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Dog Star Man

Stan Brakhage (American, 1933–2003)

1961-1964

Medium 16mm film; color, silent; 77 min. Measurements No Measurements Credit Gift of the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust Accession Number 71.57.1 Location Not on View

Narrative

Beginning with his films of the early 1950s and continuing through more than four prolific decades, Stan Brakhage is a monumental figure in American cinema. Dog Star Man, a watershed work in Brakhage's career and in the development of the American avant-garde, grew out of his short earlier films. These were comparable to the Abstract Expressionist painting of the 1950s in their impulse to transmit intensely personal material through gestural abstraction. Dog Star Man continues the style of Brakhage's earlier films but is far longer and more ambitious, evoking mythic themes that have been compared with the epic Romantic poetry of William Blake and others. Dog Star Man was filmed with a hand-held camera and edited from fleeting, overlapping images: Brakhage's children, fires on the hearth, solar explosions, his wife, close-ups of snow melting, the moon, the family pets, winter storms blowing through a forest, the filmmaker himself climbing a mountain. From these images Brakhage has structured an epic work that shifts from microcosm to macrocosm, from night to dawn and midday, from winter to spring and summer, climaxing with what Brakhage has called "a Fall—the fall back to somewhere, mid-winter." In the complexity of its edited structure, and in the cosmic scale of its representation of man's struggle with nature, Dog Star Man established a precedent for aesthetic ambition and thematic scope in American avant-garde filmmaking. It is a major monument in the history of film, not only because of its own accomplishments but also because of the degree to which it sanctioned and inspired a new generation of personal filmmakers.