Thursday, April 9, 2009

Avant-Garde: Cat's Cradle (1959, Stan Brakhage)

Cat's Cradle (1959)
USA, 6 min
Directed by: Stan Brakhage
Starring: Stan Brakhage, Jane Brakhage, James Tenney, Carolee Schneemann

Though as thematically incomprehensible as much of the director's work, in terms of the mood that Brakhage is able to cultivate, Cat's Cradle (1959) is an excellent short film. The home in which the film is set is perpetually bathed in a warm, glowing ambiance, a combination of red and orange hues that suggests comfort, intimacy, love and lust. Brakhage sits against a wall, puffing contemplatively on a cigarette. Wife Jane Brakhage poses uncertainly for the camera – even in such brief flashes, she has a smile that lights up the screen. Though you wouldn't notice it on first viewing, also present are family friends James Tenney and Carolee Schneemann. But most prominent among the film's characters is a domestic cat, coloured black but always bathed in that ghostly reddish light. Rather than being an omen of bad luck, the feline instead serves as the entity that draws together the disparate elements – characters who are rarely seen sharing the same frame – into a cohesive household.

It's probably never a good idea to blend unrelated works of art, but I must admit that the Beatles' "Revolution 9" harmonised perfectly with the film's images, and even to a certain extent enhanced them. Brakhage's films often capture instants in time – prolonging, accelerating, and repeating these moments – and so creating a rhythm of disjointed time that is beautifully complemented by the nonsensical, psychedelic sound collage of John Lennon's avant-garde oddity, which makes frequent use of tape loops and backmasking. Brakhage's montage is unrelenting, each shot disappearing from the screen as often as it came, but, perhaps because he recycles certain frames on numerous occasions, the end result is neither jarring nor disorientating – that Brakhage had no intentions of telling a conventional narrative was, given his stylistic choices, certainly beneficial. The sensuality of the colour palette left me feeling rather flushed, as though I'd been sitting with an intense fluorescent light beaming against the back of my neck.

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