Monday, 15 August 2011

Commingled Containers

At first sight, it's like a hail of rain, falling from the heavens. Our eyes have to adjust to it. It takes a moment or two before we realise we're looking down at an embankment of waves. The soft spots of light dappled on the surface of the water blur with the movement of the camera, creating the impression of a flowing haze of drizzle as it downpours against a backdrop of Picasso-blue clouds. There's something almost kaleidoscopic about the way this image plays on the screen. The motion of the light as it bends and distorts with the movement of the apparatus suggests the static of an outdated television set; a transmission from somewhere beyond the reality of the here and now, or perhaps even a split-second blur of blue frost that recalls, in the nicest possible way, an 'old-Hollywood' depiction of an acid flashback.

Nonetheless, the effect is profound. The impressions of the light and the water as they wash-over and distort the lens creates a sense of mystery; an underwater adventure, sans Cousteau, looking for Atlantis, but finding only the natural wonder of the planet that surrounds us. There is a new world beneath these waves; little cloud-shapes catching the form of something backlit; giving the feeling of figures moving within a mist or emerging from the shrouded darkness of the soft seabed. Or illuminations, catching the speckles of water behind the lens, refracted in close-up, like the wings of insects swarming around the face of a dying light.

Eventually we realise that the explorations of these depths carry a greater significance. As with Brakhage's earlier film, 'I... Dreaming' (1988), there is a deeper meaning to this montage of images, the impressionist blurs and the impenetrable forms that the viewer transforms, through imagination and association, into something almost rational. There's a story here, a feeling; an attempt to find something to make sense of the order of the universe in a very vague but also very resonant way, but also an attempt to understand the certainty of death, the fragility of the human body; a presentation of nature, like death itself, at its most dramatic and mysterious.

There is something introspective about these images too; a man, looking to the water to find inspiration, but seeing only a reflection of his own mortality staring back. The shots of the water, violent or still, or the effect of the camera when submerged beneath the creek, create not only a sense of life in movement, but a suggestion of the general flow of existence, from birth to death.

The general experiments seem to be damaging both the camera and the film, but in a way that creates something beautiful. The light that spills into the frame during the closing shot, before it plunges, forever into darkness, is evocative of what survivors describe as a vision of the afterlife. Not in any sentimental or overly romantic way, but as a very real experience; a reaction, within the mind and the eyes, to the body draining of life. At the very end, the film dissolves into nothing, as the waves break and part; drifting out towards the oceans, or towards the coast, or as part of the general ebb and flow of a rushing river, out to meet its king, the sea.

Commingled Containers by Stan Brakhage, 1997: