Saturday, December 15, 2012

Brakhage and the Soviets

I've seen a few Soviet movies that were supposedly banned by the Soviet government. I didn't buy it. There was nothing in them that you couldn't see in movies that were freely available in the USSR, and the allegedly banned movies were just awful. They weren't "banned"---they were just lousy. No one would  sit through them.

I just read some nonsense by Stan Brakhage. He hailed Tarkovsky as the greatest living filmmaker. (Brakhage died in 2003; Tarkovsky in 1986.) Maybe he was right. But then Brakhage wrote some nonsense about how the Soviets had persecuted Tarkovsky by not bankrolling his movies. He falsely claimed that Soviet movies were made only for export to convince the outside world they had free expression.

Soviet people watched a lot more American movies than Americans watched Soviet films.

Tarkovsky made one great movie, Ivan's Childhood, which is still popular in Russia. Then he made a plotless art film called The Mirror that had to go into limited release. He wasted a fortune on it. Did Brakhage think Hollywood would have put up with that? How many movies did Tarkovsky make after he left the USSR? He never did anything in Hollywood. There was an American re-make of Solaris that lost a fortune.

Brakhage knew nothing about Soviet cinema, and I doubt he knew anything about Hollywood. All he did was made "art" movies.

Here's one of his "films":

It may well be that people see things in Brakhage's work that I don't. I can understand it's appeal up to a point.

I saw Brakhage when he spoke at the university here. I was working as a dishwasher back then. I got there as early as I could but I was probably forty-five minutes late.

He showed a slide of a painting by Whistler. The horizon was higher up on the canvas than most artists would have put it. Then he showed some guy's art film which was simply a wavy line that went across the screen, and it was higher than other people would likely have placed the wavy line. So...he was like Whistler. Or something.

I sat there in the classroom, watching the films. People kept walking out a few at a time. Someone asked Brakhage how he felt about people walking out. He said that maybe they had seen some image that was so striking to them that they wanted to leave and contemplate it---which is possible. I've done that. Or, he said, that it could be that they're really stupid for not appreciating his work. He used the word "stupid" two or three times.

So. I walked out. I was sitting through one incredibly dull film after another afraid I'd hurt his feelings if I left. And he thinks I'm stupid anyway for being bored. I had made eye contact with him earlier when I left for a moment to use the restroom. I realized he was thinking, "You idiot!"

After an hour of art film, it felt so good to be out of there, it completely overwhelmed any feeling of guilt or fear that I was missing something.

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