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Brakhage's new series of scratch-and-stain films, known as ( . . . ) or ellipses, are, among other things, a visual analogue to Abstract Expressionism. The onrushing imagery and the spatial conundrums it creates evoke not only Pollock but also the work of Franz Kline, Willem De Kooning, and even Mark Rothko— that is Pollock et al., at 24 frames per second. Eschewing the camera, Brakhage scrapes away the film emulsion to create a thicket (or sometimes a spider's web) of white lines and rich, chemical colors. Some segments of the original footage appear to have been printed on negative stock or perhaps solarized— so that the blue and pink lines are inscribed on a white field. In any case, ( . . . ) is a cosmos. Rich without being ingratiating, the effect is one of rhythmic conflagration.

A second 20-minute reel is more staccato— mad chicken-scratch calligraphy fluttering out of a yellow void, sketchy lightning bolts or fireworks interrupted by a sudden field of turquoise. The third and shortest section reintroduces camera-derived imagery and, minimal as it may be (sunlight shimmering on water, seagull wheeling in the sky), it's still a shock to see "something." Brakhage continues to play with surfaces, layering the image with scratch bursts and soft-focus superimpositions; sentiment arrives with representation.

All the world's his stage: Schwartzman (center) as Max Fischer in Rushmore.
Van Redin
All the world's his stage: Schwartzman (center) as Max Fischer in Rushmore.

Details

Rushmore
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Anderson and Owen Wilson
A Touchstone Release

( . . . ) Parts I, II, and III
Films by Stan Brakhage
At Anthology Film Archives
February 12 and 13

For the most part, though, ( . . . ) is predicated on a strategy Brakhage introduced as long ago as his cut-and-paste collage Mothlight (1962). The camera may be abandoned, but the projector-technology remains. Like the "impossible" presentations of his peer Ken Jacobs, Brakhage is reveling in the considerable power of the individual frame as it collides with other disparate frames. The simple 16mm projector that shows ( . . . ) is a hallucination machine, producing flickers and afterimages where none objectively exist.

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