“One thing I knew for sure (from my own dreaming) was that what one dreams just before waking structures the following day. That dream material is gathered from the previous day, and therefore is a gathering of all previous days, ergo contains the structure of all history, of all Man… I wanted PRELUDE to be a created dream for the work that follows rather than Surrealism which takes its inspiration from dream; I stayed close to practical usage of dream material, in terms of learning and studying, for a while before editing. At this time I left strict myth considerations out of my study process as much as possible..”–Stan Brakhage speaking on Dog Star Man in “Metaphors on Vision”
PLOT: This silent non-narrative film is presented in four parts: a 20-minute “Prelude” introduces many of the visual motifs that will show up in later installments, followed by “Part One,” which focuses on a man climbing a mountain with his dog. The man continues his climb in the seven-minute “Part Two,” but the picture now focuses on a baby boy, with abstract figures superimposed directly on the film. “Part Three” is a “sexual daydream” of a nude woman, with even more layered images, and “Part Four” is an even more abstract culmination of all that has come before.
- Experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage completed almost 400 films during his life (some of which run for less than a minute).
- Dog Star Man is the final compilation of five short films Brakhage produced between 1961 and 1964. They are almost never screened separately, although the Prelude could stand alone.
- While making Dog Star Man, Brakhage was unemployed and living with his wife and her parents in their Colorado cabin; to earn his keep, he chopped wood for the family.
- Brakhage named his movie after a pulp novel he picked up as a boy, because he thought it a shame that such a great title would be forever wasted on a tawdry paperback.
- The film is structured with increasing visual complexity. Brakhage shot one layer of film for part one, two for part 2 (and also for the prelude), three for part 3, and four for part 4. The layers of film were then superimposed on top of each other.
- Brakhage later produced a four-and-a-half hour cut of this material called The Art of Vision, which rearranged every layer of film Brakhage shot for the project into every possible combination of superimpositions (within each part).
- Chosen for preservation in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 1992.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Most of the amazing visual effects Brakhage achieves with his complex superimpositions fly by too quickly for us to consciously register—some can be seen for only a single frame or two. The most important repeated symbol in the film, however, may be the most mundane: the woodcutter struggling up the snowy mountain with his axe, stumbling and falling, while his dog happily bounds at his side.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Phosphenes on film; baby with snowflakes; sex and beating hearts
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Meticulous and intentionally unentertaining, Dog Star Man is a masterwork of consciously constructed dream cinema.
Excerpt from Dog Star Man (Prelude)
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