Unglassed Windows Cast a Terrible Reflection (1953)

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*. I can’t help you with what the title refers to. Sorry. “Unglassed” isn’t a word you hear every day, but I don’t know if its use here is significant of anything.
*. Stan Brakhage was an influential American experimental filmmaker known for his many short films, composed over a long career. This one is an early work with an actual narrative and it isn’t very well known. You won’t even find much information, much less discussion of it, online.
*. The story has a group of six young people (four men, two women) out for a drive. Their car breaks down and five of them head off to investigate an abandoned mine (the sixth person, the car’s driver, goes for help). Two of the men jealously confront each other over one of the women. They get in a fight and one is killed and the other seems to commit suicide. The other man, a reader who is always carrying a book around, heads off on his own. Then the two women walk into the forest.
*. There is no audio (though you can watch a version with a musical accompaniment). The acting has the large mannerism of silent film, which would normally seem out of place but work here, perhaps because of the empty space we’re in.

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*. That sense of emptiness, or isolation, is a theme throughout the film. We begin with shots of the mine that have the buttressed geometry of Sheeler’s (post)industrial visions. Then, even within the closed confines of the car, the six people, with the exception of the two lovebirds, appear withdrawn into themselves. The reader reads. The other woman is doing needlework. The jealous man observes the couple. The driver drives, his eyes on the road. They are together alone.
*. It’s worth watching the movie with no audio just to enhance this effect. We can see the characters arguing with each other but it’s like they’re on the surface of the moon, with no atmosphere to carry sound waves and thus totally cut off from one another.
*. I wonder what the book is that the one fellow is reading. I can’t make it out, but it seems like it might, or should, be relevant.
*. The abandoned mine is a location that recalls the Marabar Caves in A Passage to India. They are empty but operate as a kind of echo chamber for all of the sexual tension. The woman-in-the-middle is the one who wants to visit the mine, but she is also the one who becomes most discombobulated when she gets there.
*. Once she starts wandering around, the mine starts to seem a very threatening place. A bright blade of a board with nails sticking out of it is foregrounded in one shot, seeming to be pointed at her like a knife. A broken window frame lying on the ground is like a trap she’s afraid to step in. The machinery starts to spin. This place is dangerous. They probably shouldn’t be walking around such a site without wearing safety boots and hardhats.

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*. Finally, the woman breaks down and screams. Why? Why does Adela scream in the Marabar Caves? It’s a question without an answer, like what happens to the schoolgirls in Picnic at Hanging Rock (to take another example). Obviously (as in both those other cases) it has a sexual significance, but beyond that we’re guessing.
*. The violence that follows is almost perfunctory, as though the two jealous lovers know their fate already and just have to play out the string. And then something magical happens that lets us know we’re really in the hands of a filmmaker who is an artist. The two women walk away from us, literally disappearing into the forest.  Tellingly, they go in different directions, moving away from each other as well as the camera. That feeling of separation and isolation we began with is reaffirmed, and we end as we began in a deserted space.
*. I find it a haunting and suggestive film, its sense of closure provided by an evocative persistence of vision. It’s an origin myth for a ghost story. You can bet that the driver isn’t going to find anybody when he comes back. They will have all become shades.

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