Daily Archives: August 19, 2019

The Dante Quartet (1987)

*. Film presents the illusion of continuity through the rapid projection of consecutive images. In this experimental work by Stan Brakhage there is no continuity, at least of this type, as it is composed of stretches of film that have been hand painted and otherwise altered in a way that can’t really be called animation because of that missing sense of flow. But then, the images aren’t static either. As you might imagine, it’s a weird experience.
*. Is there a linear progression to the imagery? I won’t say narrative, but what I mean is that if you rearranged the images in whatever random way you wanted would it make a difference? I can’t imagine anyone outside of the most devout students of such a film as being able to notice the difference. The different sections have some common characteristics, but there’s no sense of a direction to any of it.
*. That might seem kind of obvious, but the allusions in the titles and Brakhage’s own thoughts on the subject of Dante suggest that he thought there was some kind of narrative, or at least argument, here at work, however condensed or metaphorical. From hell (Brakhage’s own break-up) through purgatory and onto a sort of heaven. I confess it’s a movement I have trouble seeing, and I don’t think anyone not so alerted to it would be able to identify any such connections, beyond perhaps the “Hell Spit Fluxion” section being darker and more circumscribed (because presented on a smaller film stock).
*. At best what we’re getting here are colours that may be taken as corresponding to emotional states. Chaos reigns throughout. It’s a silent film, but I find a soundtrack helps. Though isn’t introducing music cheating a bit? Without continuity or representation, isn’t a visual rhythm all this movie has?
*. Perhaps the meaning is all subliminal, in the ghosts of images that some see lurking beneath the shapes of paint. It’s not entirely random, or shouldn’t be, seeing as Brakhage apparently spent six years producing these six minutes. But while it’s very pretty, and evocative of lots of things, it stops short of the goals I think it set for itself. I really enjoy it, but like any work of art without direction it doesn’t seem to go anywhere.