Stan Brakhage, a longtime Boulderite acknowledged as one of the great innovators of modern avant-garde cinema, recently retired from his respected berth at the University of Colorado. And even though he packed up his film cans last week and headed for Victoria, British Columbia, his legacy here won't fade to black. Special screenings this week at the Starz FilmCenter in Denver and on the CU-Boulder campus will explore the scope of Brakhage's influence on his select genre, providing memories for his followers and revelations for those who are unfamiliar with his work.
The percentage of people in Colorado who know of Stan Brakhage is minuscule, but most members of that elite group would agree that he's a living treasure; among them is filmmaker and CU-Boulder film professor Phil Solomon, a fierce and unconditional one-man fan club who's gone out of his way to sustain Brakhage's work in Colorado. To that end, Solomon is teaching a Brakhage class this fall and hopes to write a book based on video transcripts of Brakhage's ongoing on-campus Sunday Salons. He also helped spearhead the formation of the CU library's Brakhage Film Center, a staggeringly definitive resource containing mint-condition prints of over 380 of the filmmaker's titles, as well as papers, tapes, negatives and other forms of documentation.
Why the endless tributes? Solomon explains that Brakhage's greatest artistic achievements bypassed the accepted third-person narrative in film for more subjective realms, creating a purer form of cinema. "In his lifelong pursuit of the ineffable, Stan brought cinema into a glorious, wordless song," he says. "Later, when a lot of experimental film went the way of sociopolitical treatises and academic theory, Stan was like 'ye olde modernist.' Doggedly so."
There's one thing Solomon sadly says he can't bring back, however: the man's unique presence in Boulder, itself a one-of-a-kind breeding ground for the art intelligentsia. "The wonderful thing about Stan is that he liked to be part of the world," Solomon says of Brakhage, who in recent years almost exclusively painted or scratched directly on film. "He would paint in different restaurants, and passersby in Boulder will miss this eccentric man who'd finish his Irish coffee or his taco salad and then go to work painting." The last several months before his departure, notes Solomon, Brakhage liked to work at BJ's, a pizza place and brewery on the Pearl Street Mall: "Imagine Michelangelo working for Pope Julius...at BJ's."
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