The Way to Shadow Garden (1954)

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*. A film by “Brakhage.” If you have to ask his first name, he isn’t going to tell you. And he was only twenty years old!
*. This was made a year after Unglassed Windows Cast a Terrible Reflection, and while I don’t think the two films are all that similar they are related in some interesting ways. Both movies, for example, deal with characters who become unhinged for no apparent reason before walking off into a forest/garden.
*. In both films we end on a sinister note. In Unglassed Windows the two women are absorbed into foliage, almost as though being swallowed up. In this film it seems significant to me that the negative technique used to film the garden doesn’t represent the man’s own point of view but that of the camera looking at him. He’s the one being hunted.
*. From the days of Oedipus, attacking your own eyes has been a way of showing that you’ve seen too much. It’s an effort at un-seeing. What it means here, however, is more ambiguous.

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*. Already we can see Brakhage finding his own film language. What he did using minimal camera movement within a mostly static composition was amazing. There are shots that seem to pulse with a life deeper than the frame. The man’s silhouette writhing in the doorway is a good example, though even this is an overstated moment by Brakhage’s standards. He is a director of profound subtlety.
*. That said, I don’t find this a very interesting film. Brakhage clearly was losing interest in telling a story and seems mainly to have just wanted to try out different effects. Some of these are actually pretty good (all things considered). I like the way the camera seems to pass through a cloud of smoke, for example. But in the end any attempt at understanding the film is frustrated by the lack of information we’re given. A mood is evoked, some tricks are played, but it doesn’t add up to very much.

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