Against The Hype

movies, criticism and their pleasures

First Night at Doc Films: Stan Brakhage’s Murder Psalm

September 29, 2010 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

If you want an auspicious start with Doc Films, which screens movies every night of the academic year at the University of Chicago, you wouldn’t find it with late-era Stan Brakhage. No offense to the master, but these apparently random film collages failed to make a case against the urgency of my reading assignments. I did make it through Murder Psalm, Brakhage’s 16-minute short that intercuts “found” clips of Mickey Mouse barraging down a city street, trotting warhorses in negative, a corpse being slit, a girl assaulted by the splash of a beach ball on a fountain, another girl driven to an epileptic fit by a flash of lightning, yet another girl staring at her unchanging reflection in the mirror—or is it, etc. There are interpretations to be made here about the multiplicity of violence, identity and horror, though such interpretations may find it harder to justify the interpolating frames of damaged nitrate (one wonders if they were part of the original). To be charitable, I’m clearly still unprepared for the avant-garde, and I’m not yet willing to cede all worth in the movies to the strength of their coherence and readability. But so it goes.

Nonetheless, I am now the proud owner of a Doc Films quarterly pass, which lets you into every. single. movie. that Doc is showing this quarter, a veritable list that includes (in screening order) Gilda, Pather Panchali, McCabe & Mrs Miller, Dr Strangelove, The Kids Are All Right,  The Birth of a Nation, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Intolerance, Back to the Future, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Winter’s Bone, Eyes Wide Shut and I Am Love. So I’m not at all shaken that I dropped down $30 earlier for a slip of paper into 16 minutes of disjointment; it’ll pay itself back. I’m more concerned about the two acquaintances I met earlier who paid $5 each for their regular admission tickets, then came over to ask me what tonight’s film was about. I had to suppress my mirth at their facial expressions when I mentioned the words “avant-garde director”. But, again, so it goes.

2 Comments to “First Night at Doc Films: Stan Brakhage’s Murder Psalm

  1. jealous!!!!!!

    unfortunate social interaction, but still that’s inevitable. at least they made the effort to come!

    • I’ve replaced “reaction” with “mirth” to be clearer about how I took in the situation I described; my worry is more about how they viewed the result of their efforts than at their cinematic biases. After all, I did leave early myself.


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