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Prelude: Dog Star Man

Stan Brakhage (American, 1933–2003)


Medium 16mm film; color, silent; 27 min. Measurements No Measurements Credit Gift of the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust Accession Number 71.57.1.A Location Not on View


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.

Artist Bio

December 16, 1971
Ernie Gehr
272 Degraw Street
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11231
Dear Ernie:
Many thanks for your good letter to me, and such a thorough information sheet. I’m very sorry to be so long in answering you, things have simply piled up here lately. Ernie, we are completely programmed for the rest of thi3 season so will not be able to consider having you here for a screening and lecture until after next September. However, what I mentioned to Michael was that as soon after the l3t of the year as possible we are planning to send out a letter from our newly established film makers workshop offering it as a teaching facility to any film maker who wishes to teach (workshop, seminar or whatever). You will write up course descriptions, fee, dates, etc. We will publicize, then if enough students sign up, you fly into town and teach, if not, nothing is lost - everyone stands to gain. Various members have spare beds and are willing to house those who come, so no expense there either. We see it as a really good thing. You teach what you like (your speciality) they take what they like etc., etc., etc. The workshop includes 2 still labs, 8, super 8 and l6mm editing equipment (a Somembeck horazontal editor), sound mixing stuff, a fandberg and an animation stand.
I haven’t seen "Serene Velocity” yet Ernie, but keep hearing from Hollis, Michael & Stan Brakhage how very beautiful it is - so I’m eagerly looking forward to it.
Have a lovely holiday and do please forgive the delay in hearing from me. Sincerely,
Sally F. Dixon (Mrs.) Film Coordinator