pulse of receiving image.”19

Drawing on these “ties” or “sense impulses of the nervous system,”20 Brakhage increasingly edited his films with an explicit awareness of the common experiential ground underlying how our nervous systems respond to different orders of stimuli, and came to fully understand the basis of this experience as being one of rhythm. Through intensive studies of subtle movements of the mind (that is to say, of his own mind), Brakhage perceived those movements as being in interplay with both visually and sonically received and experienced rhythms – and believed that the aesthetic creation of visually-ordered rhythms or sonically–ordered rhythms might equally present meaningful equivalents of those inner movements.

How these movements of the mind encompass the experience of color is further explicated in Brakhage’s essay, “Painting Film” (1995). There he describes how he might approach a painted equivalent (on film) of a plate of salad seen on the table before him:

The table is in the range of nomenclature “yellow brown”; but the eye’s retention of yellow is blue, and the afterimage of brown is often something I call “red-black” – a very muted red, to be sure . . . more in the range of purple, say – actually un-nameable. The shifts of tone, as the mind absorbs, is understandably variable along a strip of film, but a tune undergoing melodic variations. These variations are subject to interruptions by absorption of all other tones (and shape shifts) of the surrounding room (for shape does surely affect reception of tone . . . and tone of tone in color-chordal variance).21

Continuing this description, he emphasizes, once again, the time-based and rhythmic nature of the experience of seeing, and of its translation onto film:

The truth of the “plate” is that it affects visual absorption of the lettuce very much like a break in the sight-lines, distraction from forms, rhythmically castanet-like, because otherwise its paradigm on film, its variable oval, would act as container – a word appropriate to its service vis-à-vis lettuce (appropriate surely in language and perhaps to description of snap-shot) but absolute non-sense in respect to moving visual thought process. Such containment would preclude the peripherally perceived effects of the room, the inpouring light of the world beyond, the process of memory and expectation, and, thus, would obliterate Time.22

Historical precedents to visual music

The approach to visual music outlined above, with its reliance on inner correspondences, I would argue as fundamentally different from an approach employing techniques of direct outer correspondences — or simply matching what we see with what we hear. For example, while Kandinsky and others had also written of deeply felt, subjective, musical responses to colors and their combinations — and theorized on the applications of this to painting – others have tried to precisely codify such connections into systematic relationships of color to musical pitch. In the 17th Century, Isaac Newton, who was said to have been seeking to uncover a “secret, divine order” to the nature of all things, drew such an analogy between color and music when he divided up the visible spectrum — identifying seven colors of the rainbow to correspond with the notes of a musical scale.23 One might well protest, along with John Keats, against this ‘unweaving of the rainbow’24 – or, indeed, with Stan Brakhage, who asked us to “Imagine a world alive with . . . an endless variety of movement and innumerable gradations of color.” Nonetheless, the analogies have stayed with us, with Newton’s legacy of color to music correspondence living on in a variety of forms.

In William Moritz’s historical survey of the possibilities of color music, he details the invention of the so-called “Ocular Harpsichord” of the 18th Century that linked “each key on the musical instrument with a flash of a certain colored light . . . believed to be an exact equivalent of each musical tone,”25 and then proceeds on to a discussion of the various ‘color organs’ of the 19th and 20th centuries that continued in this tradition.
(Though it is interesting to note that in Niels Hutchison’s analysis of the same developments, he also quotes Francis Bacon [1561-1626] as having stated – prior to Newton – that “the pleasing of color symbolizeth with the pleasing of any single tone to the ear. . . . And both these pleasures, that of the eye, and that of the ear, are but the effects of equality, good proportion, and correspondence”26 – a partial statement, but one that does suggest deeper considerations of how these varieties of stimuli might be internally processed and perceived.)

Hutchison goes on to relate how, in the mid-19th Century, Hermann von Helmholtz, author of “On the Sensation of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music” (1863), had, like Newton, pursued studies in optics and acoustics, and had developed a color-music scale. Yet he quotes Helmholtz as acknowledging,” . . . it is clear that in the so-called color harmony no such absolute definite relations are to be expected as are characteristic of the musical intervals.”27 And he also quotes early 20th Century abstract painter Franz Kupka as stating, similarly, that “. . . the chromatism of music and the musicality of colors have only metaphorical validity.” “A pity,” Kupka added, ” – one more illusion vanishes in smoke.”28 Still, it was not long before that Alexander Scriabin had also worked out a system of corresponding colors to musical pitch, designed a color keyboard, and incorporated instructions for the projection of light into some of his musical scores. In the tradition of the Wagnerian concept of the “total work of art” Scriabin had further envisioned a grand, religious experience of aesthetic unity that would bring together orchestra, choir, dance, drama and visual effects in his conceived, yet never realized work, Mysterium.

A different version of this drive toward the ‘ultimate work of art’ could be said to persist today in some forms of immersive post-modernism. And ironically, it can even be seen to have had a certain influence upon the so-called “pure film” of the early to mid 20th Century. For, following the abstract painters in their freedom from the need to represent in painting, these pioneer abstract filmmakers did, then, seek to unite a purity of visual form and color with the aesthetics of time, and in so doing, they drew upon a musical paradigm – in most cases, using actual music soundtracks as a supporting element. Viking Eggeling, Walther Ruttman, Oscar Fischinger, Len Lye – and a little later, the Americans Jordan Belson, James and John Whitney, and Harry Smith, for examples – would produce a significant body of work in this genre.

A thorough analysis of the contributions of each of these artists is beyond the scope of this essay, though all have added to the expanding possibilities of filmic form and, in particular, to exploring the realms of visual music. One of the most “inner” oriented of these filmmakers was Jordan Belson, whose glorious visions suggest physiologically based visual effects that are constantly transforming themselves into more symbolic representations of mind. However, these are the visions of a focused, meditative state, finally – as William C. Wees has written, “more psychological than physiological.”29 And ultimately, Belson seeks a transcendence of self, a transcendence that manifests on film as visions of the cosmos. To accompany these visions, he also created or commissioned sound compositions, hoping for a synthesis in which “you don’t know if you’re seeing it or hearing it.”30 However, while Belson’s films are not currently available in their original format, the music selections that accompany the later video releases of these works unfortunately serve as little more than mood enhancers – at times gently supportive of the visions, but at other times simply an annoying distraction.

It should not be assumed, of course, that visual music would necessarily be limited to works consisting of non-representational imagery. Avant-garde filmmakers in general have worked on the assumption of film as a visual art, “shaping light and shaping time” (as Michael Snow has described it),31 and the musical qualities of much of that work would present a vast and complex field of study. However, in reference to how the term ‘visual music’ is commonly used (usually in reference to relative degrees of abstraction in compositions of moving light and color), I have tried to suggest that a significant portion of this work has relied chiefly on outer correspondences between vision and sound. Due to this external, sensory emphasis — due, that is, to the view that we might see or hear a parallel between vision and music external to and preceding our inner experience of it – most of the films concerned have remained tied to music in what is largely an accompaniment mode. Often, they incorporate sound tracks that the visuals appear to echo, or illustrate, creating, in effect, a unity of form with visual and aural aspects.

While clearly owing a debt to many earlier filmmakers (and quite notably to the later hand-scratched and hand-painted “direct films” of Len Lye), Brakhage nonetheless sought to break the ties of this formal, visual-aural unity. Few, if any, have explored the deeper physiology of mind, the constant movements of eye-mind interplay, as Stan Brakhage has – making “equivalents of what he sees, as he actually sees it,”32 and editing these visions in consideration of the internal rhythms that stir the synaesthetic responses or “sense impulses of the nervous system.” It was his particular contribution in this regard to fully recognize that it is due only to deep biological rhythms – and only through these synaesthetic responses of the ‘inner eye’ to the ‘inner ear’ – that we might in some sense be able to “see sound” (or, rather, have a true visual equivalence of musical experience), referring, as he did, to “the sphere of ‘music of the spheres’ being now consciously the human head.”33

The late, great films of Stan Brakhage

In his essay, “Brakhage’s Faustian Psychodrama,” P. Adams Sitney has traced the filmmaker’s return to his aesthetic roots in the late 1980’s, describing a re-investment in psychodramatic themes (in FaustFilm: An Opera, Faust’s Other: An Idyll, Faust 3: Candida Albacore, and Faust 4) that mirrors his early development as an artist — from his first film, Interim (1952), through the ground-breaking Anticipation of the Night (1958) — as he struggled to resolve the major crises of his personal life with attendant aesthetic soul-searching. Discussing the Faust series as “keys to the major achievements of the filmmaker’s mature career,”34 Sitney describes Brakhage’s extrication from this psychodrama through an engagement with landscape, in Faust 4, which “rekindled his confidence in the eloquence of the embodied moving camera.”35 The series of films that immediately followed was the four-part Visions in Meditation (1989-90), evidencing, in Sitney’s words, “a depth of wonder and visual intelligence unsurpassed in all of Brakhage’s cinema.”36

Inspired by Gertrude Stein’s “Stanzas in Meditation,” Brakhage’s stated goal with Visions in Meditation was to present a “democratic landscape,” one in which images of earth, water, sky, structures of human creation, and human and animal life might co-exist in a non-hierarchical equality of presence – a weave of light experienced as rhythms of mind, poised in the balance of thought, envisioned “as in a dream.”37

This was the start of an amazingly rich and varied period of film production that extended from 1989 until his death in 2003. It included an incredible 143 titles, ranging from the two to twenty-minute hand-scratched and hand-painted studies on a wide variety of subjects (experientially, hypnagogically-informed responses, religious meditations, and series of films exploring the glyphs of thought process reflective of different world cultures), to the fifty minute hand-painted Trilogy (I Take These Truths, We Hold These, and I . . . ), through the grand meditations on childhood, adolescence, middle age and imaginings of heaven that comprise the largely photographic Vancouver Island Quartet, and a variety of shorter works that include dance films, portraits, landscapes and cityscapes — as well as the ecstatic Passage Through: A Ritual, with its sparsely placed glimpses of exquisite (photographic) imagery within long spaces of black, edited in response to Philip Corner’s Through The Mysterious Barricade, Lumen 1 (after F. Couperin). This same period also included several examples of a particular strand in Brakhage’s work in which he would combine photographic and painted imagery, assuredly weaving together the shimmering fragility of worldly phenomena and visual experience with multiple layers of both concrete and metaphorical representations of an interior life. The delicately described interplay of inner and outer experience, with the painted material often suggestive of both inner biology and emotional responses to the hard-won beauty of “the seen,” results in deeply felt meditations on mortality and the ephemerality of earthly existence, as epitomized in works such as Boulder Blues and Pearls And (1992), or (in what he referred to as his “mature Dog Star Man“) Yggdrasill: Whose Roots Are Stars in the Human Mind (1997).

Through more than forty years of filmmaking Stan Brakhage had largely continued his pursuit of an intentionally silent cinema – a ‘music for the eyes’ free of any accompanying aural music (which he felt would inevitably tend to dominate over the more subtle visual rhythms). In these later years, however, he did occasionally return to the sound film, combining his ‘moving visual thinking’ with aural tracks. But in these rare cases, he was consciously carving out a new aesthetic, frame by individual frame — an aesthetic that would give equal weight to each element, the primary principle in this form of construction being one of non-synchronization, of breaking any direct connection between picture and sound so as to allow each to develop independently in polyphonic form. Inspired by the music compositions of Philip Corner and James Tenney, Brakhage would create two of his greatest masterworks in this form with Passage Through: A Ritual (1991) and Ellipsis No. 5 (1998).

The fifth and final part of the Ellipses was the only sound film in that series, and was edited to Tenney’s previously recorded Flocking. Madison Brookshire has recently described this work as “one of the rare instances in any film/music pairing where the one does not make it harder to engage with the other. The score and the film seem to run in parallel, sometimes reflecting on one another, just as often existing separately, yet always sharing a space.”38 It is a profoundly moving work of acceptance and generosity in which each aspect – the (hand-painted) visual and the aural – is fully alive in the presence of the other in a remarkable evocation of space, time and aesthetic correspondence.

Through sensitivity to the inner movements of the human nervous system, to the correspondences of eye and mind, to the subtle complexities, rhythms and multitudinous manifestations of constructive imagination – and through an equal sensitivity to the possibilities of creating, and experiencing, filmic parallels — Brakhage hoped that the film medium might finally come into its own, that the potential and full ‘magic’ of the cinema might finally be realized. Going to the biological, rhythmical sources of experience — always returning to biological ‘ground’ — while continuously and complexly re-envisioning and re-presenting those inner movements, Brakhage worked for fifty years towards the creation of a new, visual form that would not only make manifest our interior lives, but that would give to the eyes something analogous to what music gives to us through hearing – writing, as he did (in 1991), with unwavering conviction, that “Film is . . . at one with the synapting Human nervous system in evolution.”39

Notes to: On Stan Brakhage and Visual Music


1.    P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film: The American Avant Garde, 1943-2000, 3rd Ed. (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2002), 160.

2.    Ibid., 160.

3.    Stan Brakhage, “Another way of looking at the universe,” (a transcription of Stan Brakhage and Ronald Johnson conversing, 1997), Chicago Review, 47:4/48:1 (Winter, 2001/Spring, 2002), 34.

4.    Stan Brakhage, “Arabic Numeral Series,” on-line catalogue of Canyon Cinema (www.canyoncinema.com).

5.    Bruce Elder, “On Brakhage,” Stan Brakhage:  A Retrospective, 1977-1995 (New York:  The Museum of Modern Art, 1995), n.p..

6.    Ibid.

7.    Stan Brakhage, Brakhage Films (sales catalogue for film prints, Boulder, Colorado, 1988), 18.

8.    Stan Brakhage, “Metaphors On Vision,” Film Culture, 30 (Fall 1963), n.p..

9.    Brakhage, “Thot Fal’n,” on-line catalogue of Canyon Cinema.

10.    Charles Olson, “ABCs (2),” Archaeologist of Morning (London, New York:  Goliard Press/Grossman Publishers, 1970), n.p..

11.    Stan Brakhage, “About Time,” Telling Time: Essays of a Visionary Filmmaker, Bruce McPherson, ed. (Kingston, NY:  Documentext, McPherson and Company, 2003), 10.

12.    Ibid., 12.

13.    Stan Brakhage, “Film and Music,” Brakhage Scrapbook, Robert A. Haller, ed. (Kingston, NY:  Documentext, 1982), 50.

14.    Ibid.,49.

15.    Brakhage, “Unconscious London Strata,” on-line catalogue of Canyon Cinema.

16.    Stan Brakhage, “Film and Music,” Brakhage Scrapbook, Robert A Haller, ed. (Kingston, NY:  Documentext, 1982), 49.

17.      Olivier Messiaen, notes for the recording of Chronochromie, as cited in Brakhage Scrapbook, 51.

18.    Stan Brakhage, “Film and Music,” Brakhage Scrapbook, 51.

19.    Stan Brakhage, “Film and Music,” Brakhage Scrapbook, 51.

20.    Ibid., 51.

21.    Stan Brakhage, “Painting Film,” Telling Time:  Essays of a Visionary Filmmaker, Bruce R. McPherson, ed. (Kingston, NY:  McPherson and Company, 2003), 79.

22.      Ibid., 80.

23.    Niels Hutchison, “Colour Music,” (home.vicnet.net.au/~colmusic/), n.p.

24.    John Keats, from Lamia (1819), cited in Hutchison:
Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine –
Unweave a rainbow . . .

25    William Moritz, “Musique de la Couleur – Cinema Integral (Color Music – Integral Cinema),” Poetique de la Couleur (Paris:  Musee du Louvre, 1995), as re-printed by the Center for Visual Music (www.centerforvisualmusic.org), 2.

26.    Niels Hutchison, “Colour Music,” (home.vicnet.net.au/~colmusic/), n.p.

27.    Ibid.

28.    Ibid.

29.    William C. Wees,  Light Moving in Time (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London:  University of California Press, 1992), 135.

30.     Jordon Belson, cited in P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film, 2nd ed. (Oxford, New York, Toronto, Melbourne:  Oxford University Press, 1979), 267.

31.    Michael Snow, as cited in Wees, Light Moving in Time, 12.

32.    Wees, Light Moving in Time, 79.

33.    Stan Brakhage, Brakhage Scrapbook, 50.

34.    P. Adams Sitney, “Brakhage’s Faustian Psychodrama,” Stan Brakhage Filmmaker, David E. James, ed. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005), 154.

35    Ibid., 167.

36.    Ibid.,167.

37.    These quotations describing Stan Brakhage’s intentions for the Visions in Meditation are taken from a grant application he wrote in 1988.

38.    Madison Brookshire, in a letter to Marilyn Brakhage, dated October 26, 2006.

39.    Stan Brakhage, “Manifesto,” Essential Brakhage, Bruce R. McPherson, ed. (Kingston, NY:  McPherson and Company, 2001), 205.

Interview: On Stan Brakhage and Visual Music – Rick Raxlen in conversation with Marilyn Brakhage

In the following interview, Rick Raxlen talks with Marilyn Brakhage about her article, On Stan Brakhage and Visual Music.

Rick Raxlen: First off, you mentioned when we last spoke that Criterion is bringing a second volume of Stan’s films. Will any of the later films be on it–the ones he made from 1989 to his death in 2003?
You say he made 143 films in this last period…

Marilyn Brakhage: Yes. Criterion doesn’t want me to announce titles yet — but without giving any specifics, I can say that this project will have a greater diversity of work, and some real surprises, I think. The first set combined a few formative, aesthetically groundbreaking early pieces (some of Stan’s most famous titles from the late 50’s and early 60’s) with a number of beautiful short works from his later periods. This time around, I’m trying to present a more balanced collection of significant films that will touch on all the different periods of his career and many of his different aesthetic concerns. There will be films from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

R.R.: You also mention Stan’s poor eyesight as a contributing factor in his interest in “closed-eye” vision.
Can you elaborate? How bad was it?

M.B.: He apparently wore thick glasses as a child — and then “threw them away” for a time, as a young man. He had a ‘wandering eye’ and was very shortsighted, I think . . . said he would recognize people on the street by the way they moved. He claimed to be ‘constructing’ sights with rapid eye movements. This conscious awareness of struggling to see may have heightened his visual sensitivities — as he would often say (quoting Gertrude Stein, I think) that at the centre of your greatest strength you will find your greatest weakness. In later years, when he had cataracts removed and a lens implant, his sight was much improved for a time.

R.R: Do you think it possible for someone who we might term an outsider artist/filmmaker to make a piece of ” visual music” by accident–by that I mean, without consciously setting out to make a work that was in that mode?

M.B.: Yes, I suppose it happens all the time — depending, of course, on how one chooses to define “visual music.” In the sense that Stan used the term, the visual rhythms of the work would elicit inner responses akin to those we experience when listening to aural music. He often used this term to describe works by others who didn’t necessarily use the term themselves. . . On the other hand, there are groups of people — for example those at the Center for Visual Music in LA — who seem to have a more restricted definition of what falls under this rubric, referring, I think, to something that often has more to do with visual ‘illustrations’ of, or accompaniments to, music (at least from my perspective).

R.R.: You use the word “synaesthetic” in your writing. Can you give some rough boundaries to that word? (I don’t mean a dictionary definition here)

M.B.: Well, scientists seem to talk of synaesthesia as something abnormal, or as a special ‘gift,’ whereas I think it is something we all have, at least to some degree. I use the term to refer to the crossover of sensory experience. The most common example, perhaps, is when a smell stimulates a ‘taste.’ For me, subtle scents often evoke distant memories of place — mostly visual. But if you consider our language — a “loud” color, a “blue” mood, a “dark” passage of music, and so on — I think these metaphors are actually based in physical reality. Our sensory experiences and memories overlap internally. . . For some people it can apparently get very detailed and specific, and they claim to ‘see’ specific hues that correspond to specific tones of sound, in precise gradations. In reference to film, I was referring to how the rhythms of the visual movements within shots, and of the cuts between shots, might stir some deep biological response, that “physiological relationship between seeing and hearing” that Stan spoke of. For him, it was deeply a matter of rhythm — bodily felt and mentally perceived rhythms . . . writing also of seeking to “hear color,” and of how shape affects reception of tone, and tone of tone, as the mind absorbs these shifts and variations in the progressions of time/film.

R.R.: I think to have a true piece of “visual music” work on the eye and ear in synaesthetic response, one would have to forego a musical and audio track to accompany the visuals on the screen. Do you agree?
It seems it would be cheating in a way to provide external audio clues, if one were striving for maximum individual nervous system response.

M.B.: I agree there can be a diminishment of visual potential if it is combined with “external audio clues.” We know this, for example, by the simple experiences we have of closing our eyes to ‘hear better,’ or asking someone to be quiet because we’re trying to see something. One form of sensory input can distract from or dominate over another. And usually, sound will dominate over vision. For example, as we sit in a car listening to the radio, people walking by appear to walk in time to the music. Our vision, then, is seemingly being directed or interpreted by the sounds. Filmmakers can obviously use this phenomenon to direct viewers’ interpretation of what is seen. But often that ends up, in my view, as work that is visually lazy — or, at least, unremarkable. On the other hand, if a filmmaker is constructing subtle and complex visual rhythms, those could very easily become confused or overwhelmed by the addition of sound. Stan was often working with ‘micro-rhythms’ of vision, and felt that a sound track would inevitably dominate over those. So he made mostly silent films. On the other hand, he also made silent films because he didn’t feel that his abilities with sound were advancing to the same levels as his abilities with vision. But then, on occasion, when he came across a particular piece of music that inspired him, he would make another sound film. In those cases, the challenge was always to allow each aesthetic — the aural and the visual — to exist independently, and to ‘speak’ to one another, without one directing or limiting the other. I think he succeeded with this aesthetic, but he did so through very precise frame-by-frame editing, sometimes incorporating spaces of black and spaces of silence. In that way, the films became more like visual-aural ‘conversations,’ and in cases such as these, then, there might be a complex, multi-layered, synaesthetic crossover happening in a viewer’s responses. But in general, I certainly think you’re right, that it’s not true (or pure) “visual music” if the experience is being cued by the sound.

R.R.: You quote William C Wees describing Jordan Belson’s work as producing a state “more psychological than physiological”
Can you attribute clear boundaries between these states–I mean, what would one feel differently in a film that triggered psychological states as opposed to films that triggered physiological responses?

M.B.: There are no clear boundaries of course — between thinking and feeling, or between the physiological and the psychological. But I think in the case of Belson’s films, he was often presenting filmic equivalents of mental imagery achieved through meditation — cosmic projections . . . which is to say, that we are being presented with his own interpretations of some previous “psychological” event or events. Perhaps in this sense it just feels a little less ‘immediate,’ or at a somewhat greater remove, seeming to play less on sensory experience and more on concept or symbolism. My own experience is that if a work is felt in a more visceral way (which, arguably, his could be also), eliciting sensory memory and synaesthetic cross-over within the viewer, that serves as a ground for whatever levels of thought and ideas might evolve from it. I don’t know if you really can “trigger physiological states” without triggering psychological ones, or vice versa. But in my essay on Visual Music I was mainly trying to draw a distinction between that which arises from visual rhythms that stir biological responses at source, and that which illustrates an idea and depends more upon musical accompaniment to be seen or felt rhythmically.

R.R.: You were very intent on getting some of Stan’s hand-drawn frames displayed, probably for the first time.
Did you have any luck when you approached the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria?
Did they commit to putting up a show around his hand painted frames of 35mm?

M.B.: Yes, they are interested in doing that. They spoke of late 2008.

R.R.: In your added question you referred to Milton saying “. . . night brings back my day; I am not blind in my dreams.” Milton, of course, was not always blind, but I’ve often wondered what dreaming would be like for someone who had never “seen” (in the ways that we ordinarily do). Then I recently saw a (TV) show about a blind painter who did these incredible landscapes, with perspective — apparently all based upon his tactile experiences of three-dimensional objects and his movements through space. (Not sure how he managed the colours though.) But the human mind is a great mystery. . . Why was Stan so deeply involved in subverting the most common uses of the cine camera?

M.B.: I think Stan was deeply immersed in modernist aesthetics, first of all, and when he began to identify himself as a filmmaker, found it necessary to discover what was most essential to film, what were its strengths and limitations that could be worked with. He certainly would have been influenced by his early musical training, and by his involvement with poetry. So, although he loved and appreciated the art of acting, and went to all kinds of movies (and the theatre), he felt that using film to essentially record dramas was an extreme limitation of its possibilities. Drawing on analogies to poetry and music, then, he began to develop ideas of film as an exteriorizing of internal experience, and eventually, of what he called “moving visual thinking.” He realized that “vision” was more than just pictures of the external world; that it included dreams, memories, hallucinations, peripheral vision, optic feedback, and so on. He thought the full range of human visual experience could and should be explored through film — that more than sharing pictures, we could share our inner lives, our actual thought processes, and bring into conscious awareness many levels of perception that influence us deeply but often go unrecognized. His films often included more standard, ‘recognizable’ imagery of course — but were never limited to that. And when he was unable to use the photographic apparatus to achieve the visions he wanted, he would scratch, paint, collage or whatever he could to create equivalents of a full range of visual experience.