Monday, 30 July 2012

The Edge Of Cinema: Experimental Cinema Log #10: Mothlight

MOTHLIGHT (Stan Brakhage; USA; 1963)

[3.30 minutes]

Dear Lord, this blog has cobwebs.

So, in the past two months I’ve viewed next to nothing, which makes me cranky. Amongst the whirlwind that appears to be my lot at the moment, the one film that I’ve been able to view repeatedly that staves off total cinema starvation is Mothlight. Yes, Brakhage’s three and a half minute mini-odyssey seems to perfectly function as the equivalent of an energy-rousing tonic. Any tiny glimmer of free time that I can squeeze out of the day may often result in using Mothlight as a cinematic self-help boost.

Brakhage. The name alone sounds like some kind of feverish creative shenanigans, a distant cousin to bricolage. And, of course, Mothlight is definitely a filmic bricolage, born from Brakhage’s poverty and cobbled together by the arrangement of insect wings, twigs, and flora between two pieces of perforated tape. This is a truly earthy film, a pulsating representation of picking and sorting through forest-floor detritus. 

Sure, you could say it’s about nature’s ebb and flow. And, sure, you could say there’s a birth/ death dynamic at play here, with shapes being constantly born from light and returned to the dark. But what is most appealing is the feeling that this is cinema as naked and primal music. The film may be silent but there is a constant rhythmic pulse constantly pounding over and over, as this seemingly chaotic concatenation of nature’s flotsam and jetsam flows in an uncanny harmony. 

There is a fantastically mesmeric quality to Mothlight. Repeat viewings always reveal new shapes, new associations, new ideas. It is easy and thrilling to get completely lost inside the billowing leaves and beating wings. It proffers the nostalgic kick of the first childhood moment of viewing something under a microscope and marvelling at new ways of viewing the world around you. It gives off the electric frisson of being in close proximity to the natural environment. Best of all, you can freeze the film at any time, and always find a new image to play with, like looking for shapes and associations in the clouds. In the last couple of viewings of the film I froze the film a number of times and saw:
  • A river delta as viewed from a plane
  • A field of wheat
  • An art deco silhouette
  • A sole tree at night
  • Dried, discarded snake skin
  • The debris of an explosion hanging in the air
  • A close-up of bicycle spokes
Try it when you view the film. Stop it at any random point, and see what you find in the frozen frame.

You can view the film here and experiment with it to your heart’s content.