Stan Brakhage. Photo: Kai Sibley

I was asked by Marilyn Brakhage to give a remembrance of Stan Brakhage’s life and work at the funeral held in St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, on Friday, March 14, 2003.

Impossible. It is…impossible. The headline in the local paper read: Stan Brakhage Dead at 70 – but the mind simply cannot comprehend this combination and sequence of words. So perhaps they got it wrong, as they always do. Stan, I think I know the headline you might have written for yourself – something like: It’s a (goddamned) miracle that I’ve survived for seventy years!!

And we might have written: Stan Brakhage: wondrously, tumultuously, impossibly ALIVE for seventy years…survived by his children, his grandchildren, his great loves, and all of us who were so lucky to have been graced by the shimmering light of this giant soul of a man…

Stan, you would always end your letters with these words:

Blessings,
Stan

And all of us who are gathered in union to celebrate your life today were blessed indeed, that you shared your profound and irrepressible love of life with each of us in countless ways. The papers, as they do, offer a neat biographical summation of your life, the 400 films, the honours, and so on – but how could they write about the Stan Brakhage that each of us remembers? Indeed, in awe of your crazy fecundity, Ken Jacobs used to ask, “How many Stans are there? How is he possible?” The papers couldn’t tell them, Stan, about the cosmic wonder that was your laughter, the sheer joy of your Grand Santa Claus Belly Laughs that rang throughout our homes, hallways, movie theatres and phone lines at day’s end…and of course the relish with which you would tell us the latest joke making the rounds – and I, alas, was always a beat or two late on the uptake, but it was your subsequent laughter at your own joke that I would secretly wait for…better than the punch-line…One recent punch-line that particularly tickled you stays with me. “You forgot your hat!” you would say, then a lion’s roar of laughter on the phone…joy…

How could they know what your years of screenings and teaching have meant to generations of students and lovers of film for whom your personal insights into the wonders of art and life would have such deep and lasting import? This past week, dozens of students have written, e-mailed and phoned with testimonials about how you changed their lives with your magical sermons, your eclectic, passionate tales of the tribe, sung with such clarity and eloquence, teaching us about what it means to be human…that Voice that is still so present in this room. You would say, “Well, I was lucky enough to have the gift of gab, so I could make a living…” Yes, we say, but …WHAT…GAB…

How could we explain to them, Stan, the glorious nature of the Brakhagean Hyperbole that was, in fact, never hyperbole, that each and every time when you exclaimed “Well, this the GREATEST pizza I’ve ever had!” or “that was the GREATEST movie of the last ten years!” – IT WAS TRUE for you – and when you said it again, on a later occasion, IT WAS TRUE AGAIN, each time, as if you were experiencing life anew each day – such was your inexhaustible vitality and gusto for life, a daily moveable feast, with each of us around your table…

And how could we really describe the Whitman-like expanse of your daily bear hugs, greeting us at each encounter with your powerful, gentle, HUGE embrace, a reaffirmation filled with such a soulful charge…often times, when we were falling and needed your support, your strength and spirit would lift us up, helped us through our own Fire of Waters…the assurance we felt from the softness of your gentle hands, even after having passed through millions of splices, there was always such a profound tenderness when you put your hand on ours, to let us know that it would be alright… “So, we go on…” you would say…

And we can still hear, in mind’s ear, the care and delicacy with which you sang us all our “Happy Birthdays” each year, transforming that trite and tired tune into a moving psalm of celebration and renewal…

And, ah, yes, your work – the monumental gift you left behind for us, a grand testament to what it means to be truly alive here on earth, what it means to be human…a magnificent singular achievement of unfailing faith, discipline, and devotion that can now stand alongside ANY artist’s great body of work, in ANY medium, in ANY time… So let it be said, that when the Muse called, and she called upon you more than most…that you simply PAID ATTENTION, as we say…daily creativity was just the most natural way of being for you, like breathing…

“All that is, is light,” you oft quoted…and now it can be told that your life-long passion for receiving light NEVER diminished, to the very last…over fifty years of carving articulated scrolls of rainbowed wavelengths into the beams of white light emanating from behind us, in the dark, in your ceaseless, tireless, heroic quest for a SINCERITY OF VISION IN LIGHT ON FILM. I would like to think that you have finally achieved what you were after from the very start – that you have transcended language, transcended picture, transcended the very ‘trick’ of film itself, that so troubled you…I imagine you leaving this body and SHEDDING THE HUSK OF IMAGE ENTIRELY, as you move directly toward SOURCE, toward LIGHT ITSELF, becoming, finally, LIGHT ITSELF, in All Things, Everywhere at Once, a world without end, without limits…

And know, dear Stan, that our screens here, where we are, will never go dark, and your light will never be extinguished…because it lives on, in us, in our glorious communion with you, radiating like an eternal beacon that shines from our hearts, illuminates our souls, opens our eyes…because that is your final testament to us, your greatest gift…you taught us how to simply open our eyes…and see…Everything…

You said, “Art is the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth” (but now the final unspoken part of that oath remains for us to ponder…).

You said, “All I ever really wanted to do was just to leave a snail’s trail in the moonlight…”

And among the last words that you hushed to Marilyn:

“My life was wonderful. Life is great.”

and then “I can see the river…”

And I remembered what you used to tell your children each evening, right before bedtime, that you would meet them at the rivers of the world in their dreams; tonight on the Yangtze, tomorrow on the Thames, yesterday the Liffey…

And so, my friend, I finally understand why you were so taken with the idea of ‘closed-eye’ vision during most of your lifetime.

Because, now, when we close our eyes, there, amidst the sparks and firings, the glints of the jeweled ineffable,

there you are,

just across the river,

along the glistening snail’s trail in our moonlight,

always,

awash with light,

in the brilliant domain of aura,

forever shining,

luminous,

with love…

About The Author

Phil Solomon is an experimental filmmaker and an Associate Professor of Film Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He collaborated with Stan Brakhage on several film projects.