Stan Brakhage

The Wold Shadow (1972 USA 3 mins)

Filmmaker: Stan Brakhage

One day, while walking in the woods, Stan Brakhage had a vision of an unaccountable anthropomorphic shadow amongst the trees. Returning to the place some time later, Brakhage could not find the shadow again. He decided, instead, to compose The Wold Shadow, a cinematic homage to the god of the forest. Brakhage returned to the woods and placed a piece of glass on an easel between the camera and the trees that he planned to film. After composing each shot, Brakhage would take a single photographic frame, paint on the glass and then shoot the glass again, and so on. There being 24 frames in a single second of projected film, it took Brakhage a full day to shoot the shimmering two and a half minute long The Wold Shadow.

I see The Wold Shadow as Brakhage staging a subjective intervention in nature, or insisting on an individual’s direct experience of and active relationship with nature (including human nature as well as the nature of film itself). Instead of attempting to create meaning through montage, metaphor and dynamic rhythm – the usual hallmarks of Brakhage’s cinema – this film is unusual in that it veers quite close to “structural” filmmaking, a form of avant-garde cinema that Brakhage was rather ambivalent about. The fixed camera concentrating on a single scene is reminiscent of earlier films such as Jack Chambers’ Circle (1967–68), Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967) and Andy Warhol’s Empire (1963). But The Wold Shadow is as much an argument with Brakhage’s fellow filmmakers as a tribute.

Most structural films are scientistic, even essentialist, in their nature; they try to get to the essence of some aspect of cinema. While for Michael Snow this “essence” might be camera movement, or Ernie Gehr might pursue an investigation into lens optics (Serene Velocity, 1970), Brakhage’s intentions in The Wold Shadow are more romantic. He is trying to capture or evoke something mysterious and unknowable.

Stan Brakhage continued to make films through the 1980s and 1990s, adding to the incredible diversity of his creative output, venturing into abstract expressionism, returning to psychodrama, the landscape and sound. His films open up for us a whole new way (or maybe they recover an old way) of looking at ourselves, our world and our cinema.

About The Author

Martin Rumsby is a filmmaker, writer, curator and exhibitor who began working out of Alternative Cinema, the Auckland Filmmakers' Co-operative in 1980. He has written and published articles on film for Alternative Cinema (Auckland), The Big Picture (Auckland), Illusions (Wellington), The Independent Eye (Toronto) and Millenium Film Journal (New York). His films include Vistas (1985), American Sketchbook (2000) and For Dots (2003).