If film is an art, then some of the greatest artworks likely to be screened this year are these short films by Stan Brakhage, now in his fifth decade of filmmaking. One might superficially call them purist films–each is silent and abstract, made by applying paint directly to the film; this is cinema stripped down to its visual essence. But the films’ effect is expansive rather than reductive, messy rather than precise. Brakhage uses film to describe what he sees–not only with the “outer” eye but through mental images and dreams. His editing continuously surprises: Patterns of paint suggest trees or landscapes but then create unusual new shapes. Paint frequently seems to be applied over paint, creating an effect of superimposition that almost lifts the image off the screen. Shapes frequently seem to extend beyond the frames’ borders. A short section will briefly establish a consistent look and rhythm only to transform itself into something completely different. Many “paintings” are repeated for two or three frames, creating jagged, staccato rhythms that result in a precise tension: the viewer sees images both as separate stills and as part of moving patterns. The lack of predictability in Brakhage’s works, and the way each instant in the films seems to struggle to separate itself from the whole, is not simply a matter of avoiding the cuteness common in abstract filmmaking. Instead Brakhage expresses a particular attitude toward imaginative vision: that it follows no script but develops from its own inner logic–and that it can set you free. All the films on the program were finished in the last two years. They are: Earthen Aerie, Preludes (…) 1-6, Preludes (…) 7-12, The Fur of Home, Polite Madness, Spring Cycle, and Beautiful Funerals. Kino-Eye Cinema at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division, Friday, January 24, 8:00, 773-384-5533. –Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): The Fur of Home film still.