Stan Brakhage quotes from my old college notes.

This page collects some of the quotes and statements made by Stan Brakhage in two classes that I attended at the University of Colorado, Boulder in the spring and fall of 1998, called “Major Movements: Cinema Epics” and “Major Movements: 60’s to The Present.”  They are copied here from my notes, which I admit may not be completely accurate (nor may Brakhage himself, as some of his stories are verifiably false).  Nontheless, they are the mostly true accounts of an extraordinary artist and teacher’s words.


Marshall Elliott


From: “Major Movements: Epic Film,”  Spring 1998:


“Cinema, like tribal dance, is within the history of verbal entertainment.”

“Cinema: a cheap way to get drunk.”

“Hollis Frampton had a falling out with Ezra Pound over an argument over Artemis’ hair color.”

“Thousands suffer and die, just so we can have one Victor Hugo, who writes Les Miserable.  But, as Cocteau said: ‘the only problem with Victor Hugo was that he began to believe he was Victor Hugo.'”

“To create a resonance that what one finds on their own is truly their own.”

SB tells story of Emil Nolde, after being prohibited by the Nazis from painting, would paint with watercolor so the visiting Germans couldn’t smell the paint in the house.  But, being a good German, and supporter of the Nazis himself and wanting to “remain legal, uses a mental removal from the act, believing that the water paints itself.”

“There is no lying within the epic.”

“Epics should be blunt, straightforward.”

“I will stick with feeling as my only judge of what is epic.”

“Billy Bitzer, drunk or sober was one of the greatest cameramen in the world.”

“The only evil is the institute that causes it.” (re: Dreyer)

“Everything has cheapened our language. Vision has replaced it.”

On watching narrative films: “I find myself squinting through my eyelashes to see rainbows.”

On laughter: “Your belly begins to jiggle.”

“Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible is probably my desert island film.”

“Art’s purpose is to criticize the king (while praising) so that the king (on an unconscious level) will see his faults.”

“People don’t really like geniuses or lovers.”

“Arts are the antennae of the race.”

on Dogstar Man: “I had become a woodman.”

Jane Brakhage was involved in the editing of DSM “to have the female viewpoint.”

“…the male penis…is there any other?”

“The epic to be great has to be irresolvable.”

“Epic is like a chant, a chant of the society, representative of society. En-Chant-Ment.”

“It’s a good hunt to find out if there is an epic…”

“”We are breathing the mix of our emotive emissions, our emotive crystals. The 27 regions of pheremonological crystal emission expressing our moods–creating an audience.”

On Jack Chambers’ Hart of London: “There is no reason to make a film like this except that you have to: it comes from the guts.”

“…if I engage in that process, then my whole work would break down, and then I would be dead.”

“Hypnosis is anathema to art, because the viewer must have a free spirit.”

“The bass beat of films’ flicker–a low resonance against which the light plays like a melody.”

“I wanted my films to be like a snail’s trail in the moonlight.”

“Art is useful because it is useless.  To be so, it can be doing what Hollywood films do–move you emotionally.”

“…as in the beginning when an ape beat on his chest to exteriorize the beating of his heart. And then on a log. And music was born.”

Not written down, but one of my favorite Brakhage quotes from this time I would paraphrase as: “They teach children to be able to drink alcohol later in life by introducing Coca-Cola to them.  You drink that and feel the sheer agony of the carbonation in your mouth.”

Another paraphrase from memory: “All kinds of people come to me and ask to use my films for various things, advertisements, videos.  A punk band asked me recently if they could just use some of the scraps of film that were on my studio floor.  But I have always been leery, and always said no because it wasn’t the right thing to do . . . but I did give some of my painted frames to Martin Scorsese who framed them and put them up in his office.”

Also: I asked Brakhage, after seeing one of his painted films in class what his favorite color was.  He paused to think about it and said: “I would have to say blue.  There are some greens I don’t like, and some reds start to turn into pinks I don’t much care for. But I like every shade of blue.”


From: Major Movements: 1960’s-Present.  Fall 1998, University of Colorado, Boulder:


“Fluorescent light is the light of swampland, of evil, of rot. It is a cheap deal with the devil. Incandescent light is the light of fire.”

(on Bergman): “Art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship.”

(of Through a Glass Darkly): this film “tries to touch the sleeve of God.”

“We never feel known…unless we are in love. We are fish in water with the movies–we are fish in images, fish in sound.”

(on Scorpio Rising) “Face the dragons the film presents you.”

“The origin of anything is the hottest.”

(looking for something): “It will always be in the other pocket.”

(on Masculin/Feminin): “This film might be called the children of Marx & Coca-Cola, think of it what you want.”

“The strength of documentary is to tell the facts in an artistic way.”

“We didn’t ask questions that determined the answers.” (Maysles?)

“Horror is a despised genre that has freedom for that reason.”

“No one ever played Bach better than Gould.”

(on Slaughterhouse 5): “An anti-war film without the titillation of war action.”

“To place a camera on a tripod is to take all human-ness out of the process.”

(On M*A*S*H*): “Laughter at the point past screaming.”

“People need to vent aggravation. Relationships need arguments.”

“Anybody can be the subject of a great biography.”

(on Truffaut): “I think Fahrenheit 451 is one of his best films because so much of the rest was a bunch of French bullshit.”

“Motion pictures were the first time we could exteriorize visual thinking.”

“The cinema has replaced fire.”

(On Structuralism): “As a movement in general, it has been very destructive, except in the hands of very few makers.”

“I’m almost 66 and I’m lugging around films like Willie Loman selling toothbrushes.”

“A bias can not make art. Art is a balanced vision, an intensified vision of the form, the thing that it is.  Everything else is brainwash. Real vision leaves you free to see and experience & create your own vision.”

(A story I can’t verify anywhere): “Bruce Connor, at a panel discussion, brings his briefcase of marbles and spills it, eliciting help from students to collect his marbles.”

“You have no right under the constitution, even if you are FBI agents, to double park!”

(on Werner Herzog): “He was a kind of cultural surgeon.”

“Prose is like a spread: ‘they tell you what people are thinking, saying and doing. Poetry is what one person experiences down to the bone. Our experience is a corollary.”

“It takes some sacrifice to make something your own.”

“A poem will not rob you of your identity. Rising from inside, not imposed from without.”

“The brain does not think through in full story fragments.”

“What Clinton has done doesn’t hold a candle to the threat Nixon posed to America.”

“Mugwump: Your mug is on one side of the fence and your wump is on the other.”

“If you can keep your heart pure enough and your mind strong enough you can actually be put in a place to change history.”

“I have known many PhD’s who have died in the gutter.”

“Social consciousness is so often distant from art because of the need for a neutral stance.”

“You can’t mix metaphors: film can not be poetry. Poetry needs words…every art needs to be kept distinct.”

“Movies are very akin to opera.”

“Those who have felt their way into the woodgrain know exactly what I mean.”

(On Night Music): “I used Martin dyes and india inks, Clorox, Sanaflush . . . a bit of lava explosion imagery.”

“It is not enough to take a picture of something and present it as evidence so that one doesn’t need to reflect on where this came from.”

“Write about what you really care about. We need each other’s experiences. This is one of the things that came out of the 60’s: we are individuals, unique.”

(on the 60’s): “My greatest shame was to encourage students to drop out.”

(on Kieslowski): “Only when people can fully realize grief can they fully smile.”

(after watching a film. I believe it was Blue): “In order to properly decompress a film of this magnitude, one should be able to take it out into the night. To discuss it immediately would be to brutalize it.”

“Film is consciously the visual working of the mind. This music must be born, like this baby must be born, like this life must go on . . . Whoever dies, whatever happens, certain things must go on.”