Brakhage, born in 1933 in Kansas City, Missouri, is known for the personal character of his films. According to Mr. Richie, "He makes his pictures as lyric poets make their poems." Just as the poet tries to make one feel, so Brakhage wants to make the viewer see. He finds sight "dulled by the daily uses to which we must put it," and he attempts to recapture in his work the art of vision. To many poets and filmmakers the work of Brakhage has been, with its new ideas of vision, a mother lode of expanded techniques and fresh approaches. According to Sheldon Renan, author of "The Underground Film", Brakhage films "present a rippling reality in which the photographic raw material of the filmmaker's actual life is repeatedly transformed and reseen in a continual turbulence of movement, of color, of light."
Brakhage considers the camera analogous to the eye, and film analogous to vision. His concept of vision "includes such things as the flashing abstract patterns the eye sees when shut, visual memories, imaginations, hallucinations, daydreams and night dreams," notes Renan. "With distorting lenses, scratching, painting, superimpositions, editing and other methods of manipulating light, he has tried to put this composite vision on film." Considered the major figure in the break from traditional film to purely personal and visual preoccupations, Brakhage thinks "there is no place for an artist in the film studios." When he lived in New York he stayed with Maya Deren, the avant-garde filmmaker, was a friend of Marie Menken, also an experimental filmmaker, and worked with Joseph Cornell, the artist who suggested a film momento of the Third Avenue El, make by Brakhage, and titled "The Wonder Ring."
Brakhage's application of the art of vision has created many different kinds of film experiences. The eye learns to see things outside of their common context, as in "Nightcats", in which Brakhage approximates the vision of cats, or in "Anticipation of the Night", where he shows us the world through the innocent eyes of a child. For Brakhage, the camera-eye is capable of much more than realism. In fact, "The 'absolute realism' of the motion picture image is human invention," he says, "a twentieth-century Western illusion." He believes that the filmmaker can hand-hold the camera and inherit worlds of space, that he can use filters, such as fog, rain, light, glass, and he can "deliberately spit on the lens or wreck its focal intentions.". In sum, the reality of Brakhage is the reality of the "lost" art of vision itself. As he says, "To search for human visual realities man must, as in all other homo-motivation, transcend the original physical restrictions and inherit the world of eyes."
Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1933, Brakhage moved to Denver, Colorado at the age of six. He sang as a boy soprano soloist, dreamed of being a poet, and graduated from South High School in 1951 with a scholarship to Dartmouth. After one semester, he left to pursue a life in the Arts, returning to Denver to make his first film in 1952.
As a young man, Brakhage lived in San Francisco and New York associating with many other poets, musicians, painters and filmmakers, including Robert Duncan, Kenneth Rexroth, John Cage, Edgard Varese, Joseph Cornell, Maya Deren and Marie Menken. A youthful "poet-with-a-camera," Brakhage soon emerged as a significant film artist, evolving an entirely new form of first person, lyrical cinema.
Brakhage married Jane Collom in 1957, and from the early 60s they lived in Rollinsville, Colorado, making films and raising their five children. Brakhage also continued to travel around the country and abroad becoming a leading figure of the American avant-garde film movement. He lived in Boulder from1986, and in 2002 moved to Canada with his second wife, Marilyn, and their two children.
Before his death in March, 2003, Brakhage had completed more than 350 films, ranging from the psycho-dramatic works of the early 1950s to autobiographical lyrics, mythological epics, "documents," and metaphorical film 'poems' -- variously employing his uniquely developed hand-held camera and rapid editing techniques, multiple superimpositions, collages, photographic abstractions, and elaborate hand-painting applied directly to the surface of the film. A deeply personal filmmaker, Brakhage's great project was to explore the nature of light and all forms of vision - while encompassing a vast range of subject matter. He frequently referred to his works as "visual music," or as documents of "moving visual thinking." The majority of his films are intentionally silent.
Brakhage taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and as Distinguished Professor of Film Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The recipient of three Honorary Degrees and numerous prestigious awards, he lectured extensively on filmmaking and the Arts, and is the author of 11 books - including his seminal 1963 work, Metaphors On Vision, and his more recent series of essays, Telling Time.